VOL - I
ISSUE - 02
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK
The 24th of June. Commemorated as Universal Brotherhood Day, it was on this day three hundred and three years ago that the first Grand Lodge had been established in its, what later came to be dubbed, “Modern” avatar, in the modest setting of a tavern in London. RW the District Grand Master launched the inaugural issue of The 19 on this day. Not three centuries ago, last month. And not by design, — the last-minute tweaks in the website kept pushing back the date till the 24th, a sheer coincidence. Some of you brethren may have browsed through the pages. Do write in your opinions and suggestions.
With the meetings and convocations abandoned, and with whatever scant footfall there is fading away with the verging sun, Freemasons’ Hall wears a desolate look; the stately edifices – two dark silhouettes, the contours blurred against a more-often-than-not overcast sky – lend comfort, rather wintry, to each other in their lonely misery. Having, consequently, not much to report on the events in June, an account by Bro Anirudh Chari, the District Grand Tyler, on the restoration of the paintings of the District, makes an interesting read. Himself a cognoscente with a profound virtu, Bro Chari’s contribution to the effort cannot be overstated. Without further ado then, scroll down, brethren.
DISTRICT BOARD OF GENERAL PURPOSES
An emergency cloud meeting of the District Board of General Purposes was held on the 8th of June. Among the salient points discussed at considerable length and decided upon were the fees, depending on the roll strength, that the lodges would have to pay for the abandoned meetings of March, April, May and June of this year. A similar rule would apply for July, should normalcy not return, — which, as it now transpires, has not. The levy has been necessitated to meet the recurring expenses of the District during the period, the President, Bro Darayas Bapooji, clarified. The charges for the Chapters would be a uniform Rs 2,000 per convocation.
The District Grand Secretary assured that adequate measures like deep cleaning, spraying of sanitizers, thermal screening, social distancing and masking would be implemented rigorously on the resumption of the meetings, to render the Hall a safe house – not for affording refuge to secret agents and felons in hiding, though. It may not be out of place to note here that all these precautions are already in place at the District office, which has resumed work post easing of the lockdown from the 8th of June. Finally, it was resolved to defer the Annual Meeting of the District, earlier scheduled to be held on the 11th of July, until further notice.
DISTRICT CHARITY FUND TRUST
On that same evening, the 8th of June that is, a virtual meeting of the District Charity Fund Trust (DCFT) was also held. Chaired by the President, Bro Surajit Sanyal. “The District responded with considerable generosity, both in the wake of the Corona pandemic and the super cyclone”, states Bro Sanyal. A comprehensive account of the beneficence, — some by DCFT and the others by Bengal Freemasons’ Trust Association — had been portrayed in the columns of the previous issue.
On the 19th of June, the District shipped to River Traffic Police a truckload of cast-off garments, footwear, tarpaulins, tents and utensils donated by the brethren. The police, in turn, despatched the consignment to the Sunderbans, laid waste by the cataclysm two months ago. Lodge Martiniere donated Rs 8,000 to an out-of-work labourer, informed Bro Vijay Tankha, a member.
MASONIC MONTESSORI SCHOOL
Among the sights and sounds sorely missed are those of the teeny weeny tots and their animated chirpings as they toddle in with their parents every morning to the Masonic Montessori Creche. Like everything else, the pandemic has shut the kindergarten, tucked away in the north-east quarter of the sprawling Main building. However, the Principal, Archana Sudan, informs that virtual classes have commenced from April. For all the three sections, the playhouse, the pre-nursery and the nursery. Videotex based on the syllabi, give assignments on a regular basis. The little ‘uns complete these and the parents then send them back through WhatsApp. The guardians have been instructed to maintain the worksheets and furnish them once the school reopens. The teachers, however, have been attending school twice a week from the 8th of June for a regular review of the progress, for chalking out further assignments and to facilitate proper maintenance of the premises. The parents have been generally co-operative and understanding during this difficult period; most have been paying the tuition fees regularly, notes Bro Sanyal with satisfaction — the DCFT oversees matters concerning the creche. As a result, the salaries of the teachers and the staff are being paid timely, he assures. Admissions to the new session have, however, been put on hold.
Online get-togethers of Lodge Light in Andamans, Lodge Kathmandu of Nepal, The Federation Lodge and St. John’s Lodge were held on the 30th and 31st of May and the 6th and 23rd of June respectively. Brethren from distant England, Frank Hosie-Kingham of Federation and Phil Powell of Kathmandu, had logged in. While exchanging pleasantries and expressing concerns, especially regarding the cancellation of the meetings amid the relentless onslaught of Covid-19, the lodges resolved to continue these putative meetings once a month to keep in touch with one another till normalcy returns.
On another note, one observes the sudden prolificacy of pilosity. “Or, more familiarly speaking,” hirsuteness. Beards of all shapes and sizes have started adorning the buccal region of Masons. From the stubbly grey, alluded to euphemistically as designer crop, to the luxuriant boxed to the trimmed goatee to the eponymous style made popular by the Flemish painter, Anthony van Dyck. Another of the “new normals” at 19 in the covid era?
RESTORATION OF PAINTINGS
The restoration of five paintings of historical importance and significance at Freemasons’ Hall in Calcutta was undertaken with the extremely generous assistance provided by UGLE. During his visit to the city for the Asia-Oceanic Conference in March, 2019, MW the Pro Grand Master, Bro Peter Geoffrey Lowndes, had given to the then newly-installed DGM of DGL of Bengal, RW Bro DL Thapar, a cheque for the restoration of these paintings. Work began almost immediately and the first two portraits to be restored were those of HM King Edward VII as Prince of Wales and HRH Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Streathern (both in Masonic regalia). The canvases were cleaned thoroughly and stabilized and the exquisite ornamental frames — which are of equal significance — were also restored. The name of the artist, Albert Edward Harris, a distinguished English portraitist who spent several decades in India, was revealed, which has added greatly to the importance and value of the works. The third work to be restored was an anonymous portrait of the Marquess of Hastings KG, sometime Provincial Grand Master of Bengal and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, wearing the Star of the Order of the Garter. The portrait which was once thought to have a simple black background was revealed to depict Belvedere, the residence of the Governor General of India as well as extensive and beautifully rendered tropical foliage. At present, arguably the most important work in the collection, Archangel Michael Slaying Satan, possibly by the school of Guido Reni, is being restored. Areas of significant damage and discolouration have been satisfactorily dealt with and it is hoped that another fortnight’s labour will complete the process and the work can be hung. The last work, a portrait of RW Bro Archie Barr-Pollock, sometime the DGM of the DGL of Bengal, by the eminent Indian portrait painter, JP Gangooly, will be restored once the situation returns to normal. The entire process of cleaning and restoration has been extensively documented and catalogued by the restorer, Mr Munindra Rajbonshi, and images before and after restoration are attached to this report. High-resolution images of the same are also available. The restored portraits of HM King Edward VII, HRH the Duke of Connaught and Streathern and the Marquess of Hastings have been displayed in the temple and illuminated and are a source of pleasure, joy and pride for all Freemasons. None of this would have been possible but for the immense generosity of the UGLE to help preserve these works, which are of not just Masonic but also wider cultural importance and are an eloquent testimony to the long and distinguished history of the Craft in the District of Bengal.