VOL - I
ISSUE - 01
Brethren, the rubric bears no relation to the profound concern prevalent the world over — Covid-19. It is the masthead of a newsletter, a maiden venture by District Grand Lodge of Bengal, and which aims at, as the toponym suggests, keeping the brethren abreast of the events and occurrences at 19, Park Street. Intended as a reportage of the month gone by, the accent will evidently be on matters District. The affairs of the private lodges — of Calcutta or the up-country — will not, however, be given the go by; reports, along with illustrations, of events conducted by a lodge and deemed of interest to the other lodges and brethren, are solicited. Just as welcome are articles related to Freemasonry at 19 and preferably penned — or qwertyed, one would plump for, progressing from the near-antiquated to the modern — by members. Mail these to yours truly at the address given below. It shall be our endeavour to publish these with promptitude, column-inches permitting. Sincere thanks go to RW the District Grand Master and the District Grand Secretary for their inspiration and help. The vehicle launching the periodical: www.dglofbengal.org — dusted clear of the cobwebs enmeshing it these last four months. So, off with the dogshores and down the slipway then, brethren.
To sign off in accordance with the zeitgeist of the moment, stay safe, stay at home. Careful though, dear reader, lest when the scourge finally exits, you cannot you have so outgrown your door.
INVESTITURE OF DISTRICT GRAND MASTER
While these columns are meant to dwell primarily on the month just rolled by, this being the inaugural issue, we elect to trace back to the year of ’19 – the decennoval appears to be popping up in more senses than one — to apprise you, dear reader, of some of the milestone events of the District in the year and a half gone by.
The change of guard, without a doubt, assumes preponderance. R W Bro Krupakaran Satish David, in a gesture that can verily be attributed as graceful, demitted office midway into his second stint and Bro Devendra Lal Thapar appointed the District Grand Master in his place. In a ceremony marked, at once, by solemnity and sumptuous display, and witnessed, among others, by the District Grand Masters of Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and the Far East, Eastern Archipelago, the three Districts of the country and officers of United Grand Lodge of England, he was invested by the Pro Grand Master, MW Bro Peter Geoffrey Lowndes, on the 2nd of March, 2019. Bro Thapar, in turn, appointed and invested Bro Debdatta Basu as the Deputy District Grand Master and Bro Subir Dutta the Assistant District Grand Master. Earlier that afternoon, E. Companion Thapar had been invested the Grand Superintendent in and over Bengal, again by M. E. Companion Lowndes in his capacity as Pro First Grand Principal.
The three-day event – this, dear reader, has no allusion to a display of equestrian feat – got off to a start on the afternoon of the last day of February with the “District Secretaries’ Guidelines Presentation” by Bro Lister Park, Administrator, Member Services, UGLE. The next morning the Masons of Bengal were treated to an insightful discourse on “Members’ Pathway and UGLE Resources Presentation” by Bro Park and Bro Michael Baker – who, to everyone’s inconsolable regret, had since had to relinquish his office of Head of Internal Communications owing to a most untimely summons from Grand Lodge Above. The Pathway, “a guide to help lodges attract, introduce and retain members”, was followed by the “Asia-Oceanic Members’ Conference” chaired by the Pro Grand Master. The pre-lunch session ended with an “Introduction to Solomon”, a talk on “a learning resource for Craft and Holy Royal Arch”, rendered, again, by the much-missed brother. The District Grand Masters’ Forum that afternoon, presided over by Bro Lowndes, was attended by the rulers of the eight Districts.
The Investitures concluded with a banquet, a black-tie affair. Grace was lent by the ladies who whisked and sashayed and promenaded with their partners to the lilt of Mishti, a vocalist of repute. Doubtless, the weekend “will long continue to be associated in our minds with the pleasant recollections of the past”.
The District Grand Master gave an idea of the priorities he has set when he organized a Ritual Competition four months later, on the 6th of July. The panel of judges comprised Bros. Harris James, Sudip Dutta and Amit Dutt. The second of its kind, the first having been instituted during late Bro Iqbal Ahmed’s watch, the response was tepid; just four lodges participated. And that too for the basic ritual of opening and closing the lodge. Lodge TISCO came from Jamshedpur and chugged away with the trophy. Kathmandu of Nepal (now in Calcutta) and Federation made the podium finish in that order. Lodge Star in the East earned the solatium. While giving away the prizes, which he had sponsored, Bro Thapar stressed on the significance of proficiency in rituals and hoped for a better engagement the next time.
The Annual Convocation of District Grand Chapter of Bengal was held on the 13th of July, 2019. M. E. Comp. Thapar announced that H.R.H. the Duke of Kent had been pleased to confer the rank of Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies on E. Comps. Darayas Bapooji and Sandip Mukherjee. The 19 joins the others in congratulating the companions. Comp. Thapar then invested, among others, Comps. Bapooji, Peter Boers and Amit Dutt as the Deputy Grand Superintendent, Second Principal and Third Principal respectively. Companion G N. Singh, who had been appointed the District Grand Scribe E but could not be invested due to his unavoidable absence, was so done later at a special convocation held under the banner of RAC Unity on the 3rd of January, Twenty20. Companion Thapar, in his address, rued the poor roll strength of the Chapters and urged the Masters and senior members of the lodges to exhort Master Masons to get Exalted as this ensures the consummation of the Third Degree.
Later that evening, R. W. Bro Thapar presided over the Annual Meeting of District Grand Lodge of Bengal. He announced, to general approval, the conferment of the rank of Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies on Bro Bapooji by MW the Grand Master at the Annual Investiture of UGLE held in April, 2019. Bro Basu and Bro Dutta were re-appointed as the Deputy District Grand Master and Assistant District Grand Master respectively. Notable among the other appointees were Bro Vipul Madeka as the Senior Warden, Bro Nauzer Batlivala as the Junior Warden and Bro G. N. Singh as the Secretary. The announcement of the names appointed to First Past Ranks followed. Brethren having completed 40 years in Freemasonry were felicitated. In his address the District Grand Master welcomed the brethren from Regional Grand Lodge of Eastern India, stressed on the imperative to bring in more members and underscored the importance of benevolence. The Ladies’ Night that followed lived up to its customary elegance.
To go back some three months, the Half-yearly Meeting of the District was held at Kanpur on Saturday, the 15th of February, 2020 under the aegis of Lodge of Harmony. With the District Grand Master on the Eastern Chair, the meeting was attended in large numbers by brethren from Calcutta and the outstation lodges of Asansol, Kulti, Jamshedpur and, of course, Kanpur. The high point of the meeting was the launch of the website, www.dglofbengal.org. In a first time, the RW District Grand Master accorded every lodge an opportunity to express its views. Later, the auction of a bottle of Scotch whisky on the brightly-lit verdant lawns saw the bids finally close at a whopping Rs 25,000. The proceeds were handed over to the hosts. The reciprocation, of a cheque worth double that amount to the District, was shorn of fanfare, a modesty that typically marks the unassuming Bro P. C. Agarwal and his boys.
The three-day trip was marked with the quintessential hospitality of Kanpur, a virtue shared by all the outstation lodges. While there was general appreciation of the District Grand Secretary for having organized a well-oiled event, Bro Singh, in turn, acknowledged the contribution of others, the brethren of Kanpur and Bro Sudip Dutta, the old warhorse, in particular. One takes the occasion to commend the almost military precision with which the Director of Ceremonies, young Gaurav Bhoopal, conducted this and all the other meetings mentioned in these columns.
And then came the onslaught of Covid-19. The yellow peril, which China claims is a zoonosis which had emanated from bats, — an extenuation most nations dismiss with ill-concealed contempt — spread its vicious tentacles across the breadth of this hapless planet. Consigning millions to the grave, beside bringing the world to a crippling standstill. Could not halt the relentless march of Masonry, though. Meetings and convocations might have been abandoned, — some lodges have elected to meet informally through what in internet jargon is referred to as the clouds, — but its principal pillar, charity, wades on. The Masons of the District, individually and through their lodges, contributed a generous sum to the Coronavirus Aid Fund. And under the stewardship of Bro Thapar, Bro G. N. Singh, ably assisted by the three Bs, Bapooji, Bharech and Batlivala, — never mind if they were not recognizable behind their masks — embarked on beneficence with a zeal that can aptly be qualified missionary. Disbursing respirators, sanitizers and rations to the less privileged of the neighbourhood through Park Street police station. All this in scant regard for their own life and limb – limb, from the stern reproaches of their tut-tutting wives for thus venturing out ever so often when everyone else has sought the immurement of his home. Bro Singh subsequently tied up with four more police stations, New Market, Kalighat, Vidyasagar Traffic Guard and River Traffic Police and arranged the victuals to be sent to the central kitchen set up at Police Athletic Club for feeding the thousands rendered jobless with the lock-down. If a digression, one cannot help but admire the role of the police in this noble endeavour.
The final tranche was donated to Howrah Municipal Corporation, which has set up a camp for the out-of-work migrant labourers detraining at Howrah Station. The effort was facilitated by Bro Tapas Bhattacharya, the Deputy Commissioner of the Corporation and a member of Lodge Prinsep. Alongside, the District Charity Fund Trust accorded a grant of Rs 10,000 to Bro Nikhil Das, a former employee of the District and a member of Lodge Light in Andamans, and now in reduced circumstances, his woes compounded with the loss of his wife a fortnight ago, — a bereavement this newsletter deeply condoles.
Having exhausted the funds, these intrepid corona warriors of 19 solicit aid from any kind soul, Mason or otherwise, in a bid to carry on the good work. Details for remittance may be had from Bro G. N. Singh. Be assured “it will be thankfully received and faithfully applied”.
As if the pestilence was not enough, super cyclone, Amphan, the like of which has not been seen in the recorded history of the city, bore down on Calcutta and its adjoining districts on the evening of 20th May. Landfall gales of 150 km an hour, gusting at 180, swept away virtually everything in its rampaging path. A good hundred perished, thousands of homes razed, crops and vegetation ravaged, saline water from the sea rendered vast swathes of land uncultivable for years. Here in the city, the mayhem was extensive. Wide stretches went under water and without power, countless trees flattened, phone and internet connections snapped. Freemasons’ Hall did not escape its wrath. Trees were uprooted and lay squarely blocking the driveway. Yet again the indomitable spirit of the Masons prevailed. Armed with a power saw, Bros G N Singh, Carl Fowler and Nauzer Batlivala lopped off branches and serrated away trunks and, with the unstinted help of the staff, cleared the isthmus leading to the sprawling expanse of the Hall. All this, in one day – the 25th of May. As usual, the DGM rallied round.
The scars left on the two mansions, however, will not fade so fast. Entire window panels have been wrenched from their hinges and cast yards away, glass panes – some of these priceless Belgian stained glass — torn from their frames into a myriad shards, tar felts ripped from the roofs by the blustery winds and welting rains. The Robing Room was awash. Much of the regalia has been rendered a sodden, squelching mess. The beatings notwithstanding, the twin edifices stand proud, heads held aloft in a defiance of the elements that borders on disdain. Confident, their denizens will take care of them.