SPEECHES BY R.W. REGIONAL GRAND MASTER
Just as we start any new venture or undertake a new assignment only after invoking the blessings of the Almighty, I searched for an apt invocation to begin our journey today, and found this in the Book of Joshua:-
“Be thou strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, neither be
dismayed, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
M W Bro Harcharan Singh Ranauta OSM, M W The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of India, Respected Past Grand Masters, M W Bro Arun Chintopanth, M W Bro Justice Devinder Gupta, M W Bro Dr Balaram Biswakumar, and M W Bro Vasudev Jamnabihar Masurekar, R W Bro C J Mathew, Deputy Grand Master, R W Bro Arvind Prasad Chitra, Immediate Past Regional Grand Master of our Region, R W Bro Bharat Venkat Epur, Regional Grand Master of the Regional Grand Lodge of Eastern India, R W Bro Ardeshir Sarosh Vakil, Regional Grand Master of the Regional Grand Lodge of Western India, R W Bro Dr Nirmal Singh Sodhi, Regional Grand Master of the Regional Grand Lodge of Northern India, R W Bro Bomi Mehta, Past District Grand Master and Representative of the District Grand Master of the District Grand Lodge of India Scottish Constitution, W Bro A I Kurian, Representative of the District Grand Master of the District Grand Lodge of Madras English Constitution, our Past Regional Grand Masters, R W Bro G K Selvarajan, R W Bro. Varanasi Narasimham, and R W Bro R Sushil Raj, Past Regional Grand Master of the Regional Grand Lodge of Western India, R W Bro Rajeev Khandelwal, R W Brethren, V W Brethren, W Brethren and Brethren all.
It is indeed a great honour and privilege to have been chosen by M W The Grand Master to lead the Southern Region as its Regional Grand Master, and I am most grateful and indebted to M W The Grand Master for this singular honour conferred upon me. I am conscious of the fact that many distinguished Freemasons have adorned this high office and it will not be an easy task for me to emulate them, but I assure you that I shall leave no stone unturned in my endeavour to maintain and uphold the dignity and high principles of Freemasonry and to keep the flag of the Southern Region flying as high as ever.
Brethren, in the last fifteen months since our M W Grand Master took charge of the Grand Lodge of India as its head, we have seen and experienced a unique and distinct dynamism in his outlook on Masonry and on the way forward for our great institution. With the hosting of the first ever Masonic Friends of India Summit in New Delhi last year under the able leadership of our M W Grand Master, our Grand Lodge has been propelled on to a world stage as far as Freemasonry is concerned. Statistics reveal that there are over three hundred thousand Freemasons of Indian origin spread over the four quarters of the globe and therefore it was no wonder that we had participants from all over the world at the MFI summit in Delhi. The Brethren of Indian origin settled in the UK were so overwhelmed by the initiative of our M W Grand Master that they offered to host the second edition of the Masonic Friends of India Summit, which will be held in England this coming October. To my mind, the high point of the Delhi summit was the screening of a premiere show of the new feature film on Freemasonry titled “Terra Masonica - Around the World in 80 Lodges” by a Eurpoean Director Tristan Bourlard, which is to be released later this year. India was one of the 80 countries covered by this illustrious Director and our Grand Lodge and its activities, our Grand Master and many of our Grand Officers, feature prominently in this full length film on Masonry, which I am certain will go a long way in showcasing to the world all there is to know about Freemasonry and its activities. In the words of the Director himself - quote - “It allows the broad public to understand what is Freemasonry today, and the Freemasons themselves to discover different aspects of the Craft they do not know, and to feel that being a Freemason is a source of pride” - unquote. M W Grand Master, the Southern Region is with you in all your initiatives to take our Grand Lodge to the pinnacle of Masonry and we pledge our unstinted support and cooperation in all the programs of the Grand Lodge of India.
Our Immediate Past Regional Grand Master, R W Bro Arvind Prasad Chitra, has done an excellent job in his tenure of three years as our Regional Grand Master and we cannot but help appreciate the hard work put in by him to promote the objects of our institution. While he demits office today, let me in a lighter vein say that I have mixed feelings, a big thank you coupled with a big no thank you. The big thank you is for passing on to me the wonderful legacy of a healthy, vibrant and throbbing Region, the best ever any RGM can wish for, and the big no thank you is for the blistering pace you have set which I doubt I will be able to match. You have taken our movement to many remote corners of our Region where we had hitherto failed to reach out to, and this could have been possible only with your brand of commitment and perseverence. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate you on behalf of our Region for a job well done and to place on record our deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the time you have given to Freemasonry and for your untiring efforts in taking this Region to great heights. It was therefore in the fitness of things that M W Grand Master was pleased to confer upon you the highest honour and recognition that can be given to any Brother, that of the Order of Service to Masonry, an Award that you richly deserve. May you live many years to wear that jewel with pleasure to yourself and honour to our fraternity.
Brethren, a few months ago, I entered into my fortieth year in Masonry and it has been a wonderful journey thus far. While the next three years are certainly going to be the most important years of my masonic career, let me take a moment to reflect upon my initial years in Masonry and remember some of the distinguished Masons who mattered in making me what I am today. First and foremost is my father late W.Bro.V.O.Markos, who in a way introduced me to Masonry long before I was actually initiated. As a little boy of eight or ten years, I remember those monthly visits to Cochin where he used to go to attend Lodge meetings because there was no Lodge in Kottayam at that time, and being his first born male child I used to be taken along to enjoy the car ride. It was more like a pilgrimage really, as the ride which today would take hardly two hours, used to take a whole day then as the car had to be taken across three boat ferries to get to Cochin. And then, from the dark recesses of the car where I would be left with the driver, I would watch my father and many others dressed in what then seemed strange attire, disappear into a building for an hour or more. I would always wonder what they were up to, and later of course curiosity quite naturally got the better of me. Then there was my uncle, ie. my father’s brother, whom many of you may have known, late R W Bro V O Abraham, who was instrumental in my being proposed for membership in Lodge Cochin, and who later went on to found three Lodges in Central Kerala, ie. Lodge Kottayam here, Lodge Vanchinad in Kollam and Lodge Alleppey in Alappuzha. The third person is my older brother, late W.Bro.Dr.Jacob Zachariah, who passed away just a few months ago, and who as the Junior Deacon at my initiation grasped my hand and led me into the Lodge as I took my first step in Masonry. And last but certainly not the least is W.Bro. A.I.Kurian, who is very much present here this evening as the Representative of the District Grand Master of the District Grand Lodge of Madras, and quite appropriately so, my guru in Masonry as he was the Worshipful Master who initiated me forty years ago. After my name was announced as your next RGM, I called him to break the good news, and he then told me in the true spirit of the guru-shishya parampara, that it is the cherished wish of every guru that his shishya would surpass him one day and reach greater heights, and that such an occurrence is the guru’s greatest achievement. Thank you W.Bro.A.I.Kurian for showing me the light of Freemasonry and guiding me in my initial years in this great fraternity.
Coming to more mundane matters, let me first congratulate all the active officers whom I have appointed for the ensuing year and wish them all success in their respective roles. R.W.Bro.Appu Kurian, our Deputy Regional Grand Master is a wizard with the computer and I am sure he will be a great asset in our efforts to fully computerise our entire system. To our eighteen Assistant Regional Grand Masters, I must say that you have extremely important roles to play not only in monitoring the activities of the Lodges in your respective areas and guiding the Masters, Secretaries and other office bearers, but also in sending periodical progress reports so that the Region, and through the Region the Grand Lodge, may be well informed of their performance.
We had a very useful and interactive workshop session yesterday. I have set fairly moderate goals as I feel that we are now at a crossroads. I say this because while apparently there is a global decline in membership, our Grand Lodge has been continuously recording ten to fifteen percent growth every year, and taking cognizance of the global trend, we are now in a position to take stock and put corrective measures in place to prevent a similar slide. It is therefore important that care should be taken not to overburden our officers or frighten away prospectives with stringent goals and high demand targets. As was emphasised at our interactive session, the areas we need to excel in:-
1. Charity projects with high visibility in the community to enhance our image and attract potential members.
2. Membership growth with particular emphasis on youth, and bringing down average age of membership.
3. Atleast three initiations per year without compromising on quality, two of whom should be below the age of 35.
4. Preventing attrition.
5. Motivating absentees to be more active in participation.
6. Enrolment of craft members in the higher degrees.
7. Masonic Education.
8. More importance to Festive Boards, Toasting and Fires.
I do not intend to take up your time today by elaborating on these goals as they will unfurl themselves as the year unfolds and our team gets to work, but allow me to briefly touch upon two of the more important aspects of masonic activity, namely, membership growth and charity.
Statistics reveal that more than 65% of our members are over fifty years of age and the average age of initiates over the last three years is well over forty. This obviously means that we have not been able to attract young people into our organisation. This is not an alarming situation by any means as even with our existing membership, we have been doing excellent community service and registering growth. But if suitable safeguards are not put in place at the appropriate time, we may end up in a no-win situation like the global trend. Therefore, my emphasis on membership growth by attracting the youth and bringing down our average age.
Well, one may ask - what does Freemasonry have to offer to the youth of today. First and foremost, Freemasonry offers a wonderful spiritual framework for life without being constrained by any single religious dogma. We promote personality development, leadership and community service. We help to strengthen character by improving moral and spiritual outlook and broaden mental horizons. We teach the value of time and time management, role modelling and ethical behaviour. Freemasonry teaches courtesy and civility in society, honesty and fairness in business, kindness in the home, pity and concern for the unfortunate, resistance towards evil, help for the weak, forgiveness for the penitent, love for one another, and above all reverence and love for God. Freemasonry is many things, but most of all, it is a way of life. To put it in a nutshell, we strive to build the three C’s, Character, Compassion and Confidence.
This is the message that should go out to all those wonderful young people out there whom we want to envelop into our fold. How do we go about conveying this message to the people we want to attract. That is where the ARGMs and Mentors come in. They have to employ their communicative skills to percolate this message to its desired destination. Convince the Lodges to appoint one or two dynamic Brethren as “Youth Ambassadors” to appeal to the younger generation, to attract young blood to make our organisation vibrant and more relevant today. The youth ambassadors have their role cut out. They have to highlight the good work of Masonry, and at the same time expound what Masonry has to offer to younger adults. Therefore, let us start reaching out to our wonderful youth, and let us make them aware of how becoming a Freemason can help them in life.
Charity is one of the cornerstones of Freemasonry, and in the present day it has become more relevant than ever before. The values of Freemasonry are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. Freemasons are taught to practise charity and to care, not only for their own, but also for the community as a whole, both by charitable giving, and by voluntary efforts as individuals. From its earliest days, Freemasonry has been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged, and this work continues even till today. All of this we give, apart from the huge sums that are given to national and local charities. But the question remains – is this enough, are we visible in the community, have we really been able to improve our image in society. Let us not waste time mulling over these questions and trying to find answers, rather let us act and become more visible in the community. It is the cherished desire of M W Grand Master that Masonic Centres are established in strategic locations all over our vast country, and that such Centres should cater to the needs of the community in and around that location, be it in the field of health care, vocational training, educating the underprivileged, or the like. But setting up of a Masonic Centre requires money which will have to come by way of voluntary contributions from our Brethren and well wishers. The Southern Region already has a registered Trust going by the name of Masonic Foundation which is empowered to undertake projects of this nature, and on behalf of our Region, I am today desirous of launching a Fund within our Masonic Foundation to be called “Masonic Centre Fund”, the collections from which will be earmarked for the particular purpose of establishing one or more such Masonic Centres. To set the ball rolling, I would like to make a personal contribution of Rupees One lakh, and I request M W Grand Master to formally inaugurate and launch our “Masonic Centre Fund” by handing over this contribution to our Regional Grand Treasurer.
I also have pleasure in announcing that Lodge Vembanad No.319 has committed a contribution of Rupees Two Lakhs and Lodge Ananth No.315 has committed a contribution of Rupees One Lakh. A big thank you to the Members of thes two Lodges. Brethren, this is only the beginning, and I personally appeal to each and every one of you to support this noble cause with your voluntary contributions.
Before I conclude, let me once again express my sincere gratitude to M W Grand Master for the honour conferred upon me and for gracing our Annual Investiture Meet with his esteemed presence. I thank my colleagues from the other three Regions, R W Bro Bharat Epur, R W Bro Adi Vakil, and R W Bro Nirmal Sodhi, and the Representatives of our sister Constitutions, R W Bro Bomi Mehta and W Bro A I Kurian, for their presence here after travelling long distances to be with us this evening. I thank the distinguished members of the Grand Lodge Deputation as well as the Visiting Deputations for their presence. Members of my mother Lodge, Lodge Cochin are here in large numbers to see me installed as the Regional Grand Master of the Southern Region, and I am grateful to them for being here to share in my happiness. I thank my own Brethren from Lodge Kottayam, particularly our organising team led by the local ARGM and Organising Secretary, W Bro Abraham Cherian, for the wonderful work they have done in organising this event. Without their untiring efforts, none of this would have been possible. Last but not the least, my dear Brethren of the Southern Region. Words cannot express my gratitude to each and every one of you for turning out in such large numbers to see me installed in the highest office of the Region. Your show of so much love and affection is really overwhelming which I shall dearly cherish for the rest of my life. My dear Brethren, you are the true leaders of Freemasonry, you are the visible face of our great institution, you are the mirror that reflects true brotherhood. I want you to join hands with me so that together, hand in hand, we can take our Region to the greatest heights possible. I close with those famous words of Albert Camus:-
“Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow,
Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead,
Just walk beside me and be my friend.”