A Masonic Honor that Surprised the Beloved Brother Raj Bhalla

The Morton Lodge No. 32 Worshipful Master Tom Cassidy presenting the award to Dr. Raj Bhalla

The Morton Lodge No. 72 Worshipful Master Tom Cassidy presenting the award to Dr. Raj Bhalla

By Jawahar Malhotra

RICHMOND: The annals of the work of the freemasons are filled with many worthy deeds, each performed in the spirit of the fraternity that has been inspired since the order was first established long ago in 1717 when the first Grand Lodge of England was formed in London. Personal growth and social betterment via individual involvement and philanthropy have been the guiding lights of the stonemason guilds that have survived through the ensuing centuries.

Stonemason guilds have transcended national boundaries and religious affiliations and though they were long seen as a shadowy organization, the root of the association has sought to better the lives of those around the local Lodges where the members gather for regular meetings. They follow a strict code of conduct, each member, addressed as “Brother”, passing through progressive degrees of initiation from Entered Apprentice to Fellowcraft and finally Master Mason. Some very famous Americans were Masons, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere and President Teddy Roosevelt.

For Dr. Rajinder Pal Singh Bhalla, this was a fascinating world, one which he had been exposed to as a young boy by his father who was a Past Grand Standard Bearer and Past Junior Regional Grand Warden in the Grand Lodge of India on Janpath Avenue in New Delhi, India. His younger brother GPS Bhalla became Master of Lodge in Madras and inspired Raj and his youngest brother Paul to join. By June 1964, Bhalla had become a Master Mason at the Northern Star Lodge No. 21 in Ferozepur Cantonment, Punjab, just miles from the Indo-Pak border.

Soon after he came to America, Bhalla joined the Paumanok-Port Washington No. 855 Lodge and stayed there from 1976 till 1993, serving as its Worshipful Master in 1982. When he moved to the Sugar Land area in 1995, he joined the Morton Masonic Lodge No. 72 in Richmond and, now a very active 86 years-old, has been a Free Mason for over 50 years. In recognition of Brother Raj’s devoted and outstanding service to Masonic principles, in April 2015, the Worshipful Master, Wayne Switzer of his Lodge presented him with the coveted Golden Trovel Award, the highest honor a Texas lodge can bestow on one of its members, declaring that they “valued him” as a “valuable asset and something of a treasure…. an exceptional example of the Craft.”

A little over two years later, on Tuesday, June 13, when Bhalla was asked to come to his Lodge after an absence of two months, on the pretense of some work, he found a large congregation of parents, friends and other Masons assembled for the scholarship awards by the Lodge to eight high school seniors. Afterwards, Bhalla was puzzled that the Brethren were larger than for a normal meeting and joined them upstairs to the Lodge Hall.

There, he recalled he was asked “to come to the East, the Worshipful Master got down the steps, and the Secretary brought a huge framed something which I couldn’t figure out but when they showed me closely, it was a memento and a copy of a Proclamation of exemplary service. Then the Worshipful Master gave the speech referring to the sword as kirpan and repeatedly said “kirpan” to make sure he was pronouncing it right. Then he traced the history of Kirpan to Guru Gobind Singh and what exactly was meant by a Saint Soldier.”

The Lodge officers and other members wore their distinctive Masonic Aprons over their pants and spoke admiringly of the service that Brother Raj had given to the Lodge. Then they presented Bhalla with a shadow box with a kirpan, an antique Masonic plaque, and a suitably engraved dedication which reads: “To our Beloved Brother Rajinder Pal Singh Bhalla. Your dedication to the Craft, your kind heart and your generous spirit will live forever in our hearts.”

Bhalla was taken aback and touched “not by their gesture, but the way they studied the philosophy of our tenth Guru and put that into their thinking for choosing an appropriate memento for me.” It turned out that the Lodge Brethren had unanimously voted, when Bhalla was not present; to pass a proclamation to name the Masonic Lodge Hall, where regular meetings are held, as “Rajinder Bhalla Hall” and a formal naming ceremony will be held later, open to the public and media.