A Christian Paramhamsa: a confirmed Hindu reminisces
I got to know Bro Robert Whiting when I was in school at St.Mary’s, Dum Dum. I was a day-scholar there. I do not know how we fell a-talking but all that matters now is that we stuck up a friendship which still carries on even after Brother has passed to His true home. Oh, I must add, seeing all the false accusations leveled against Christians today that in spite of knowing this humble Australian missionary for about four years; I remain a staunch Hindu Brahmin. My faith in my own religion has been strengthened because God deigned me to live with a Saint. It is believed that amongst the remote Carthusians there are Saints galore but only revealed to the Father. Bro. Whiting‘s sanctity now is evident to me though at that time, around 1992, he was just that friend I never had.
I come from a family where there is a natural distrust of firangs or whites/Anglo-Indians. After all, they were the ultimate Other, sort of the last bastions of the Raj who lingered on with some unknown agenda to take us on a platter to the detested British. So as my friendship grew with this giant of a man, I was torn asunder with the fear of being converted on the one hand and a deep respect for Brother’s learning. My parents had appointed many private tutors for me but none of them could match Brother’s charisma and bird’s eye-view of everything that he talked of. Remember, I was an adolescent then and sex, naturally, was foremost on my mind. Also this was the time that the Christian Brothers in the US, Canada and Australia were being torn to shreds on charges of pedophilia. So again I was suspicious: was this man a homosexual in the guise of a sadhu or was he the genuine thing? So at one point in our bonding, when I was spending well nigh five hours daily with him in his room, I had long conversations with him on these topics too. He had gently explained that he had never violated his vow of celibacy ever and when the pages of a book got too raunchy, he kept the book away for sometime and then often willy-nilly he skipped a few pages and went on reading. And no, he was not a homosexual; though he knew a few folks here and there who might have been.
Brother suffered acutely from rheumatoid arthritis and had to ‘take’ traction daily for over an hour. I personally bear witness to the fact that suffering makes holy men holier. He taught me by example how to turn pain into an oblation for God: he introduced me to the Rosary, to the reading of the Divine Office. Not as a Catholic, mind you, but to incorporate Lectio Divina or holy reading as a daily practice of any lived Faith. I understood the meaning of Dharma seeing him. I understand now what is meant in Religious circles, as a Living Rule. There are women and men among us who are so perfected that even if the Rule of any Congregation were to be destroyed, then too it can be written down observing the Living Rule. There was a three-part series which I can no longer locate, written by St. Alphonsus Rodriguez sj on the Perfection and the Practice of the Christian Life. Brother Robert Cataldus Whiting lived those three series and with hindsight, I can vouch that he lived the life of a Paramhamsa. The Vedas and the Upanishads found their fit residences in him.
This is one side of Indian Christianity which we are at the risk of forgetting in this hour of darkness.
Addenda: Read this cool blog by a Christian Brother.