By Manuwant Choudhary
If I were the Dalai Lama I would try and find out where Father Van is reborn and who....
But the way he loved India and Darjeeling I am sure he must be a toddler Shrestha or a Pradhan in the cradle of the Kunchenjunga.
Father Gerard Van Wallegham was the last foreign missionary and he passed away recently at the age of 88 in his room at St Joseph's College, Darjeeling.
He was only 24 when he came to India as a Jesuit priest and stayed all his life.
And all his life he tried to get an Indian citizenship and the story is that it was always rejected.
Even Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi tried to get him a citizenship only to be told that the same man some Mr. Chatterjee has rejected it.
I wonder when hundreds of our Indians become Canadian citizens..even when they are not so great..why the Indian government denied Fr. Van a citizenship.
I also wonder why Fr. Van is the last foreign missionary in the hills of Darjeeling?
Born to Belgian parents at Winnipeg, after graduating from St. Paul's, Winnipeg he decided to join the Jesuits.
I am immensely blessed to have been his student and also to have met him a few years ago at our 25 year Reunion.
Even at 85 he would walk from school to Chowrasta.
Memories of Fr. Van take me far back to my own childhood and the first day my parents put me into boarding.
At the age of 7 one does not even know what is a boarding school?
First I was quite happy with all the new school uniforms and the goodies being bought for me...but then
when that final moment for goodbyes came all hell broke loose.
Mr. Venkat was our Prefect and I recall giving him a nice kick and running away from the study hall...telling my parents that I did not want to be an engineer or doctor...I would be happy looking after the cows !
Mr. Venkat remembered my kick all along.
Then a younger tall foreign missionary simply lifted me up in the air and brought me to the Rectors office.
Fr. Van, the Rector, spoke in English...and he must have spent an hour trying to quieten me..but when everything failed...he just slapped me.....my cries stopped and I slept away in his office. He carried me himself to the school dormitory and put me to bed.
I could hear him talking to the sisters to give me some soup when I am awake.
Of course, Fr. Van could not remember all the details when we last met...memory was failing him.
Also he had worse students to handle than me....like in a documentary on St. Joseph's he talks about how King Gyanendra of Nepal who was a tough one to handle. Said Fr. Van, "When I tried to control him he said he will call his troops !"
My own father was very fond of Fr. Van and when we were home Fr. Van would often come up in our dinner conversations....
Once my father went to drop me to school and it was a rainy Monday morning with the school assembly being held in the corridors.
Fr. Van was standing on the wooden stool and suddenly my name was called out.
I had never got a prize till then...and my father was all smiles that his son had finally won a prize.
Later he asked me what this was about..I explained that it was a Rs.100 fine for coming late to school !
St. Joseph's did give me a prize on the last day of school...something I value more than all the prizes out there in the world.