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Kolkata - The club Culture

It’s been many years since the British left the country, but indelible impressions of the Raj continue through institutions founded and popularized by them. The age of the white sahib might be no more, but the brown sahib is doing very well for himself, thank you. One of the factors which perpetuated the rule or Raj by proxy is Calcutta’s flourishing club culture.

Clubs were instituted by the British with the purpose of providing convivial surroundings where they could meet, exchange pleasantries and partake of a beer or two after the rigours of the day’s work. Accordingly, natives were excluded from such clubs and admission was restricted to the white-skinned rulers. Some of the clubs relaxed regulations in course of time to admit some prominent Indian personalities, but by and large this practice was frowned up0on by the ‘Propah’ segment of English society in India. With the departure of the British, the clubs began catering to a largely Indian clientele, but many of their rules and regulations, anachronistic in this day, remain a testimony to the whims and tastes of its founders. Formal dress, as defined by the British, continues to be insisted upon. To the fury o many nationalistic Indians, traditional Indian dress like kurta-pajma does not fall within the ambit of the above, and those found wearing such run the risk of being refused entry or being expelled from the premises of the clubs.

Calcutta Club is arguably the most prestigious club in the city, and caters to a distinguished list of members, many of whom are prominent in the field of industry and business. Obtaining membership to this club is a long and difficult process, and the list of prospective members is so large it may be year before the screening committee find time to consider the suitability of an application. Chauvinistic to the extreme, this club does not admit any to the fairer sex, though ladies are welcome to enter the hallowed portals of Calcutta Club as guests. Children below the age of 18 are not allowed entry except on Thursdays and special days.

One of the special days or nights is the tremendously popular “International Night”, a major event in the city’s social circuit, which features a variety of food and delicacies prepared by the ladies of the various consulates in the city. Another event which draws attention is the Bengali New Year’s Eve Night’s when a Bengali dinner is served and a Bengali drama is staged by the members themselves.

Bengal Club, an institution of almost legendary repute in the days of the Raj, is today shorn of some of the prestige and glamour it once enjoyed but remains an august instituted patronized by the business elite of the city. Economic necessity prompted the sale of a large segment of the club premises, leaving only the rear section which opens out to Russe! Street. Bengal Club is still famous for its business lunches, and tradition is served by continuing the practice of having drinks in the bar before proceeding to the dining room.

Tollygunge Club, known in the circuit as “Tolly’s patronized chiefly by the nouveau riche as well as they younger and more westernized elements of the city. Tolly is the place to be, at least for the younger generation, on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Essentially a golf club, it provides a host of other facilities like tennis riding,swimming etc. which endears it to its members. Tolly’s Club House with its thatched bar, is one of the most picturesque in the city.

Saturday Club has earned the reputation being a club for the moneyed Patronized by many prominent businessmen; this club is like Tolly in that it attracts many of the yonger set.

The august Royal Calcutta Golf Club known as the RCGC is almost exclusively a golfing club. Its golfing course is rated as one of the best in Asia. A couple of tennis courts and a swimming pool were introduced a few years earlier in accordance with popular wishes, but RCGC remains a club for members whose first love is golfing.

Stalwarts like Premjit Lall,Jaideep Mukherjea, Akhtar Ali and now Zeeshan Ali have made Calcutta south club a legendary name in Indian tennis circles. Probably the only club in Calcutta which attracts members on sporting grounds only it caters to a wide range of sports besides tennis.

There are many other clubs in Calcutta but they are not as ‘propah’ as Calcutta Club or Bengal Club to cite two examples and have relaxed rules regarding dress and codes of conduct. More and more non-sahib Calcuttans are gradually being ingrained into the club culture. Though it will be a torturously slow process, it looks as if the day might come when Calcutta will boast of Indianised clubs which espouse Indian culture and observe Indian customs.

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