Its 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
Calcuttas 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 days 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 citys 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
Years Eve Nights 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 Tollys
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 Years
Eve. Essentially a golf club, it provides a host of other facilities
like tennis riding,swimming etc. which endears it to its members.
Tollys 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
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