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The British hangover of elite clubs of Kolkata

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Kolkata has a strong leftover colonial flavour in many of its ways: Take for example the language we use, our admiration for the Queen’s English, for old British-Raj architecture convent schools run by Jesuit fathers, even names of roads after Governor-Generals, and of course, the posh social clubs, many of which were established by the British, when Calcutta was the capital of British India.

Interestingly, most of these clubs still hold on to many customs of the Raj era, upholding a testimony to the ingrained fondness for style and aristocracy, that the Britishers are so well-known for. Take for example, The Bengal Club, an elite social club that is said to stand for ‘finely matured culture and epicurean excellence.’ Established in 1827 as a ‘British only’ club. they still cater to the business elites and people belonging to the upper echelons of the society. Though a chunk of the club’s property was sold off and the rear part opening onto Russell Street functions, Bengal Club still retains its name as an august institute.

Coming to The Calcutta Club, formed by aristocratic Calcuttans in 1907, where Britishers and Indians could meet and socialise since they were miffed by Bengal Club’s ‘only British’ policy. Even today this club has a strict dress code and women were allowed membership only from 2007. They adhere to the British dress code so closely, that they even did not allow famous painter M F Hussain from setting foot into the club premises since his footwear was not proper (he did not wear any shoes). This had created quite a furore. 

Kolkata also takes pride in the fact that it houses the second oldest golf club of the world, The Royal Calcutta Golf Club. Established in 1829, this club was honoured by King George V and Queen Mary in 1911 and is rated as one of the best golfing course (18 hole) in Asia. Here too, a sign of male chauvinism still reigns, as lady members are allowed to use the course only in the morning.

The Tollygunge Club, popularly known as Tolly Club happens to be India’s first country club and one of the top twenty clubs of the world. The club spread over a sprawling 100 acres, offers golf, tennis, indoor and outdoor swimming, squash and amateur equestrian sports. The club’s Christmas party is the talk of the town and this much sought after club has a long waiting list for membership.

The Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC) was founded in 1792 and happens to be one of the oldest sports club in the world after Marylebone Cricket Club. The club was founded as the ‘Calcutta Cricket Club Clippers’ by British expatriates who had come over with the British East India Company.

The Saturday Club established in 1857 by the officers of the light horse regiment is well known for its sporting and cultural activities. There is a strict dress code for each area of the club. However, this club unlike many had elected it’s first lady president, Ms Renu Roy in 2007, a well-known name in the cultural circuit of Kolkata. She could break the male bastion and ushering in a change after almost 106 years!

The club culture of Kolkata is much more vibrant than any other fast moving metropolis of India as Bengalis and Kolkata have not been able to come out of the hangover of the ‘Days of the Raj.’