Forgotten club culture
Given the antagonism and bitterness that have fuelled polarisation and hate, before, at and after AGMs at some of the better-known clubs of Calcutta and other cities, it would seem that club culture is now long forgotten. Clubs in India are a British legacy. Known for years as the quintessential "home away from home", the term "club culture" seems alien to many. And, that, indeed, is sad. One of the best-known clubs used to be extremely particular and careful when it came to inducting a new member. His credentials would be checked and cross-checked and, among other musts, he would have to arrive at the interview in a black suit and tie. Yet, when it came to the AGM and the elections, everything would go topsyturvy and absolute filth about contestants would be sent to members, the electorate. This paradox, if it can be called that, was brought out as a news item in a national daily. Matters have simmered down since but the trend persists. Election campaigns match real political ones and, instead of banking on the positives, they opt for the negatives. Several well-known clubs have fallen prey to these ills and the sad results are there for all to see. But the real club culture is meant to be different. Take, for instance, the Travellers' Club, London. Even at this stage of the 21st century, it seems to have sprung out of a Wodehouse work or an Arthur Conan Doyle story. Club convention is very much in place and even the guest is treated with such friendliness, warmth and hospitality as if he was another member. This, sans doubt, is the ideal place to meet, spend "quality time" and relax. AGMs are brief, friendly formalities and gentlemen members behave as gentlemen. Why are clubs here departing from this tradition? Where have gentlemanliness, camaraderie and bonhomie disappeared? There was a time, in the very early 80s, when the then President, would be hard put to convince members to take up responsibilities like that of the Treasurer and as members of the Executive Committee. Now, it is a different ball game. One club, close to 140 years old, decided on sending prospective members to the screening committee but only after having taken the initial deposit. Only after the candidate gets through with flying colours must financial transactions take place. Politics has even started doing the rounds in a club that claims to be over 200 years old. Kipling once observed, "Politics is a dog's game without even having a dog's decency." One is not sure if that observation came before or after his "Jungle Book." But the point was made. Politics, which can do great things for people, has a place of its own. But a club that hosts both ladies and gentlemen can scarcely afford to sacrifice warmth and dignity for petty priorities. At some AGMs, some members, especially the "senior" variety, who never make it to the club throughout the year, are lured by respective panels, and sit in judgement adding to the uncalled for pettiness. This is all really sad. And, that sadly, is an understatement.