Forgotten club culture
Given the antagonism and bitterness that have fuelled polarisation, hate and worse before, at and after AGMs at some of the better-known clubs of India, it would seem that "club culture" is now alien to many. Clubs are, sans doubt, a British legacy. They were always known as the quintessential "home away from home". That is no longer the case. One of the celebrated clubs used to be extremely particular 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 comes to the AGM and subsequent elections, everything would go topsy-turvy and absolute filth about contestants would be sent to members, the electorate. Notwithstanding exceptions, matters may 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 symptoms and the results are sad. But 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 is the ideal place to meet, spend "quality time" and relax. AGMs are brief, friendly formalities and gentlemen members behave like 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, say, Treasurer and as members of the Executive Committee. Now it is a different ball game. Some clubs, close to a century and a half, decided on taking prospective members but only after having taken the initial deposit. Ethically, only after the candidate gets through the initial vetting 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. "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, arrive on their annual visit and sit in judgement adding to the uncalled for pettiness. This is all really sad. And, that, sadly, is an understatement. It is time for all gentlemanly clubs to redefine their priorities.