Club me tender...

Calcutta Club

I have failed to understand why people object to dress codes in elite institutions. If they are elite, they will have certain rules. If you don’t like them, just don’t go there.

A recent news item mentions that Calcutta Club refused entry to painter Suvaprasanna who had been invited there. The reason was that he wore kurta-pyjama.

There were protests outside the gate. I can imagine the bhadralok sitting with their pipes, reading Chomsky or Sarat Chandra or the Guardian or even the Economic and Political Weekly, going tchah-tchah as they sipped their gin-tonic. Do clubs owe people explanations?

It doesn’t make any sense for you to continue with this colonial rule even as a wind of change is blowing in our state. Do away with this dress code, said a letter to the club that was signed by writer Mahasweta Devi, painter Jogen Chowdhury and Sameer Aich among others.

Isn’t it precious? The Left ruled West Bengal all these years and the clubby atmosphere remained; now a non-Commie government is here and people are talking about winds of change to do away with a ‘colonial rule’. There is nothing colonial about wearing trousers and shirt with shoes as much as you are permitted to wear a formal national dress.

Dress codes have a certain charm. Do people attend celebratory functions in bummy clothes? Do they wear shorts in places of worship? And don’t our army personnel follow these same codes in dress, form of address and how to carry themselves? They are much-respected for it.

Of course, club members are not serving the country but clubs are not public places. The members know the rules. I have visited a couple of Kolkata clubs and they are not much different from those in other cities, except perhaps Delhi Gymkhana where people run to sit by the fireside during winters to “catch a nice place”!

The Great Indian Wedding Turf
A Vijay Mallya could get away with an orange jacket at the Turf Club races but then it is also where lavish weddings with kitschy maharajah type decor is almost mandatory even if the tulips and the cheese are imported. This is also part of the Mumbai reverse snobbery.

In Madras, no one makes a song and dance about what anyone is wearing because everyone knows the rules and loves following them. Yes, these are elite institutions, but the liquor and food is cheaper than in fancy restaurants or even mid-range ones. Also, the winds of change are such that even the most hallowed clubs are now not considered posh, and serve as places for a quiet snooze or a swim. The real action has shifted to the plush lounge bars, especially in Mumbai.

Contrary to belief, clubs are not all about gentility. I have witnessed from a vantage position a general body meeting where people were shouting one another down. Management committee elections are big events where people are bribed with gifts and huge parties are held to make one’s presence felt and votes are bought with promises of some sort of barter. Why would then such gentlemen and a few ladies have the time for kurta-pyjamas? It is simple: product placement. You have the best golf courses, great views, a fairly upper crust membership. These are not important within the confines of the club but for further enhancement outside.

The antique collectors, the ones with land, the ones with private jets and helipads, the ones with arm candies and dandies all have that little ticket. It is pretty much the old order or those who are not in the rat race who are regulars at the clubs – reading in the library, snacking on Welsh rarebit and waffles in the verandah, the sofas upholstered with pale flower prints, watching the crows swinging on the netting that prevents them from entering.

Ah, the dress code of the crows does not work too even though it is a nice black coat.

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Interestingly, I was invited for dinner at a small club in Dubai. On our way out, I could hear the sound of thumping music. It was the nightclub. I wanted to take a quick look. The bouncer refused because "no national dress allowed". I was wearing a salwaar kameez. How that qualified as national dress in an Arab country beat me. Much later I had a brainwave: I should have just thrown off my dupatta or wrapped it like a scarf.

PS: My friend's bomber jacket was acceptable at the club and the nightclub

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