Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Some Clubs of India

Last week I received a copy of the Platinum Jubilee Souvenir of the prestigious Lotus Club, Cochin. The Committee that brought it out deserves high compliments for the excellent production, which is not only about Lotus but also a good reference book on the history of Cochin.

Though a member of this club for decades, I didn’t know that W. Somerset Maugham was one among the several illustrious visitors to the club including the Maharajas of Cochin and Mysore, and Lord Linlithgow when he was the Viceroy of India.

Linlithgow actually played tennis at Lotus during a visit to Cochin during the early 1940s. Tennis always had a prominent place in the activities of this family club, which used to conduct an All India ranking tournament. By 1990s the interest in tennis waned, but it has been revived recently with the laying of a synthetic court. Last week I was happy to see a group of young children being coached by an expert.

Bridge is another favorite at Lotus. Prof. Robins Jacob, Honorary Secretary of the Kerala Bridge Association writes, “Lotus Club is credited with the unique distinction of hosting the oldest uninterruptedly conducted Duplicate Tournament in India, perhaps in the whole world.”

The souvenir contains an interesting article titled ‘The Club Culture in India’ by David T. Mookken who has the rare distinction of having been President of Cochin Club and Lotus Club. David traces the origin of clubs in India and the transition of the club culture from British times to post-Independence days.

The first club outside Britain was perhaps Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (1792). A year later Calcutta Racket Club was established. Cochin Club was formed in 1821. Some of the other old clubs in South India are Madras Club (1832), Bangalore Club (1868), Coimbatore Club (1873), Secunderabad Club (1878), Coonoor Club (1885), and Kodaikanal Club (1887).

These were known as ‘English Clubs’. No Indian was allowed entry to them. This exclusiveness led to the formation of the Lotus Club by Lady Gertrude Bristow. Her husband, Sir Robert was a representative of the British Government who was entrusted with the task of developing a modern port at Cochin, a job which he completed admirably. But the Bristows were denied admission to Cochin Club because Lady Gertrude was not English born!

The lady was not disheartened, though. With the cooperation of some prominent families of Cochin, she had a suitable piece of land assigned by the Maharaja of Cochin and started the Lotus Club! The Maharaja himself attended the first Club Night of Lotus on September 9, 1932 as Chief Guest.

Lady Gertrude Bristow was the Founder President of the Club, and remained in that position from 1931 to 1941.


Some memories of WW II, Cochin and the 1940s.

Irish planter, punter, soldier, playboy

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