Kolkata: There is something fishy about the tony clubs of Calcutta, with many bones of contention. But thankfully, this is a digestive analogy and not quite a criminal fallacy. These delectable institutions find their wholesome match in the species we lovingly desire.
Bengal Club, circa 1927, is clearly the original ‘Calcutta Beckti’, with skin as white as the sahibs of yore and every dissident hint of bone despatched to Kala Pani. No hue of darkness can penetrate its serene corridors, quite like the fried fillets served as a finger or diamond. Nowadays though, the mood is sombre as the penal code of Thomas Babington Macaulay, a resident of the premises, is being replaced by inescapable Indian-ness. Alas, quite like the nascent membership profile, defined increasingly by the finesse of the wallet and not the graces of the palate.
Calcutta Club must be the moody ‘Hilsa’, its truest character requiring rigorous exploration. Many like it smoked and relieved of roadblocks, but they must be the laggards of civilization. For in the complexity of dress codes and the intrigues of committee appointments, lie its deceptive essence. A notable milestone for many aspiring Bengalis, the acquisition of access is often the gatecrashing of a resolute class ceiling. That of occidental education and oriental erudition in a single seamless entity, the absence of either making you a ‘khoka’ ( juvenile) and not a full-grown ‘Hilsa’. Its signature event is the International Evening, rather apt considering its preferred self-image, not subject to PWC scrutiny.
Saturday Club is frisky and flighty, quite like the river prawns of the land, across sizes. It can easily assume the gravitas of the giant ‘Golda’, with a fine library and refined conversations. While with guilt-free spontaneity, the revelry in Holi can be both crispy and gilt-edged, like the deep-fried attendees. On cool winter evenings, the lawn is as mellow as the ‘tandoori’, with room for both pasta and malai curry, as folks revel in well-manicured diversity. Loyalties are fierce as are the occasional frailties, the two united by generational passions. Membership is routinely dynastic, although the ranks of Congressmen must be dwindling steadily, quite like the plundering of sweet water authentics by packaged atrocities.
CC & FC, the sporting bastion, is possibly the live fresher, the juicy ‘Koi’ available in both original and hybrid versions. Nobody ever seems to be sitting as members take their sporting lineage deeply seriously, in bars and lounges as well. The playing field is like the phantom of the opera, inside the mind of every attendee, with room to exit. At heart, the club is an extended boarding school locker room, oozing with timeless airs of brotherhood and bonhomie. Original greats, like the ‘Koi’ analogy, still exist with sufficient abandon, lending graciously to the throbbing airs. The hybrids emulate them thoroughly, not destined to be the real thing, albeit a hard trier. For those sporty in muscle and sporting in spirit, the culture here is unbeatable, while simply the cultured can find their muse elsewhere.
Tollygunge Club can be valuably compared to the elegant ‘Chitol’, that elaborate entity with two unique forms of consumption. The ‘gada’, deboned, is ammunition for the ‘muitha’ and other boneless creations, and most members enjoy the club in such simplistic yet tasty renditions. The ‘peti’, bony but oozing character, is the aged Ardbeg of the piece, the privileged legacy available only by self-invitation. In tandem, it adds up to a limitless spectacle, the golf course revealing an unrelenting abundance, of both nature and imagination. Perhaps, the finest ingredients of the city converge to create a flawless experience, oxygen for the daily devotee and nothing short of Shahrukh Khan’s ‘Mannat’ for the awestruck visitor. If only the cuisine was as good as the flora and fauna, laments many a patient tongue, but we can't quite have everything, can we? The ‘ Chitol’, after all, is just an analogy, apt but not absolute.
Royal Calcutta Golf Club, RCGC, must necessarily be considered as the Norwegian Salmon, now available in slender parts at the nearest hypermarket. To be a member, the pockets must be the Marianas Trench and if they are, nobody will ask if the ocean is Pacific or Atlantic. Golfing proficiency is usually mandatory but that can be easily acquired, unlike the more draconian entry barriers of fellow institutions. Originally by appointment to the monarch of the empire, it now serves the interests of successful ex-vassals, from pecuniary backgrounds and not necessarily the boxwallah and administrative cadres. This is indeed an understated triumph for our busting nation, as the putting greens compete with India Exchange Place as an exchange place for business deals. Like salmon, it is an easily acquired taste, suitable for easy usage and impeccable for abundant demonstration.
Lake Club, the empress of Dhakuria, is an appropriate mirror of the stylish ‘Pabda’, underrated in both potency and class. There was a time when only rowers were invited but in more liberal ages, affinity to the bar is perhaps sufficient proof of water-readiness. Often considered to be the unofficial lakeside annexe of Calcutta Club, it has emerged as a vivacious cultural hotspot, aided by welcoming lawns and pretty views. Akin to the fish in reference, it enjoys many avatars through the day - sublimely shallow fried like the diligent rowers or peppered with mustard in the fluid evenings - the ambience is easy and calm with the central bone being conversational elegance, a trait of the educated locals. Perhaps, it does justice to quintessential Bengali sensibilities like no other peer, and thereby lies its secret sauce.
By now, it must be amply clear that the clubs in Calcutta are indeed rather fishy. This treatise can continue indefinitely as we include other eligible candidates, both club-worthy and water-borne. Perhaps the greatest connectivity is an irrepressible affection for discretion - in acceptance and consumption. Members never get to really choose the clubs, the clubs truly choose them. True, most certainly, for the fish who frequent our hungry tables.