One state where Britishers created colonial clubs but could never own them up

15th September 2020

15th September 2020

Colonial era Clubs in Chennai and the rest of Tamil Nadu as well as adjoining areas are in a class by themselves. 

To start with, they are extremely wealthy, and try hard not to show it. Next, of all the Clubs in India, members are the proudest about their heritage as Colonial remnants while on premises but simultaneously the strongest about their ancient Tamil heritage when at home. And third - and this is where the Anglo-French wars come up - they make it very clear that their colonial heritage was not just British but pretty much pan-European plus American.

It is not just the proximity to Puducherry or Tranquibar or an assortment of other landing and trading spots for visitors who came to trade or evangelise. Nor was it the arrival of the Dutch, the Italians, the Spanish and as recently as World War 2, the Germans - and the Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Burmese, as well as others from the Far East. It is just that the ancient linkages with Malacca and beyond continue to influence a lot of what happens in the Madras aka Chennai brand of colonial era Clubs. And the sheer number of colonial era Clubs in the rest of Tamil Nadu. Coastal, inland and hills - co existing with ancient temples and churches going back 1000s of years in many cases.

At this point, a quick readup of Joseph Conrad's real masterpiece, Lord Jim, is a good idea. Whilst not directly about the Coromandel Coast, it is one of the few books that attempts to provide a multi-European look at the Colonial Era in this part of the Indian Ocean, which was under Tamil dominance for a very, very long time. Bay of Bengal to the complete Indian Ocean and economies therein.

So, as a result, the Colonial Rulers appear to have worked really hard in settling the Tamil speaking areas, and one marker therein being the huge number of Clubs all over, and all of them are still around. Don't forget, the wealth they managed to purloin from this part of India was enough to finance the American war against the British too, along with, for example, the birth of Yale University. The plantation clubs deserve a separate write-up but will have to be merged with this article.

Pretty much every small town in Tamil Nadu has these colonial era Clubs, more than in any other part of India, and many of them are inter-linked. And they are all very non-vegetarian, incidentally, bar none. So much about the image of the idli-dosa eating vegetarian South Indian carried forth in the rest of the country or even the world. I have been to many.

Across the lot of them, it is almost as though the Colonials did not really depart, so strong is the reverence. In some towns, the clubs survive as clubs, and the residences for the managers of the estates nearby are large enough to have become 5-star hotels. And on one single parameter, the Clubs of Tamil Nadu beat all other clubs hollow - the sheer range and opulence on display outside in the parking lots. Inside, you will likely find the owners dressed in the simplest of white cottons, often dressed almost the same way as their drivers. The difference can be spotted only when you observe who is headed inside and who is off to park the car. And I say this with great respect as well as admiration.

There is a strange kind of humility as well as colonial reverence which oozes out of the Clubs in Tamil Nadu. And yes, they went equal for women and men decades before any other part of India did, at their Clubs. Which is absolutely the best part of life all over Tamil Nadu too. 

And yet, there is one set of Clubs which in my personal ranking, is still ahead of the TN Clubs.

Veeresh Malik was a seafarer. And a lot more besides. A decade in facial biometrics, which took him into the world of finance, gaming, preventive defence and money laundering before the subliminal mind management technology blew his brains out. His romance with the media endures since 1994, duly responded by Outlook, among others.

A survivor of two brain-strokes, triggered by a ship explosion in the 70s, Veeresh moved beyond fear decades ago. 

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