Monday, January 15, 2018

Club culture still rules with socializing, sports facilities


PUNE: Poona Club is spread out in the city- its golf course is at a sprawling Yerawada plot, its squash courts and swimming pools are just beside the Rajendra Sinhji Institute in the stately Queen's Garden, and its main club house is at quaint Bund Garden premise, the area being much larger than it looks externally.

And it is still one of the oldest areas of exclusivity in the city, where members congregate over the weekends and socialize over a game of tennis, and where first-class Ranji Trophy games still continue to be hosted. It has been so since the early 1930s. But what has been lost over the years has been much of the original architecture of the clubhouse, including most of the records that it had, which had the master plan of the Bund Garden structure.

As far as the history books go, The Poona Club did not exist in its name until the 1930s. It became the Poona Gymkhana Club in 1880, and since the 1860s, the Bund Garden premises were known as the Edward Garden, named after the erstwhile Prince of Wales of the United Kingdom, the heir to the throne.

And pre-1890s, the clubhouse was part of the Cantonment limits, till a delimitation exercise by the Bombay Presidency removed it from the Cantonment and placed it under the new Poona Municipality. The squash court remains in the Cantonment, though, and a swimming pool has been added there over the years.

As a civilian club, 1882 was a pivotal year, when a group of nobles- British and Indians, civil servants, business tycoons, and other- managed to get the government to have the premises leased to them. The lease rent- about thirteen rupees per year- was not really a setback, as almost every top British official in the Presidency was a member here.

So were the Indians, albeit only the rich and mighty, in what was probably one of the earliest interaction of the equals between the colonial masters and the colonized. From the future Tata scion Sir Dorab Tata, the Maharajas of Baroda and Saurashtra, and members of the Sassoon family too.

Disaster struck at the famed club in August 1945, as the entire clubhouse was gutted in an inferno, helped along by the fact that the structure was predominantly a wooden one. Old documents, related to memberships, chronicles, leases, and even the original building plan, were lost forever.

The club recovered. A new stone structure was built--clearly, lessons were taken from the fire. The new clubhouse was opened in 1953 by future prime minister Morarji Desai, who happened to be the chief minister of Bombay when it was established.


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