6 July 2016

Gymkhana, Gympeena

In Delhi in the summer, the young man's fancy turns to thoughts of... club membership. Now, I am not a member of the several elite clubs that Delhi has—the Gymkhana, the Golf Club, all those Ye Olde Establishment places which smack of generations of privilege able to isolate themselves effectively from the world outside and pretend like they're back during the times of the Raj or whatever era they prefer, ignoring that in the times of the Raj, they wouldn't have been allowed into the Gymkhana club in the first place.

Do I sound jealous? Perhaps I am, a little bit. Membership-only clubs are usually great value—you get the whole experience for a yearly subscription free; cheap alcohol, decent food, vast libraries, swimming pools, tennis courts, the works. Staff that's worked there for years and years so they say hello to you when they see you and you can feel just as if you're at home. Some clubs are even generational, so membership passes on to your kids as soon as they're old enough, effectively shutting out any new members who might want to apply. (There's a lottery for new members, but this is so rare and elusive, it's usually all done by the time you hear about it.)

However, having grown up in this city, I have been invited as a guest to partake in Delhi's clubs Open Nights, as it were. The Gymkhana Club particularly has a famous Thursday Bar Night, to which everyone who is anyone comes. You'll rub shoulders with top politicians (kids) and top industrialists (kids) and you swig expensive alcohol for half the price it would cost you at a bar, and all around you there are women dressed in shiny, sequinned clothes sweating gently in the summer heat. It's a bit overwhelming if you're not used to it, all of Delhi's rich people in one place?




Many years ago, I dated men who had the Golden Ticket, as it were. I swung up to the club on their arm, tried not to blink in astonishment at all I saw around me, in my gaucheness, even spilled a vodka-orange juice that I was too young to be drinking all over my date's sister. I must have apologised a million times, it was my first time there on a Thursday night, although kind friends had taken me swimming there several years earlier.

I was dressed in what I thought were pretty cool clothes—a Weekender (remember Weekender?) halter top and skinny jeans. The halter top had a shrug to match, my hair was twisted on the top of my head and secured in a bun. I was nineteen, and there was orange juice all over my new clothes as well. When I went off to wash my hands and collect myself, the sister leaned over to my date and said, “She's adorable,” a fact which he later conveyed to me. I felt only relief back then that my drink spilling hadn't ruined everything, but now in retrospect, I'm imagining her saying it, in her not-trying-too-hard clothes, one eyebrow raised. “She's adorable.” There there. Pat pat.


A few years later, Thursday nights were something I was used to. “How nice the Gymkhana club is,” I said once, “I wish I was also a member.” The lady I was talking to, smiled, the hidden “she's adorable” in her voice. “All you have to do is marry a member.”

Maybe that's something that should go in the matrimonial ads of today. Earns such-and-such, height so-and-so, is a member of one of the prestigious clubs. I'm not sure if women can pass on their membership on marriage as well, but somehow, recalling a conversation I once had about a fancy Hyderabad club, I suspect not.


As for me, I pour myself gin and tonics and sit on my couch. The cats may not talk, but they do rub up against me, and so I am recognised. The clubs, I justify to myself, are a really long drive from where I am. My private club has a membership of two, and it's the most exclusive one there is.

(Want more eM + Gymkhana club? Here's a post from the past!)

(A version of this appeared as a column on Newsable)

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