Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Colonial hangover in Clubs

The recent incident of preventing veteran artist Suvaprasanna from entering the dining area of the century-old Calcutta Club and later ejecting him from the premises because he had arrived there to attend a function is traditional Indian attire – kurta and pyjamas.
The Calcutta Club's notorious track record for turning away those who wear Indian attire include, among others, M F Hussain. Former Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi had also declined invitation to the Club.
A team of intellectuals including poet Joy Goswami, Bibhash Chakrabarty rightly demonstrated their protest against the Club's antiquated and offensive dress code regulations that reeks of a sick colonial hangover.
The Club, however, exercises its rules selectively and does make exceptions when it suits them. I remember on Valentine's Day, February 14th 2010, there was an award function Celebrating Kolkata at this very same club. Suvaprasanna, Rituparno Ghosh had also attended this function. At that time, when Renu Roy had approached me for the function, I had asked her if Calcutta Club would allow me in my traditional attire. She had assured me and the Club did allow me and others in our traditional Indian dress. Where were the rules then!
Several years ago I faced a similar situation at the Calcutta Swimming Club – another Club that is rooted in its colonial past. At that time kurtas and pyjamas were a strict no no at the Calcutta Swimming Club except for the banquets that were let out for private functions. However, in a sudden relapse, the management of the Calcutta Swimming Club decided to stop those attired in kurtas and pyjama from the banquet halls also and I was stopped from entering it. That was during a pre-marriage ceremony where most Indians attend in kurtas and pyjamas.
Earlier, I had organized several functions in their banquets attended by some of the chief ministers who wore kurtas and pyjamas. I had written about the incident then and the national print and electronic media had raised this issue at length.
Now the same issue has again surfaced but the problem is whenever it happens we protest for a while and forget it. Otherwise, why Calcutta Swimming Club, which is technically housed on a property leased by the Governor of West Bengal, and even today have a representative of Governor or Government in the Commitee, runs such an offensive dress code diktat or tanashahi in Kolkata at the very heart of India's cultural Mecca even after 64 years of Independence.
I am not advocating this just because I always wear traditional Indian attire. But my modest knowledge about the law tells me that any disrespect to the national flag, national currency, national song is not allowed. Then what about the national dress. Many have given me the argument that kurta and pyjamas is not the national dress. But then, why does such clubs exist where even the democratically-elected Prime Minister of the country cannot enter.
The last time when I went to the Tolly Club, I saw there was a board “Dogs & Maids are not allowed”. It defies logic as to how the club, which is supposed to be “the most posh club” in city, can put maids in the same category as dogs.
I have heard from my seniors that there used to be a board at the Calcutta Swimming Club even years after Independence that read “Indians and dogs are not allowed”. One fine day, the then political leader Ram Chatterjee had jumped into the swimming pool with a group of dogs in protest.
Should we continue to be apologetic for our Indian attire living in India. It is high time we all should get together and do something to settle this outrageous issue of banning Indian dresses in Clubs - once and for all.
ess bee

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