Shrine of the sahib log
A haunt for former koi hai's, the Secunderabad Club today draws members from all walks of life
BRITISH CANTONMENTS invariably built miles away from cluttered, subjugated cities, exuded their own English romantic charm, the distance often symbolising a consciously created cultural chasm between the stiff, upper-lipped, emerging ruling class and the docile, native subjects.
The layout of barracks, official, residential and recreation spaces within the cantonment were not very different. It was military discipline in an uncompromising hierarchical formal order.
The dominating architectural theme was one of regimentation and all colonial buildings looked alike. Single-storied low-slung bungalows standing amidst what looked like miles of meadows, some estimating it to be over ten times the plinth area, typified the cantonment. The attempt was to create a luxurious ambience closer to the one back home.
The Secunderabad Cantonment, one of the largest in the country, had all these features and more, located as it were close to the city of the Nizams, who took pride in forging a Subsidiary Alliance with the British and in being described as the "most faithful ally of the British Empire".
Secunderabad, which grew from a small taluk to a burgeoning twin city of Hyderabad, got its name from the third Asaf Jahi ruler, Sikander Jah. It was through this alliance that British troops landed in a place, a low flat ridge, near a village north of the Hussain Sagar Lake. As the British built the cantonment, they embellished the city with colonial architecture.
If the idea of colonial buildings was to be typically English "islands of aloofness and peace where the troops could withdraw and transpose themselves back home", the Secunderabad Club, situated almost at the beginning of the cantonment sprawl and celebrating its 125th year now, was no different.
Standing tall in the centre of all of 22 acres of sylvan surroundings, the heritage club building may not be a great architectural marvel but definitely promises to take you back to the Raj era, when tired officers after a `hard day's work', used to down a peg or two.
Two canons beautifully set on either side of the entrance intimidate you, as if saying that you had no business to be there unless you were a member. The membership to the club, the oldest, prestigious and easily the best in the twin cities, is quite exclusive and if you are aspiring for one, perish the thought, as it is going to be an eternal wait. At the last count, a club prospect who applied for a membership 15 years ago is still waiting for the interview call!
Membership ruled out, you drive in as a lesser mortal, a guest of a member, past a tree-lined boulevard. . You enter the stately portico-twin columns of dressed granite supporting a sloping red Mangalore tiled roof bordered by a serrated wooden panel. It sets the theme of architecture for this very functional but "lofty and elegant" building. It is granite iron girders, wooden rafters and wood panelling all over.
Step into the colonnaded hall and take a stroll through the winding walkways, much of it restored including the floor, and you are part of a different world altogether. You will then appreciate why this club is the most sought after watering hole.
Located amid an ever-expanding concrete jungle, the expansive green campus offers a wide range of facilities for you and your family to unwind and gives the feeling of being away from the maddening city crowd. Tennis, badminton and squash courts, a health club, open air cinema, gents and ladies parlours, billiards and bridge rooms, a library, a club shop, guest rooms, a children's lounge and a petrol pump. Elsewhere linked to it are the Golf Club at Bolarum and a Sailing Club. And of course a 125-year history to boot. Can you ask for more?
The colonnaded hall which houses the bar is massive with its high ceiling and span. The wood panelled sidewalls decorated with shikar trophies, portraits of past presidents, regimental shields and chandeliers suspended from the ceiling; lend it a totally different aura.
It is mid-afternoon and life is easy paced, in sharp contrast to the world outside. Senior denizens, some perched on high-stools and others on easy-armed chairs, can be seen locked in animated discussion, over mugs and mugs of beer. Others on the sidelines catch a nap. As you walk down the colonnade further, into the other halls around a courtyard with a fountain, you can see some more, playing bridge or just chitchatting away and yet others digging into biryani.
The club has a hoary past. The Salar Jungs initially used it as a rest house, whenever they came to the cantonment, to meet the visiting Viceroy and the British Resident, who was then accommodated at what has now become the Rashtrapathi Bhavan at Bolarum.
The Club was established on April 26, 1878 and was originally known as the Secunderabad Public Rooms. It was renamed the Secunderabad Garrison Club, the Secunderabad Gymkhana Club and after the purchase of the present site from Ghalib Jung, as the United Services Club in 1888. It became the Secunderabad Club in March 1903. Salar Jung I donated liberally for the club building.
The membership was confined to civil and military officers in the service of the British Government, residing in Secunderabad, Bolarum and Chaderghat. The others were made honorary members. Gradually it was thrown open to the nawabs, the jagirdars and the highly placed officials in the Nizam's rule.
"It was disciplined in those days. Indian members were confined to Muslim nawabs, Parsis, kayasthas and a few jagirdars. I remember this British secretary, Marcolin, who would take one good look at you from your tie down to your shoelace, before you were allowed inside. If you were not dressed properly, you were politely asked to leave the place. The atmosphere was more formal and since membership was highly restricted, you would know each of them by name", reminisces C.S. Bhoopal, formerly of the Sirnapalli royalty and a retired IAS officer, who has been a member for over five decades now.
"It is more democratic now, we have as members, people from all walks of life. It continues to be a home away from home", says Gautam Bhoopal, president of the Club, the man who showed keen interest in repairing and restoring the building, the panelling and the floor, all to their original glory.
The Club saw some significant changes, the foremost being allowing women members into the colonnaded hall, otherwise the male bastion. "We achieved it after a bit of a struggle. It feels great", says P. Anuradha Reddy, also a long time member. Among her memories, she fondly remembers the Christmas celebrations around the tree, which sadly came down a decade ago.
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