BY DRISHTI RAKHRA
Visiting Century Club for swimming is one of those special but bittersweet memories of my childhood. My 5-year-old-self hated every minute of it, as my small body was repeatedly flung into the pool after much struggle. It happened effortlessly at the hands of the coaches until I learned to make the water my friend. Then, I began to feel like I was flying. There were always other children around, my sister and I were only two in a large batch of future swimmers. I both hated and loved it. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the club or anything else it offered. I only remembered the cool water of the pool.
My memories of Bangalore summers begin at this Century Club pool. It used to be 12 feet deep at one end, that corner much darker than the rest of the pool. As a child, I stayed at the four feet end, always afraid of what was there on the other end. I, for once, was convinced that sharks lived there. Eventually, the pool was renovated to a standard size in Bangalore, where the deepest is five feet. My family has been a part of the club for many years now, starting with my grandfather who lived in Bangalore while the city was still discovering itself. His membership transferred to my father, and now finally to me. To be there feels like harbouring a responsibility. I feel unworthy of being there, carrying some inkling that I’m not appreciating the legacy that I am supposed to.
The legacy is not my family’s, but the Club’s. Century Club is one of the many colonial-era clubs in Bangalore city. These clubs were started by the British in their heyday, here in India. At the time, they were used to a certain lifestyle, a culture of living within and outside of clubs; so starting similar institutes in the country was hardly a departure from common sense. One of the first and (still) most prestigious clubs in the city is, without a doubt, Bangalore Club. It has a 150-year-long legacy, housed on Residency Road. Century Club is smaller. Its name, it is said, comes from the first 100 people whose membership the club was started with. It was meant to be a space for Indians since these clubs have always been known to be highly exclusive.
The exclusivity hasn’t extinguished at all. It remains so, with a strict dress code and code of conduct. The food and drinks there are subsidised, and you’re ensured a good service only if you tip the waiters well. You mustn’t do anything to get your membership suspended, or there is a chance you will be blacklisted forever. More than anything, you must make sure that your name remains clean – that you do nothing to sully the legacy of the club, and your family members who are lucky enough to be a part of it.
I became a member sometime last year when I turned 25. The membership categories are elusive. I was only allowed because of my father’s nomination, and now I’m ensured a smooth sail there all my life. When I go there as an adult now, it is not like it used to be in the summers of my childhood. I must be more careful, more watchful of myself, even as I enjoy the calmness of the space.
Most evenings, you will find the club filled with old men and women. With a glass of whiskey in the hands of the men, they converse for hours and hours, sometimes in Kannada, and other times in English. The dining area overlooks a large, grass-filled field. It is perfect for summer evenings like Bangalore is now giving us — with the sun shining proudly till after 6 pm. The swimming pool lies just beyond the grass field. Throughout the day, wet-haired men and women filter out of the gate of the pool, all looking tired but happy.
I haven’t been swimming yet this summer, but I can already feel the cool water on my face, after a long, sweaty day. The city is getting hot, hotter than it used to be many years ago. One of my senior colleagues laments the cool summers Bangalore once used to have. He remembers the light wind that was always blowing, even in the middle of May – during the days when global warming was not the harsh reality that it is.
It helps, of course, that Century Club is housed inside of Cubbon Park. If you’re able to find your way through the maze of the park, you might just find yourself at the club, in its quiet serenity. As this summer dawns on us, I look forward to another bit of Bangalore I have fallen in love with. Happy swimming!
Drishti Rakhra is a reader, teacher, and writer, in that order. In 2019, she completed her Master’s in English from Ambedkar University Delhi and is currently an assistant professor at St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.