Colombo is a city of clubs. Not night clubs — but sport and social clubs. Some are sprawling empires and their acronyms household words. While the most exclusive ones remain carefully invisible.
The names of quite a few bare colonial era vestiges of ethnic segregation such as Sinhalese Sports Club Ground and Tamil Union Cricket & Athletic Club. Most are formed around a particular sport such as the Royal Colombo Golf Club, Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club (generally pronounced Cee aar en ef ce), Colombo Cricket Club, Colombo Swimming Club , etc.
Less respectable are “sports clubs” created to get around the liquor regulations. Where you can buy your “membership” at the bar. The Randoli sports club on Fife road has been pointed out to me as a decades old example of this clever if not scruffy breed. The “foreigners only” “VIP clubs” are according to common understanding, not proper clubs but casino fronts for brothels – similar to “certain types of Karaoke lounges“.
Irrespective of their status, Colombo’s clubs serve an unspoken critical social function: to provide an acceptable infrastructure for the Sri Lankan male to get drunk outside the home with or without his pals. A secondary function is to offer refuge from lethal predators such as wives and girl friends.
Like the crocodiles, Colombo’s sports and social clubs have survived the dinosaurs of post independence colonialism and national socialism. They emphasise the human truth that irrespective of the inhumanity of ethnic and religious labels, we can all get drunk.
Admittedly I have over emphasised the male/alcohol element. Which is NOT the whole picture. But I’m making the radical assumption that most of you reading this have a sense of humour. 😉
At the risk of sounding pompous, I’ll admit that though I am not a member of any well known clubs. I have friends who are. Resulting in occasional invites that gives me a sampling of these worlds. The connections you make in these places are powerful given the overlap of social and professional connections in Sri Lanka.
I have often wondered about the deeper motivations behind joining a social club. Usually while swabbing down the sacrificial slab with Detol in the sanctuary chamber underneath the club house. Something I insist on doing personally as way of leading by example. It’s a tricky business because of the risk in getting entrails stains on my ceremonial garb. However the benevolent gaze of our deity’s towering idol has protected me and I always step away unstained. For this I am respected by the others who don’t start on the post ritual cucumber sandwiches and whisky (Johnny Walker Blue Label, unpolluted by soda) till I’m done. Lately they have been good enough buy new incense burners. Less fallen ash to sweep up. After our ritual oaths of allegiance and secrecy we leave singly at random intervals into the moon-less night.
After a few Johnnies and fewer cucumber sandwiches I concluded that the motivations for joining even the most secretive and exclusive clubs are driven by brutally mundane practicalities of survival. Not in the power hungry way you might think. But that story is for another post. Stay tuned.