Colombo clubs


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.

7 comments

  1. The original clubs were the British institutions and served the British. Most are recognised by the lack of a race or nationality in the name. The grandest were the Queens Club, The Turf Club (now defunct) and The Colombo Club.

    In the late 19th century the locals set up their own clubs, imitating the British and these mostly had the race/nationality in the club name. In addition to the names mentioned in your post there are the Malay and Moors sports clubs and The Burgher Recreation Club (BRC). The odd ones out were Otters, Colts and the Nondescripts Cricket Club

    All were pale imitations the original British clubs.

    Now standards everywhere have dropped but some are worse than others.

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  2. I always swam at Otters and got drunk at SSC (they take you home)! and always managed to loose my balls at the Colombo golf club. No one believes that I do not play golf as my father is known to be playing and winning at Pebble Beach. But I love Nuwara Elya Golf Club! ‘cos I can escape the Colombo heat! Thent I always end up buying dinner Jackets in light blue! and patent leather sheos, as they refuse dinner in my shorts, tee and sandals. That also keeps prospective SL mother in laws from introducing daughters to this tall guy in small jacket and jeans!(Girls burst into laughs (not those SL smirks) when they see me) But my mother loves her crowd, tells them stories and I end up meeting those girls anyway! Miss Fukuoka went into a gleeful heaven at dinner last time we were there!

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  3. Hi Cerno

    Sirimavo, SWRD and the gang have destroyed all the grandest clubs.

    The Turf Club went with the racing ban.

    The Queen’s Club – exists – as a part of the Gymkhana (CCC). The Queen’s Club Clubhouse was taken over by the airforce – its on Bullers Rd (the bit that is closed off to traffic) The tennis courts of the Queen’s still exist at the original location, the clubhouse is just over the parapet wall.

    The Colombo Club now exists in the upper floors of the Taj. The original clubhouse does exist – its the little white building in the front garden of the Taj that serves as a conference hall. I dont know how they lost the clubhouse, I think the government took the land. They were originally allotted a space in the basement of the Oberoi (what is now the Cheers pub – the wood and the green lampshades are all part of the Colombo Club fittings – although not the ghastly great window that looks out at the blank wall – originally this was all wooden paneling. The new location of the Colombo Club does not have the same atmosphere but is ok.

    The Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya is still untouched and retains much of its charm or so I’ve been told. This was the grandest outstation club I think. See

    http://www.hillclubsrilanka.net/

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  4. kalusudda:😀 looks like you are quite a natty dresser😉

    Jack: That’s quite a wealth of info – hot pickings for a Google Earth post😀 Didn’t find any of your comments in the spam filter so I think they all got through.

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