A friend’s motivations for joining one of Colombo’s exclusive old clubs illustrates the shocking things people do to survive in the 21st century third world.
Forget about even applying for membership unless you went to the right schools. Chances are you don’t even know that this club exists. It doesn’t advertise and its entrance is heavily camouflaged against curious eyes. Unlike the better known acronym heavy social/sports clubs in Colombo, this club avoids taking part in anything involving running around in the sun.
The membership prefers dignified, civilised activities such as reading their paper uninterrupted — ideally accompanied by a proper Scotch. The surroundings of the club are carefully designed to facilitate these holy rituals. There are plenty of papers about so you don’t have to engage in humiliating and blasphemous behaviour such as intruding on a fellow member for a page.
Most importantly the place is well shielded from the blare of the outside world. The ancient high ceilings and deep verandas keep the place well cooled and shaded. The seating is comfortable specially when you are moving through your 70s. All you have to do is ring the bell that comes with your drink and the efficiently invisible staff will ensure you don’t have to suffer the sadness of an empty glass. The food is not bad but easily unavailable. The focus is drink in gentlemanly quantities — not food.
Club rules shield you from the evil summons of mobile phones and dangerous predators such as wives. It is unthinkable that a member would have a girl friend. Unmentionables such as courtesans and mistress stay in one’s private worlds beyond the gates.
The most important rules of the club are naturally unwritten. You will never hear about them from another member. These are steeped in the arcane events which have gelled odd habits into law by the weight of history. Thankfully the bartender will diplomatically fill you in. Central to these rules is a pecking order of seniority. It dictates everything down to when and where you can sit. Given that practically everyone is more than twice your age, you quickly understand you place.
The application process culminates in an interview with one aim: to see if you can verbalise a convincing reason to be accepted in good polished language. Having the class to wear (and own) a proper suit is a requirement too obvious to mention – as is the school tie. If you pass and don’t get black balled, you’ll be invited to drop in any time. The staff will know you by name when you walk in.
Along with acquiring a temporary refuge from wife and brood there comes of course the natural set of connections. With proper people – not riff raff like politicians. But the best reason for joining?
The best parking this side of Pettah machan!