Watering holes are essential retreats for all species, in the real jungle or the urban one. They provide much needed R+R and the chance to rub noses ( and the occasional unsuspecting posterior) in a relaxed setting. But whereas in the jungle there is only one rule- the bigger guy drinks first- we have managed to prescribe a weird set of dictums to regulate membership and behaviour in our gated oases which we call Clubs. In Delhi’s Gymkhana club, for example, one has to apply for membership before one is even born, such is the waiting list. New members are inducted only in place of old ones who kick the ice- bucket, as it were, so a kind of Death Watch prevails on the club premises at all times, with the “waitees” keeping a close watch on the “oldies” and plying them with loads of cholesterol to help the natural process of ageing.
I have just learnt that there exists a club in Europe called the Giga Society; it has only 6 members, primarily because to qualify one has to score more than 195 on the IQ test. That rules out everyone in India except Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyer, but I’m told that they are not accepting any applications from India after Vyapam- they don’t trust our marking system. The whackiest membership requirement, however, comes from- where else?- my home state, UP. There is an exclusive club there called the Mritak Sangh, and to become a member one must be dead! No kidding. The saving grace, however, is that you don’t have to be dead-dead or brain dead as in a bureaucrat, but only declared dead, through false affidavits, forged letters and documents, usually by relatives who are fed up of waiting for you to call it a day so they can grab your real estate ( and sometimes your wife). These walking dead have now formed a guild so that they can get together and drown their sorrows. In the USA there is an Ejection Club ( I checked twice, it IS Ejection and not Ejaculation, so don’t get your hopes up quite yet). It had 5607 members at last count, and to become one you must have survived being fired out of a military plane by ejection seat. Being fired by the govt. from your job does not qualify, so that rules out Urjit Patel and Raghuram Rajan who in any case have parachuted safely to the Davos club. Wing Commander Abhindan of course can now join, with honours because he also ensured that the Pakistani pilot couldn’t qualify.
The ADC club in Shimla persists with a unique caste system, in violation of our Constitution. It’s run by the Army but they have to take in some civilians also because the property belongs to the govt. The civilian chappies can’t vote, but the unkindest cut is that they have to pay more for their booze! The army guys get their liquor at CSD rates while the bureaucrats have to pay the normal, post excise, bootlegger rates. They are the new OBCs ( Other Boozing Classes) of Shimla. This doesn’t do too much for civil-military bonhomie but it ensures that at least one third of the membership is sober at all times and that only civilian bottoms get pinched on New Year’s eves.
Which brings me naturally to another club where liquor poses another kind of problem- the CSOI (Civil Services Officers’ Institute), Delhi. It’s a splendid place with a fine bar and two restaurants, created exclusively for bureaucrats so that they can let their hair down without any arms dealers exploiting the bald patches. It’s the place where pensioners are dispatched by their wives every morning to get them out of THEIR hair. Unfortunately, it appears to be run by some teetotaler gnome in the Cabinet Secretariat who has never heard of CCTVs. Nothing else can explain the recent decision that the bar will open only at 7.00 PM on week days. My discreet inquiries have revealed that the govt’s innovative 360 degree assessment system had perhaps revealed that some babus were playing hookey on working days, having gimlets at the bar when they should have been recording dissenting notes on various files or suppressing the data on employment generation. But why shut down the bar, for godsakes? Why not just ask Arvind Kejriwal to install one of his CCTVs at the door? That would have worked just as well, for a CCTV a day makes a babu earn his pay, as the ditty goes. I am reliably informed that the retired babus are now planning to move to Assam or Bihar en masse where the hooch is freely available in police stations and excise offices. Their wives will not follow them, of course, which is another reason why they are shifting base. As that other ditty goes: four pegs a day keeps the wife away.
The India International Centre in Delhi has fine dining rooms where the members come to relax after delivering lectures on how to change the world in 90 days. But its restaurants have the ambience of a morgue, (the main chicken dish, I learn, is called Morgue Masala) and not just because the median age of its members is three score and ten. I was there last month with a group of cadre mates and their spouses ( for some reason they are never called ‘wives’ in govt. parlance, have you noticed?), all retired chappies except one couple. Now, IAS officers while in service are a bit like that Russian dog in that old joke- they are well fed but not allowed to bark. So when the muzzles come off after 35 years they tend to be a chatty lot. In the middle of all this yapping and general mirth a waiter emerged from nowhere like Banquo’s ghost with a placard which, shorn of bureaucratese, essentially asked us to SHUT UP. Since it was an unsigned statement, like the note submitted to the Supreme Court on the Rafale deal, we took no notice of it. After five minutes the undertaker himself materialised ( it was actually the Manager) to advise us in a sepulchral tone that the IIC had a high cholesterol, low decibel policy and could we please, therefore, speak in Chinese whispers? I learn that all heart attacks in this club are silent heart attacks because of the rules. Damned irritating if you are a waitee on the waiting list, because you never get to know when a member has left for his heavenly abode. But everyone puts up with it because the food is in the Vir Sanghvi class. Why, the other day our Defence Minister Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman came for dinner and even asked the chef: “How’s the (Rogan) Josh ?”
Time for another air-strike