The Bengal Club, First social club in the world!!

When Bengal came under the full control of the East India company, the British higher-ups lords and viceroys ruled the roost transforming Calcutta into a major trading center.  With their rise and firm grip on Bengal, the Nawobs of Bengal and small rulers  of other regions   slowly disappeared from the scene, having lost their pelf, power and their lands. A new social order  had appeared on the horizon with roots in western culture.

The Bengal, Club  a social club in colonial  Calcutta (Kolkata, West Bengal) was opened in 1827 as the Calcutta United Service Club.  The clubhouse functioned   in an old  building in Esplanade West built in 1813 and its first President was Lt. Col. The Hon. J. Finch, the military secretary to Lord Combermere, Commander-in-chief of the East India Company's army. The very first roaster of the club had 141 members that included senior officers, merchants, bank directors and other officials of the EIC. The main function of the club  was to  provide good quality services to people who had  good standing / status in the society. The services included dining, entertainment, dancing, bars, library, gymnasium, etc.,  in a serene, peaceful ambience to match their grace and dignity. Much emphasis was given to contemporary facilities to suit that point of time without compromising on the traditional gracefulness  and the culture  of the English society. Such social clubs in Calcutta never failed to offer an amiable and joyful atmosphere to their patrons. The club was the most favorite hangout for the British. 

The paradox is  the Bengal Club  that was exclusively for the "Whites" was functioning in a building owned by the famous writer Kali Prasanna Singha. Previous occupants of the building were Lord Macaulay 1834-1838 and Gov. Gen. Lord Metcalfe , who was the President of the club for eleven long years. Bernard Shaw once remarked, "Oh, a  club  is  nothing. The  best  club  in  England  is  the  one  every sensible  man  keeps  away  from".
Present English classes. The Independent


 Considered one of the first social club in the world, the Bengal club is 189 years old  and had gone past innumerable historical events,  including the Sepoy Mutiny - 1857, the great Bengal famine -in the early 1940s, World Wars I and II, India's independence - August 1947 and finally the  partition of Bengal. The Bengal Club had its own policies and protocol  in selecting and inducting new members who were subject to evaluation by a selection committee. This was to maintain the high standard of the club. 

In many social clubs, a  member ought to be a professional and preferably a post-graduate degree holder.  Members are eligible to  visit other reciprocal clubs around India, as well as many parts of the world. The Club had strict  formal dress regulations for its members. This Club is one of the most prestigious clubs in Calcutta serving as a bridge between the tradition of Bengal and British culture.  using foresight and vision to rule a country whose ethnicity is  altogether ethnicity. Once it had 1600 members on its roaster. It was popular among the elite bachelors.

Bernard Shaw Pinterest

The club regulations were never diluted with respect to entry of non-whites. When, once Viceroy expressed his intention to bring his learned Indian friend one Sir Rajan Mookerjee  for the Christmas dinner, the club members were unhappy and, at the same time,  did not want to hurt the Viceroy. It was unanimously decided to have a separate Shamiana erected to accommodate just Rajan Mookerjee who had his dinner there. This high voltage  racial discrimination led Rajan and other English men  to have a  high-level non-racial club  established  to admit  the British and high society Indians.  Thus, the Calcutta Club came into being in 1907. Only after India's independence, Indians walked  freely inside the Bengal club. On his visit to  Bombay,  India in 1933, Bernard Shaw remarked on the exclusive Yacht Club for the "Whites", "It  was  nothing  short  of  snobbery  to have a club  exclusively  reserved  for  the  use  of  the  white  people  in  a  land  of  colored  people".

Bengal club, Calcutta. Old Indian Photo

The club, despite its age, still maintains its past link with the colonists. There are big portraits of British lords who successfully took care of the colonial expansion and administration, the pretty old Nagaraj bar where the lords and biggies would have gulped down whisky  and good old wine to subdue their frustration and fatigue. There are  old wooden stools too. On the first floor there are grand old piano, old grandfather clock and a dinning hall, etc. 

The present club is in a new place, and is not where Bengal Club had been set up. Located between the Chatterjee International Building and Metro Rail Bhavan,  presently the club serves all kinds of food from two restaurants and has attached bars in  an ambiance without losing colonial flavor and heritage. Old traditions are still being maintained and the club still maintains strict dress code. A vestige of colonial influence is the Christmas celebration and the number of guests are very much restricted. Other events are Diwali, Durga Puja, etc. When one leaves this oldest social club in the world, one can not but conjure up the vision of  inevitable colonial hangover, clinking of wine glasses,  liveried  bartenders pouring drinks to the honorable guests  with grace and the high society ladies' gentle whispering of gossips  that hangs in  the huge hall like LA fog.