For love or money

16 November,2010 09:04 AM IST |   |  Anjana Vaswani

Sometimes not even for that. As, the prestigious Cricket Club of India (CCI) wound up its annual elections over the weekend, the fight for the coveted chairs proved that club memberships have become a grand prize these days. Even with memberships zooming to unthinkable rates, the long waiting lists for membership refuse to dwindle

Sometimes not even for that.u00a0As, the prestigious Cricket Club of India (CCI) wound up its annual elections over the weekend, the fight for the coveted chairs proved that club memberships have become a grand prize these days. Even with memberships zooming to unthinkable rates, the long waiting lists for membership refuse to dwindle

Shri C G Joshi is a name you may not be familiar with but the humble 70-year-old is involved with various social, cultural and educational institutes.

He was awarded the title of a Samaj Seva Manishi by Rajasthan Vidyapeeth and is also a Padmashree award recipient, all of which, when mentioned in passing by his daughter, Sushma Sharma, is usually played down.

At the Bombay Gymkhana, the city*s rugby hotspot

Such anonymity is typical of mistreated heroes, if you were to accept the theory author Nassim Nicholas Taleb puts forth in his book, Black Swan.u00a0

*We remember the martyrs who died for a cause that we knew about,* Taleb writes, ufffdnever those no less effective in their contribution but whose cause we were never aware of precisely because they were successful*. Should it then come as any surprise that a forgotten hero*s family receives no special treatment in this city?

Widowed about 14 years ago, Sushma Sharma (54) psychotherapist, says, "I used to love playing badminton." Seated behind her desk, the sari-clad professional explains that she had wanted to put in an application for membership at, both, the Bombay Gymkhana and the Cricket Club of Indiau00a0 (CCI) when her husband was still with her.

"But if you are not a member*s child, they don*t even give you membership forms," she reveals, telling us that upon the insistence of friends, about seven years ago, she did apply for membership to CCI,u00a0 but not to Bombay Gym because I was told, "I had nou00a0 chance at all of securingu00a0 membership there.
Friends who are CCI members had informed me that the club had a special category of memberships for widows", she explains.

Sushma is hopeful that it will come through though, she tells us, even though she estimates it may set her back, "about Rs 12 to 15 lakh" because, as she explains, "There*s a community spirit at clubs and one tends to feel safe in that environment."

The mother of two, a daughter who is married and a son who is completing his studies overseas, Sushma admits, "I don*t really play cards, but it would be a nice pastime, I imagine, if I could use the card-room at a club with friends.

I believe I might also enjoy the weekly Tombola (Housie) that clubs organise and although I can enjoy a movie in a theatre on my own, it would be nice to watch a movie in the company of other club members."

Of course, Sushma knows that she can get her friends to sign her in as a guest, but the proud lady points out, "One doesn*t enjoy imposing on others to routinely gain access to club facilities."

u00a0Sushma*s account illustrates how sought after club memberships are in South Mumbai. With a dearth of parks and sports facilities for public use, membership to these clubs is not merely a status symbol it is literally a necessity. Additionally, after the terror of 26/11, clubs have become SoBo*s social hub.
People feel safe here and the low prices of food and booze don*t exactly serve as a deterrent either. As demand drives membership charges skywards, South Mumbai club memberships have become something of a grand prize.

Willingdon Sports Club, Tardeo

In the ladies rest room at the Willingdon Club, some years ago, one noticed a large blacku00a0 and white picture of the Queen of England mounted over the door.

When one expressed surprise, a sari-clad sweeper said with a patronising pat on the shoulder: *This is the Willingdon*. That*s the Willingdon club for you -- snobbery at its best. Members areu00a0 unlikely to be offended by this description. After all, a large part of the appeal of the club lies in its exclusivity.

Some time ago, a fracas had broken out at the club after former ace jockey Pesi Shroff was denied membership. The club has certain rules, some of which say that jockeys and trainers are not allowed to become club members.

Even though Pesi*s parents were members, he was denied membership and Pesi supporters at the club howled, "unfair".

A review meeting was then held after a few days and the hallowed gates then opened for Pesi.
The anecdote proves that the doors remain tightly shut for many.

With many clubs even closing membership altogether, as they have no space to accommodate any more people,u00a0 memberships are becoming increasingly elusive and consequently even more hankered for.u00a0u00a0u00a0u00a0

Membership mania: A SoBo doctor who was hopeful of securing membership when he heard rumours about the club accepting new members at, about Rs 50 lakh, says that he was sorely disappointed tou00a0 hear that the motion had been quashed at a committee meeting.

"I*ve heard some members had protested the motion on the grounds that membership was only being laid open to secure political favours for certain committee members," says the doctor, insisting on anonymity. An anonymous April 2010 post on the blog, willingdonclubinfo supports the doctor*s claim.

It says, The Managing Committee has convened an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of the Club to inter-alia amend certain rules, and to admit 100 newu00a0members at a fee of Rs 40 lakh each. This proposal is NOT in the interests ofu00a0u00a0 the club.

It then goes to highlight, *our reserves are about Rs 89 crores*. With its 18-hole golf course, tennis, squash and badminton courts, gymnasium, swimming pool, wine shop, bakery, provisions store, bar, and restaurants, this club*s probably one you ought to scratch off your wish list.

Bombay Gymkhana, Fort

When it was inaugurated near the Azad Maidan in 1875, during the British Raj, the Bombay Gymkhana website says, social status and an interest in sports were important criteria for membership.

The club is an integral part of this city*s history and, as the website states, the first ever Test match in India, played between India and England, was played at the Gymkhana grounds in December 1933.

The same site also reveals the Gymkhana*s initial membership consisted of 200 members and has now over the years grown to 5,000 members. Not much has changed though over those years, and the club*s members still represent only a tiny section of the city*s elite.

Membership mania: When one contacted the club, a gentleman who refused to give us his name, revealed, Corporate memberships are available for a 10-year-term, at Rs 1 lakh plus Rs 15 lakh for each nominee and a nominal annual subscription.

We also offer short-term membership for a three-year -duration (extendable at the board*s instance to six years) at a non-refundable payment of Rs 5 lakh and an annual charge of Rs 15,000.

A member of the club says, Life memberships were last offered around a decade ago at approximately Rs 10,50,000, while a sports enthusiast who is a working professional reveals, "Bombay Gym does offer playing memberships, but, he points out, "Such memberships don*t entitle you to use all the facilities of the club.

u00a0Besides, you*re put on a five-year-probation to secure it, inu00a0 which time you have to play the sport almost every day. That*s almost impossible if you*ve got a full-time job."

WIAA or The Malabar Hill Club, Malabar Hill

Set up in 1938, the sports facilities of the renamed Malabar Hill Club (it was called WIAA earlier) include tennis, badminton, snooker and swimming. There is also a library, a gymnasium and a bridge room here. Originally housed in Sir David Sassoon*s bungalow according to the club*s website.

Of all the clubs one has named, a membership to this one probably has the least prestige-value, yet, its transparency and approach was like a breath of fresh air. All details pertaining tou00a0 the club are clearly and completely listed on the club*s website.

Membership mania: Although it*s certainly not cheap, membership was available and open a few months ago for Rs 17,50,000 and an annual subscription charge of Rs 12,000. "There*s a one-year-long waiting period," says one Mr Lawrence (last name unknown) one spoke to at the club.

He also shares, "Corporate Membership for a 10-year duration, limited to four members per company is also available as are temporary memberships."

Breach Candy Club, Breach Candy

The Breach Candy club is absolute heaven* writes a blogger, Sharrell, on, and explains her sentiments thus,u00a0 "The club*s membership is limited mostly to expats with foreign passports, and is by invitation only. As a result, the environment is a comfortable one. There*s no need to worry about offending Indian sensibilities.
Wearing a revealing bikini is totally acceptable there. No one even looks twice." Despite their own Indian roots, members one spoke to echoed the foreigner*s sentiment. They love the privacy the club affords. Even the fact that a, *Dogs and Indians not allowed* sign was visible at the entrance of this club well after Independence doesn*t seem to faze them.

"It*s not about the money here," explains one member, telling us that she just pays an annual sum of about Rs 25,000 for her entire family*s membership. "The passport you hold is relevant," she shares, and hesitating a bit, adds,u00a0 "I*m told they have a certain bias. It is not just foreign-passport holders who are favoured when it comes to accepting members, but white skin."

The club boasts a grand outdoor pool, an indoor pool, a gymnasium, badminton and tennis courts, a table tennis facility, a library and two restaurants.

Membership mania: "Membership here works a different way", explains another member of the club, telling us that a member of the Club*s Trust must propose each member. "

Trust members can propose two members a year," she reveals, telling us that about seven years ago, in response to a public outcry with regards to the Club*s prejudices, the club did accept 100 new Indian members. But, even then, they were very selective, ensuring that only the cream of the crop were made members," she says, as she adds,u00a0 "I believe Juhi Chawla and Ravi Ghai were given membership."

Cricket Club of India, Churchgate

Inaugurated by the Maharaja of Patiala who then became the club*s first President back in 1937, the club*s website declares that CCI came into being when the Maharaja of Patiala was snubbed, owing to the prevalent racial discrimination at another city club.

Reports reveal that a chunk of reclaimed land was offered to CCI by Lord Brabourne, the then Governor of Bombay, after whom, the Maharaja recommended the stadium be named. When one called the club for information, sadly, none was forthcoming.
The club had tightened its policy with regards to reports in the press and hence, members were hesitant to go on record with anything at all. A sad state ofu00a0 affairs for a club with such a bold heritage one thought.

Membership mania: When one called to enquire about memberships the call was directed to Patricia, who maybe CCI*s (Wo)Man-Friday. "We*re only offering memberships to children of existing members," she told us plainly.

They are not even giving out forms for any other type of membership, we learnt, though members of the club hesitatingly shared, "Corporate memberships are available and occasionally, sports committees may, under very specific circumstances, consider individuals for playing memberships.

As is the case with such memberships at Bombay Gym, here too, the parameters ofu00a0 Playing Memberships are carefully defined and limited. The cost of such membership is also nominal, a member told us, and privately admitted, "There*s such a demand for membership to this club, that we would have takers even at Rs 35 lakh to Rs 40 lakh.

When a long-time member wasu00a0 asked whether someone with neither athletic prowess nor familial links to the club could ever hope for membership, the question was met with a shake of the head indicating no.

Most South Mumbai club memberships hover around Rs 25 lakh and that is a very conservative estimate.

Even though you have the money, you may not be able to get a membership as several clubs have closed doors to outsiders.

Elections to the club committee are being fought with increasing ferocity, one indicator of just how coveted these kursis have become.

Some clubs have a waiting period for as long as 5 to 10 years.

Ego battles take place for committee seats as those on the committee have the power to get people into the club or vote them out *blackball* them in club lingo.

Several South Mumbai clubs carry a definite snob value to them - being a member is a social status symbol.

Several clubs have unspoken rules, which do not allow people from certain professions to become members.

A club membership is even considered an asset in of all things - the marriage market.

Cricket Club of India membership love money
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