Americans at home in India
The oldest and newest members of a 91-year-old philantrophy club for American expat women in Mumbai say it has been a lesson in diversity, inclusivity, comfort and nostalgia
It is around noon that I enter the BKC highrise where I will meet Taly Lind. I am in the elevator, just past the fourth floor when I receive a notification about Mercury entering retrograde motion. The planet of expression and communication, now in the dreaded phase, cannot ruin this interview. I ring the doorbell and there is Taly, about to greet me. Totoro cuts the welcome note short. "We found him in Maryland, and got him home. My kids are fond of him and cannot imagine a home without a pet. So, we had to bring him with us to India," she says of the cat whose name is inspired by the Japanese animation classic, My Neighbour Totoro.
Behind Taly, wife to US Consul General for Mumbai David Ranz, is Sasha Zaveri, who is married to Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri scion Nisschal Zaveri. Sasha leads me to the drawing room where the ageless Jinx Akerkar sits on a couch, sipping a glass of cold water. Suddenly, there is an argument over the seating arrangement. "I don't want my stomach seen in the pictures," Sasha laughs. "Do make us look younger and thinner," Taly pleads, as 88-year-old Jinx shrugs, "I am not moving anywhere from this spot." She is mother to celebrated chef and restaurateur Rahul Akerkar, credited with introducing Mumbai to European fine-dine cuisine at his Mandlik Road restaurant, Indigo.
Frances Brown Brough founded the club in 1928 with 13 American women living in Bombay
We are here to discuss the genius of Frances Brown Brough, responsible for weaving together the lives of these three women. In 1927, while hosting a Christmas party, she realised that there were 22 American women in Bombay with a lot of time on their hands and a desire to learn about the city of their adoption. A year later, she and a group of 13 ladies came together to found the American Women's Club of Bombay. The club celebrates its 91st anniversary this month and now has a total membership of 170. "The purpose now is the same as what it was back then, social work," says Jinx. "Because they were all in a good financial position, it seemed right to use their resources for the needy of Bombay. The initial members, additionally, wanted to provide comfort to the expats, who were now to live in a strange land."
Since its formation, every year, the members organise social events, the most interesting of which is the annual Gala. In 1955, the dress code was Western high fashion made from Indian fabrics. As pictures of the members were made public, the fact that Americans had adopted indigenous textiles became the talk of the town. A local newspaper published the photos, with an article titled, Americans were more patriotic than the locals.
Jinx, who is of German-American descent, signed up that same year. "We did a show called the Roaring Twenties. At every meeting, we would carry beads, needles and threads to stitch rows and rows for a flapper dress. I even danced at the fundraiser. We were having such a great time that I did not realise I was pregnant," Jinx recalls, adding how she subsequently underwent a miscarriage. "But it's alright. I kept the dress with me for many years. Until a lady asked for it, and I donated it to her as it no longer fit me," she jokes.
Jinx Akerkar's (left) RoaringTwenties performance in 1955 in the flapper dress she embellished
The club that has offered its members a home away from home helps the women acquaint themselves with Mumbai through Coffee Mornings, held twice every month. Sasha became a member only three years ago after she moved here with her husband and started Enzy Studios, breaking away from the family business. "A few days into becoming a member, I met Jinx at an annual charity mela, and remember her as warm. This is actually another goal of the club; to learn from each other's interests and engage them in relevant social activities." Taly, who is two months old at the club, adds, " I remember being jet-lagged when I was invited for a welcome lunch." Taly was given the title of the honorary president as soon as she joined. "When I heard about the title, which I got based on the fact that I am the US Consul General's wife, I admit that I was uncomfortable. I am a foreign services officer, working full-time for Washington. So, the title seemed not in keeping with who I really am." The lunch, however, turned out to be an epic icebreaker. "I went with an open mind and was amazed by how warm they all were. It was a room full of people who had answers to all my doubts. It made me feel instantly at home."
Today, the club is not restricted to enrolling American members. It has opened its doors to 36 nationals from across the globe. Jinx takes credit for this. "It was around the 1980s that a local woman got in touch with me to say she wanted someone to be a part of the club. When I met her, she turned out to be German, who was neither born in America nor married to an American. So I told her to be a guest for the meeting, and eventually, she ended up bringing all her friends to
A resolution was then passed by the board to offer membership to women of nationalities other than Americans and Canadians. In a hallmark celebration of the ethnic diversity and inclusivity, in 2017, the club changed its name from American Women's Club to American Club of International Women (ACIW). "Today, I am a grandmother to all these members," Jinx, a member for 63 years, says. "We hold heritage walks, take museum tours, attend art events and yoga sessions."
But it is philanthropy that remains an integral part of the institution's philosophy. Their annual charity mela, started in 2009, is set to complete a decade on November 9. To commemorate the occasion, the club has roped in 16 non-profits from across Mumbai, who will sell their wares at Trident, BKC, to raise funds for the underprivileged. "We are not saying we will change India overnight. But it is better to light one candle than curse the darkness," Taly smiles.
No. of members at the club currently
Annual Charity Mela
On: November 9; 11 am to 6 pm
At: Trident, BKC
Hosting the creations of 16 NGOs from across Mumbai
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