Saturday, July 7, 2001

A club for all seasons
Prerana Trehan

LAST week the Kasauli Club celebrated its 120th anniversary. Few would know that these celebrations were made possible, in no small measure, by a lack of quorum. It was the winter of 1947 and the British had finally been shown the door by the Indians. Before leaving they were determined to take what they could from a country that had been their dominion for over 200 years. One way they did this was by selling their properties in India. Up for sale, like many other European clubs, was the Kasauli Club. The members wanted to sell it and divide the proceeds among themselves. On that bleak winter day in December the sale of the club was the main item on the agenda of the general body meeting. Providentially, the meeting had to be postponed because the quorum was incomplete. Before an extraordinary general meeting could be convened for the same purpose, the chairman of the club managed to get an interim injunction staying the sale of the club. And that is how the Kasauli Club came into Indian possession. First the story of the birth of the club.


The year was 1880 and the place, the small hill cantonment of Kasauli. While Kasauli was enough like England to be a favourite with homesick British officers, it had nothing much to offer them in terms of recreational facilities. To rectify the situation, a group of gentlemen, both military and civilian, got together to establish the Kasauli Reading and Assembly Rooms. This was the humble beginning of the institution that in 1898 came to be known as the Kasauli Club. The decision to convert the reading rooms into a club was taken in a meeting held on May 7, 1897 and attended by its founding members, among them Brig General Symons C. B., Commanding Sirhind District, Brig Surgeon Lt. Col O’ Connor, AMC, Major Gallway, Commanding Kasauli Depot and Major Younghusband, the British Commissioner to Tibet. It was registered as the Kasauli Club at the Registrar’s office at Lahore on September 21, 1898. The club became a limited liability company and the largest shareholder was Mr Meakins.

The membership of the club was, at that time, open only to British army officers and civil servants. The club soon established a reputation for itself as the hub of social life in the Shimla Hills. It was known for social activities, its dances and its sports facilities and attracted people from as far as Sirhind, Ambala, Dagshai and Sabathu, apart from other neighbouring cantonments. The club boasted of bars, library, billards room, dining room, ball room and a lounge apart from six tennis courts. In fact, its tennis matches became so famous that some came all the way from Ferozepore, Delhi, Lahore, Bombay and Calcutta to watch them. Saturday dances and Sunday lunches were also eagerly awaited. Residential quarters were added for the benefit of members who wished to stay at the club.

Weary from the heat and dust of the plains, the British found a welcome haven in the cool environs of Kasauli. The quality of social interaction at the club was an added attraction and was, no doubt, at least partly responsible for Kasauli’s popularity in those days.

Down the years, many important personalities have been associated with the club. Army officers, educationists, writers, journalists, lawyers and judges and renowned scholars have been members of the club. Among them were Brigadier General Dyer and Mr Meakins, founders of the distillery and brewrey at Kasauli and Solan, respectively, Sir Maurice Gwyer, former Chief Justice of India, Colonel Sir Richard Christopher, former director of the Central Research Institute at Kasauli, Colonel J.A Sinton, a Victoria Cross winner, Sir Sobha Singh, Bishop Barnes of Sanawar and Sir Teja Singh Malik.

Not only in the past but even today, the Kasauli Club boasts of distinguished members. At present the club has 400 permanent members. Writer Khushwant Singh, a well-known though temporary resident of Kasauli, and his journalist son Rahul Singh are both members of the club. Some other names which readily come to mind are those of Gen Surjit Singh, Army Commander, Gen Virendra Singh, Chairman Modern School, Delhi, Anup Singh, Chairman Railway Board, Milkha Singh, ex-Punjab chief secretary Mann, Vikram Bakshi of McDonald’s, Manju Deshbir, MD of Harig India and writer-bureaucrat Pawan Varma.

Sadly enough, the club could not withstand the ravages of time and slowly fell into decay. The building of the club had to bear the brunt of lack of proper maintenance. Leaking roofs, run-down interiors and ill-kept exteriors made the stories of the bygone glory of the club seem like mere fiction. Factionalism among some members, court cases and allegations of financial irregularities added to the club’s woes. Social interaction suffered and the club lost its warmth and elegance.

Then last October a new executive committee under the chairmanship of Brig V.S Tonk took over and since then things have started looking up for the club. Soon after assuming office, the committee undertook large-scale renovations to restore to the club its lost elegance. The emphasis was on retaining the old-world charm of the club. These renovations were carried out under the supervision of the hony secretary of the committee Lt. Col. Karnail Singh, committee member Jagmohan Luthra, and architects Siddharth Vij and Anant Mann assisted by furnisher and designer Raminder Singh and furniture maker Jasbir Singh.

The original wooden roof which had decayed and was leaking in many places was replaced with iron. Layers of paint were removed from wooden pillars and panels. Wood salvaged from the roof was restored and used for panelling. Dhajji (mud) walls were replaced by cement walls. Beautiful fireplaces which had been partly bricked were also restored. The bar and the lounges were redesigned. Furniture was made keeping in mind the emphasis on retaining the colonial look. Old paintings were also restored. What strikes any visitor to the club is its atmosphere of friendly warmth and geniality. With its fireplaces, picture windows, period furniture and elderly gentlemen chatting with each other in clipped British accents, it is difficult to not be charmed off ones feet by its old world appeal. To a first-time visitor, the visit to the club is almost like stepping back in time to an age when leisure was not at a permium and life had the charm that only a slow pace can impart to it. For the old-timers, the club is almost like a second home and for them no morning is complete without a glance through the papers at the club along with a steaming hot cup of tea prepared by the club’s ever-obliging chefs. A good many visitors to the club are youngsters whose exuberant presence has given the club a youthful look and made it the happening place in town. The old mingles with the new with a singular lack of reserve, rather with a bonhomie that warms one’s heart and reaches out to embrace even the uninitiated. In its way, the club has managed to bridge the gap between then and now.

The reading room of the club deserves special mention. Some books housed here are as much as 200 years old. Old and rare titles are greatly treasured by the members. Squash, table tennis, billiards, lawn tennis, volley ball, putting and badminton are played here. The club also provides accommodation to its members. There are five cottages which senior members can hire for five to six months. Apart from this there are rooms on the club premises and in nearby two nearby buildings, Arcadia and Shangrila.

As the club enters the 121st year of its existence, there is every reason to hope that its future will be bright and sunny.