While I was in London recently, I was invited to the Reform Club (established 1832) by my friend, Mihir Bose, cricket writer, historian, and, in my opinion, the only Indian journalist to have made it entirely on his own into mainstram English newspapers. And now he has made it to English clubland also, which is an entirely British upper-class male preserve.
Normally, he invites me to a Pizza Hut, or one of those hamburger places, or, at the most, to a pub. But this time, when I rang him up, he said: “Why don’t you come to my club!”
He club, as I said, was the Reform Club, situated at 104 Pall Mall, just off Trafalgar Square, a discreet but imposing stone building among several discreet but imposing stone bulding, all of which are clubs.
Mr. Bose instructed me to come in a jacket and tie. Jacket, I had, a Raymond’s blazer that I always carry with me when I go abroad, though more to seal me against the cole and damp of Europe than anything else. But a tie I did not have. So my host kindly offered to bring me a spare tie. He would wait for me at the entrance to the club.
The directions were specific: I come out of the tube at Charing Cross station, go past the old man selling Evening Standards, turn left and proceed direct into Pall Mall. Which was fine, except that Mr. Bose forgot that there are several exits to Charing Cross station and Pall Mall extends on opposite sides, of Trafalgar Square, from Piccadilly Circus to Buckingham Palace. So it took me some time to locate the club. Mr. Bose was waiting, tie in hand. It he was a born Englishman, he would have been polite and furious. Since he was born an Indian and has become and Englishman, he was only furious.
In the foyer of the club, at the counter where you register you guest’s name and inquire whether there are any messages for you, bottles of liquor, glasses, tea kettles, cups, were laid out. You bought your drinks in the foyer, then carried them in. and you paid cash. Those were the rules.
Two elderly retainers, dressed like English butlers, poured us our drinks. I had a beer, Mr. Bose alka seltzer, his stomach was out.
We sat in the morning room, though it was getting to be evening. There was a red-faced Englishman, reading a newspaper, and elderly couple talking in whispers. The walls were packed, floor to ceiling, with old books, and the room smelt of them. Mr. Bose and I talked in undertones. He liked the club beause it was quiet. You could come there and relax and read all the books.
We were sitting in the heart of London’s clubland, he said. Next door was the Athenian, whose members were mainly scholars and researchers. Behind was the Carlton, whose president was always the prime minsiter of England. Further down was the Garrick, the actors’ club…too lively.
He then showed me around then rest of the club. The card room had books linning its four walls, the dining room also had books on the walls, and library has books. There were no members around. He explained: It was Friday evening and the members bad all left for their country estates for the weeken. He did not say so, but I assumed - to hunt with the hounds and shoot grouse and wild geese.
Mr. Bose drove me back to my hotel, we shook hands and said goodbye. Only later I realised I was still wearing his tie. It is not a particularly good tie.