Dress code and literature

Many of the smarter social clubs in India have rules about how one should be attired when visiting them. The same is true for ‘elite’ clubs in London.

DRESS CODE

For example, at the Ootacamund (‘Ooty’) Club in southern India men cannot think oof having a drink at the bar if they are not wearing a formal suit and tie. And, at the Bangalore Club, men can where sandals in the Club House providing the sandals have a back strap. Even worse, at the same club the wearing of smart Indian national outfits is frowned upon if not forbidden. This is surely a hangover from the days when the club only admitted ‘white’ Europeans and a few high-ranking Indian military personel.

Once, I was staying at the Kodaikanal Club in Tamil Nadu state. Dress rules were extremely casual there. Many guests wore shorts and sandals even in the bar and dining room. One day, I entered the club’s small library, and the librarian promptly asked me to leave. I was wearing sandals (with backstraps). Apparently, in the library gentlemen are required to wear formal lace-up shoes.  I cannot say why this was required unless the Kodaikanal holds literature in high esteem, and wants it to be respected by library users who have taken the trouble not to be dressed casually.

THOSE MORONS

DR BR AMBEDKAR (1891-1956), lawyer and fighter for the rights of dalits (‘untouchables’), was the chief ‘architect’ of the Constitution of India ( adopted for use in late 1949). Highly educated, he had degrees from the Columbia University (USA) and the London School of Economics (LSE). While at the LSE, Ambedkar lived in a house near Primrose Hill, which has been preserved as a museum dedicated to his memory.

While walking along the splendid seaside promenade in Pondicherry, we visited a monument to Ambedkar, the Ambedkar Manimandapam. Opened in March 2008, this memorial complex contains a large statue of Ambedkar, some highly enlarged photos taken during his lifetime, and a small library.

The captions to the pictures are currently in the local language, Tamil, only. One huge painting depicting Ambedkar handing over a copy of the Constitution dated 1952 to various worthies including Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad had no caption identifying the persons in it. We asked a young lady, a Bengali, if she could name any of the men. She pointed at Motilal Nehru, Sardar Patel, and Rajagopalachari in addition to those we could identify ourselves. Pointing at Rajagopalachari, she said: “He must be some kind of ‘southie’.” He was a Tamil.

And then, pointing at the portraits, she added: “If it had not been for that bunch of morons, India would have become independent much sooner. They should have left it to Netaji.” She was referring to her fellow Bengali, the late Subhas Chandra Bose, whose Indian National Army gave the British an important jolt towards allowing India to leave the British Empire.

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I write a great deal in my spare time. Apart from blogs like this one, I write books about subjects that require a considerable amount of research. I have a British Library (‘BL’) reader’s card, which gives me access to an unbelievable collection of material. However, even though I live not far from the BL, it is quite time-consuming getting to and from the material inside the library. Apart from security checks at the BL, one must leave many items, which are forbidden in the reading rooms (e.g. food, drink, all kinds of writing implements apart from pencils), in a locker in te basement. Once in the reading rooms, the BL becomes a joy to work in.

 

Over the years, I have been using another kind of library. It is on-line, and is reached by typing https://archive.org/ . Using its superb search engine, you can explore its collection in many ways, such as by author, by title, by keywords, etc. What comes up, if you are lucky, is a set of scanned volumes of relevant books or pamphlets. By clicking on an item, you are given the option of downloading it (.pdf, Kindle, and other formats), reading the scanned book using a very practical online reader, or reading a typed transcript of the entire text online. If the item is one you need, it is a lot easier reading it via this website than having to ‘schlep’ to the BL. This is especially the case if you do not live in London.

 

If you have not come across this website and you are looking for texts published long ago and not so distantly, head for archive.org, and give it a try!

 

My picture is part of a screen-shot of a page of results from archive.org

 

A myth

 

Recently, I renewed my Reader’s Card at the British Library, currently housed in superb premises on Euston Road, next door to the Victorian Gothic St Pancras railway station. This building was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in about 1998. Prior to this, the library’s Reading Room was a huge circular structure in the heart of the British Museum.

When our daughter was at primary school, she was taught about the Ancient Egyptians  including a female Pharaoh called Hatshepsut. One Saturday, I took our daughter to the British Museum in the hope of finding an image of the pharaoh in the Egyptian Galleries. After a desultory search, we gave up and walked acoss the the lovely covered Great Court, created relatively recently. The central circular structure within it contains the unused but well-preserved round Reading Room, which was designed by Sidney Smirke and opened in 1857, the year of the First Indian War of Independence. 

We entered the old Reading Room and I asked the attendant sitting there:

“Where exactly did Karl Marx used to sit when he used the library?”

“It’s a myth, sir,” replied the attendant, “He did not have a particular place because it has always been the library’s policy that places can not be reserved from day to day.”

I was a bit disappointed with his reply, but had to accept it.

When we got home, my wife asked our child how we had got on. She replied:

“You know Mummy. Daddy asked about his friend at the big old library?”

My wife asked which friend. Our daughter replied:

“I don’t know, but the man said he was a myth really.”

 

 

Picture shows foyer of current British Library in Euston Road

 

Thrown out of a library

When she was about two years old, our daughter dressed in a unisex romper outfit, rushed into the Men’s Bar at the Bangalore Club. An elderly gentleman conducted her back to the entrance of the bar, saying: “You can’t come in here yet, young man. You’ll have to wait until you’re twenty one.”

My wife explained that our child is a girl. The gentleman replied: “In that case, my dear, you will never be able to enter the Men’s Bar.”

The Bangalore Club was founded by British officers in 1868 at the time when Mahatma Gandhi was born in faraway Gujarat. Until after about 1945, women were not allowed into the main Club House. There was a separate annexe reserved for women. And until 1947, with the exception of servants and a very few high ranking military officers, no Indians were permitted to enter any part of the Club.

The Bangalore Club and many other similar still existing colonial era clubs in India maintain many of the old-fashioned rules that applied in elite clubs in the UK. For many years, men could only enter the Club House at the Bangalore Club wearing ‘proper’ shoes, not sports shoes or sandals. Now, sandals are allowed providing they have a back strap around the ankle.

Once, I stayed at the Kodaikanal Club deep in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Dress code seemed to be non-existent there until I stepped into the club’s small library. Within a few seconds, a member of the library staff escorted me out of the library. I was wearing sandals. I was told that one could only enter the library if formal leather shoes were being worn.

Well, if you join a club, you should respect its rules however idiotic they might seem. Vide the UK and the EU.

As time moves on, rules change. A couple of years ago , for reasons best not explored here and they were nothing to do with gender equality, women were permitted to enter and use the Men’s Bar at the Bangalore Club. Since that date, the formerly masculine sanctuary has been renamed “The Bar”.

The old gentlemen who evicted our daughter from the Men’s Bar is probably no longer alive. I wonder what he would have thought when his prediction proved to be wrong. Let’s finish by raising a glass to his memory.