The Cochin Club was the centre of activity for the mercantile crowd who lived in Fort Cochin. Since the British used Fort Cochin as their administrative headquarters it became part of the Presidency of Madras (Tamil Nadu). So when Tamil Nadu had a Prohibition policy (where alcohol was not allowed to be served), it was followed in Fort Cochin also. A bit complicated? I agree!
In 1964 there were about 30 plus expatriates in Cochin and Ernakulam area. Most of them were British who were working for Sterling companies. There were people of other nationalities too but most of them lived in Ernakulam and beyond, and were not part of the Fort Cochin ‘inner circle’! Except for a handful of bachelors the expatriates had their wives with them. They lived in beautiful, large bungalows with servants waiting on them hand and foot.
In the late sixties Malayalam Plantations managed by Harrison & Crosfield moved their corporate office to Cochin from Quilon (Kollam) and there was a fresh infusion of British expatriates into Fort Cochin life.
By the late fifties these companies began to hire Indians who applied for membership to the Cochin Club. They had to fill up an application form which the Club Committee examined. This was the information the committee wanted to see.
Sports and other Interests:
Name the Clubs you are a member of:
Name of Employer:
If found eligible the candidate was put up for vote by the Club members. Of course, the most vital information in the application form was: Name of Employer and Proposed by! The convention was to have the boss of the company propose and have it seconded by a senior executive of another company.
Election was done with all Club members casting their votes. There was a Ballot Table with two drawers. In one drawer were white balls, and in another black balls. There was a sealed Ballot Box and a Register on the table. A Member was expected to put a white or black ball into the sealed box and exercise his vote. He would then sign the register to confirm having voted.
A white ball denoted Yes, a black ball meant No. The Ballot Box was kept open for a week so as to give all members a chance to vote.
When the voting date was over two scrutineers (elected by the Club committee on each occasion) would open the seal. The number of balls in the box and the number of signatures in the register should tally.
Then they count the white and black balls cast. If the candidate had more than 2 black balls he is not elected. The term “he was blackballed” (not elected because of votes against) comes from this procedure. The unsuccessful candidate can re-apply after 6 months, but this is considered more a loss of face for the proposer than the candidate!
Fortunately this did not happen often. Having acted as scrutineer and served on the committee a few years later, I can say that one or two black balls were put in against most candidates! You can’t win them all, can you?
If my memory serves me right there were not more than a dozen Indian members at the Cochin Club even as late as 1964! The Committee was in no mood to throw open the membership to the natives – except to a select few. So being a member those days had snob value. Today, we are looking for more members to meet the overheads and the entrance fee has also gone up substantially!
The Cochin Club was the centre for social gatherings. We worked half day on Saturdays. Fried prawns and beer, followed by Pink Gin was a regular Saturday afternoon feature. We would go home for lunch, usually around 4 pm. The norm was to offer drinks to everyone around the Bar. Then others at the Bar would make the same call when their turn came up. It could be a busy afternoon!
Work on weekdays started at 8:30 am and the office closed at 4:30 pm. Everyone rushed home, changed, and came to the Club for a game of Tennis, Squash, or Badminton. After a good sweat-out everyone made their way to the Bar to have a couple of large glasses of Hockey (Fresh lime with soda and Angostura Bitters) or Beer. Some stayed on for a game of Snooker and couple of drinks before heading home for supper and a good book. There was no TV to disturb our peace!
The Club arranged a dinner-dance evening with a small local band in attendance about once a quarter. This was a lifeline for the expats far away from home and the bachelors like us who had no one to go home to.
On Sundays we had potluck lunch at some home or the other, followed by an afternoon nap and a drive to Ernakulam to see a movie. Sreedhar Cinema was the only theatre which showed English movies. Then back home after a meal at Sea Lord next door, to get ready for work the following week.
It was a charmed life. We were oblivious of the real world outside. There was plenty of things to do in the office and social life was most engaging.
Sports was always a big part of our life. During the Cricket season we all played the game on the Maidaan in front of the Club. But we’ll talk more about Cricket in a later blog.
For many these were the happiest days of their working life!