Located on Lower Circular Road, now known as AJC Bose Road, the Calcutta Club was founded as a protest against the discriminating ‘only for whites’ policy of the Bengal Club, considered as the best club in the city during the early colonial days.
During the early colonial days of the city of Calcutta, the Bengal Club, founded by a group of East India Company officials, as the Bengal United Service Club, was restricted for the whites only. Considered as the best and the most aristocrat club in Calcutta, it was a favourite meeting place of the European officers and civilians of the city. Even Lord Minto, who was the viceroy of India during 1905-1910, liked to have dinner at the Bengal Club on the days of Christmas. On one such particular occasion, he invited Sir Rajen Mookerjee, along with others, for dinner in the club and intimated the club authority accordingly. It was a difficult situation for the club, as they were neither in a position to allow a native in their premises, nor could disregard the Viceroy’s command. Under the above critical circumstances, the top brass of the club hit upon a master plan and arranged for a temporary tent in the lawn and Sir Rajen Mookherjee had to dine there.
This naked exposure of the derogatory and discriminating policy of the club acted as a spark among the elite Bengali society of the city and a decision was taken to form a club with an indiscriminate membership policy. Accordingly, Calcutta Club was established in the city in 1907, with His Highness the Maharajah of Cooch Behar, Sir Nripendra Narayan as its first president. Gradually, the club flourished and became a popular social hub for the wealthy community in the city.
The dignified building of Calcutta has a classical charm. The main dining hall, popularly known as the ‘Coffee Room’, consists of a huge hall with two connecting chambers with high ceiling. The majestic ambience of the hall, adorned with pastel coloured long curtains, vintage wooden chairs, age-old hanging chandeliers, waiters in traditional attires and the aesthetic paintings on the walls – reminds the guests of the century old British environment. It serves continental dishes and genuine English dinner. Apart from cocktails and mocktails, Indian and imported drinks like beer, wine, whiskey, vodka are also served. The premium lounge in the central region, just behind the well-maintained green lawn, is equipped with a bar and is open for the members to sit and relax from 6 am to 11 pm. Before 2010, kids were allowed in the club only on the Thursdays and Sundays till 6.30 pm. In 2010, it was decided that kids would be allowed every day till 6.30 pm. The Calcutta Club is perhaps the only club in Calcutta, which has a bakery of its own.
Ironically, the Calcutta Club, which was formed as a reaction against discrimination and was established amid a mood of equality, was in the eye of a storm, as it has historically restricted membership to men only. Controversy was triggered for the first time by the harsh criticism of an IAS Officer, Kalyani Chaudhury, principal secretary of the public works department, when in 2005 she sought an explanation from the club about gender discrimination. She even refused to renew the lease of the land on which the heritage club building was built, as the club was violating the constitution of India by practicing this discrimination. In the year 2006, Mr Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the then Governor of the state, also refused to accept an invitation by the club, as his wife was not invited. However, this discriminating policy was revoked in 2007, the centenary year of the Club, when it started admitting women members.
Among all the clubs of the colonial days, which include the Tollygunge Club, the Bengal Club and the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, the Calcutta Club has been the most tenacious in maintaining British dress codes of the early 20th Century. The famous Indian painter MF Husain was once refused entry for not wearing shoes and musician Ananda Shankar was also turned away for not complying appropriately with the dress code. Even in 2011, painter Shuvaprasanna, dressed in a long-sleeved kurta and a traditional pyjama, was not allowed to attend a dinner party, hosted by Chuni Goswami, the great footballer of yesteryears. Though it sparked an angry backlash from the elite section of the city, the rigid dress code of the club remained unchanged even today.