So, you insist on wearing a collarless shirt, said my friend Mani who came to pick me up for an evening out during my recent Chennai visit. That was his way of telling me I sabotaged his plans for drinks & dinner at the Madras Gymkhana. The club insists on members and guests wearing shirt with a proper collar. And I had given it up years back, in favour of half-sleeved ‘kurtha’ that is a cross between ‘safari’ and T-shirt. My ‘khadi’ signature dress is exclusive; it is available only at Chennai’s Rayapetta branch of the Khadi Gram Udhyog Bhavan. The club and I appeared mutually exclusive when it came to the dress code.
I have been to Gymkhana a few times in the line of duty as a wining/dining media person. This was before I switched to ‘khadi’. And once, after. But then I had to borrow one of Mani’s shirts for the evening. This time I wasn’t in a shirt-borrowing mood. We ended up at GRT Grand.
A decade back, during my stint as Chennai correspondent of The Times of India, a PR-friend invited a few us to lunch at Madras Cricket Club, with a visiting executive of a multinational, an American. There were a dozen of us, and we all drove to the club together and filed into the bar that overlooks the Chepauk grounds. Moments after we settled at the bar, a club official walked up to our table and whispered something to the PR-man.
Clearly embarrassed, our PR friend let it be known that we were not welcome at the club bar, as one of us was wearing something without a collar. The club secretary, however, condescended to set up a table for us at the pavilion, adjacent to the club bar. Our American guest took it sportingly. My efforts to make some excuse for leaving the club, so that others could lunch in air-conditioned comfort, didn’t work.
As a gesture of solidarity the mighty media in Madras was prepared to have its chilled beer and chicken biriyani at Chepauk grounds pavilion on a sultry mid-summer afternoon. Speaking of the power of the media, here was a group, representing the media corps of Chennai, that got pushed around, because the club management insisted on upholding an archaic club code. We, the media, accepted it without as much as a murmur. I don’t suppose any of us wrote about it either.