A few days ago, on the very contemporary medium, WhatsApp, I received an image of a parchment written by yours truly more than a quarter century ago! Twenty-five years ago, we barely had a decent telephone line to talk on in the estates where we were located, and despite that, or maybe because of it, our lives brimmed with fun and frolic, picnics and sports events, dances with themed decorations and parties galore all within the ambit of our many clubs. That piece of parchment brought it all back!
Wednesday club meets
In those days, except for occasional lapses, most of the clubs along the Dooars route functioned as a meeting point for those of the plantation ilk. Most had a midweek club evening, usually on a Wednesday, when worked-to-the-bone planters gathered for rounds of golf, lobs of tennis and an adequate high tea. In some clubs, the midweek club teas consisted of a wide variety of serving bowls or boxes packed by the attendees on a long table, a sort of potluck, and the fare for these ranged from sandwiches to dhoklas to leftover homemade pizza.
By and large, the impromptu eclectic menu was satisfying to a high degree, except when someone decided to get lazy or parsimonious by using up the contents of the leftovers stored in her deepfreeze! Once there were aloo bondas crafted from potatoes of a distinct vintage – as winy as VSOP – but the flavour did not lend itself well to the humble spud. Another more creative personage served up a pizza base covered with vegetable au gratin. Both, the base and the gratin, were relics of the past, and needed to be surreptitiously expectorated into a paper napkin. Needless to say, such ladies were habitual offenders, and their offerings on the table were bypassed in the normal scheme of things.
More interesting were the club evenings, where one family, or occasionally one estate, was responsible for providing supper to all members of the club. A roster to this effect was strictly adhered to, and if a repast was what you expected every Saturday night, you were treated to a banquet.
Club fixtures were meticulously executed
The fixtures in our clubs were impeccably organized. We played host to members of all the clubs along our route, so the gatherings were large and rambunctious. Both on and off the sports arena clusters of people gathered to participate, cheer and simply catch up with friends they hadn’t spoken to for days. Meals were served by the host club. For this, the lady members of the club would have foregathered under the stewardship of the ‘lady’ or ‘catering’ member many days ahead of the upcoming fixture to chalk out the menu and distribute catering chits across estates.
The meals were always delicious, sometimes even delectable and punctually served on snowy white linen covered tables. Without a doubt, the club kitchens were both heart and lung at these times, and their primitive warming cupboards stoked by buckets of coal were a sheer genius of design. While oversized pots, pans and tureens nestling cheek by jowl with each other remained cosily warm in a red glow within, the stoves without were busy servicing the likes of deep fried leavened roundels of dough (read bhatooras), batter fried vegetables (pakoras) and other varieties of viands and victuals that needed special cosseting before being served.
The collection of salads boggled the mind! Either our ladies were innately talented or had acquired their skill from the senior brigades of worthies, but salad decorations were as perfectly sculpted as Donatello’s works of art! What particularly stands out in memory is an army of frogs preparing to dive into an expanse of blue water, a lily pond in an exquisite garden. The frogs were fashioned out of capsicums.
Evidence of a distant past
After an event at the club, the catering member would collect the bills produced by the ladies for the dishes supplied by them, and reimbursements would be sent in due course, after costs were verified by the august club treasurer. On her part, the ‘catering member’ would despatch little notes of gratitude to all those who selflessly gave of themselves for the greater good of feeding troupes of others, with no thought of the karmic rewards to follow. The letter below is representative of one such missive to one such member. It is dated March 1995 and is a nostalgic piece of evidence of the distant past.