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TRIBUTE

Century of sophistication

Clubbing has certainly been a part of our way of life even before the Europeans decided to introduce the culture to us 'natives', on this brown side of the globe. A peek back through time will tell you that our chondi mondops or hujra khanas, where village elders discussed religious discourse and sat down for addas, served well the purpose of clubbing as we know today.

Syed Shamsul Haq, renowned playwright and novelist of our times, aptly points out this fact while reminiscing about his Dhaka Club days.

Dhaka Club is turning 100 this August 19 and it's a proud moment for all its members and also for others living in this bustling metropolis. It is not always that a Dhakaite can point at something and proudly say that the institution has survived the test of time.

“Dhaka Club has not only survived but has flourished; it is going through its most glorious years now,” says the Club's current president, Sadat Hossain Salim.

“Yes, it maintains exclusivity but it is not totally isolated from the common people, the whole society is represented -- from having among us a teacher to a media personality, the whole of the social bracket is covered. We do a lot of CSR activities and maintain inter-club relationships not only in the country but outside too.

"My predecessors brought in many changes and following them I too added new dimensions to the current club culture, from patronising contemporary paintings, book launching events, relaunching the bar in a colonial British look -- are among few of the many changes I have tried to bring in. Personally I am very proud to lead the Club into 100 years. There will be many programmes for the rest of the year and also there will be a commemorative postage stamp issued for the occasion,” Salim highlights.

Adding to the words of the President, Shakil Kasem, Member, Executive Committee clarifies that, the nature of the Club is such that it cannot be divorced from the society; therefore a demographic change needs to take place because certain practicalities need to be addressed and the exclusive character needs to be redefined.

“We have 1500 permanent members. Not everybody fits the bill but if society has undergone change, so must any organisation it has. However, certain codes of conduct must be maintained, there should not be any disrepute to this organisation and all members must be acceptable by their fellow members,” Kasem adds.

“I've been a member of this prestigious club for the last 30 years and I do miss the old-time charm; then again, I do love the new additions as well. The Club's love for literature has certainly enriched it culturally, our celebrating Pohela Boishakh and Rabindra and Nazrul Joyanti, the classical music soirees, the poetry recitations all add a character to the Club. Even the Club's humble monument to commemorate our Victory Day and Language Day highlights its bold metamorphosis into a typical Bengali Club,” Shamsul Haq proudly claims.

“The Club has quite a few quiet corners and I use them for reading or writing or editing, I like this place better because I am not disturbed and at every 40-minute interval I get my perfect cup of brew just the way I like it with a crisp toast on the side. I spent many afternoons in this extension of my home,” Haq fondly says.

“Socialising here is different from the other places," adds the President. "The atmosphere is lively and you can be frank and open up with friends and be yourself, whether in the card room or lounge, and engage yourself in lively discussions on politics, economics, sports or business. The facilities here are all five-star and the hospitality is even better. Our servers make the life here; their personalised touch cannot be compared with anything, be it in the salon or swimming pool or any other facility within the Club.”

“It is a second home..." and Kasem continues "...but better than the first in many counts. At any given time of the day I meet my friends here; the servers know exactly how I like my steak to be done or how to perfect my simple breakfast of toast and eggs. When it comes to a day out with family, this is the place where I feel safe and secure. Besides, whether it is a set of games like squash or pool or your favourite steak and smoked hilsha -- everything is within your means and you don't have to worry about the bill till the next three months.

“It is top class entertainment; the Club enhances my lifestyle and well-being. When I am all stressed out and need a place to unwind, the Club is the place I come to. There is something in it for everyone here, with one string attached -- we are all addicted to this Club,” said Kasem.

And as he mentioned, Dhaka Club is 100 years and still batting and in the process setting the tone for the future. So here's to the hundred years and counting; for Dhaka Club has been a second home to so many.

By Raffat Binte Rashid
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed


TRIBUTE

Dhaka Club: Behind the Scenes

As Dhaka Club completes the envious feat of turning 100 classy years, we decided it was the perfect time to take our readers behind the scenes of the most prestigious club in the city and see what keeps it going.

The President and the various members are of course an integral element of the affair, but it is in fact the 'backroom' staff who represent the bare bones of the club. Indeed, they are an extremely important cog in the Dhaka Club machinery.

We caught up with the President of the Employee Union, Aminul Islam, first. Having worked at Dhaka Club for 18 years, he tells us just how different the club's working environment is from just about anywhere else.

“The relationship we share with the members and patrons, it makes this place just feel like home." He concludes that after 18 years, Dhaka Club is indeed home now.

“The way we are treated, it's like we are their family members.” Aminul Islam says in reference to the members. He further adds that the bond felt more special because it is genuine on both sides and not restricted to only working hours but extended beyond that.

Abdul Hamid, who along with his family have been a part of Dhaka Club since 1974, praises the club at length. “We aren't treated any differently and the burden of our work isn't that great. The gratuity and the numerous bonuses make the job even more lucrative.”

Abdul Samad Bhuiyan who has worked since 1979, Anowar Hossain Khan in his thirtieth year in service and Mohammad Siddique in his thirty-third year, all shares the same sentiments regarding working in Dhaka Club. They all talk about the uniqueness in the working culture at Dhaka Club while reiterating the role of the members more as their guardians than anything else.

Praises are heaped on current and past presidents. All of the workers come from different backgrounds and having worked elsewhere as well, they are united by one common thought; Dhaka Club is the best place to work.

In terms of how they are valued and the environment of the place coupled with other factors, Dhaka Club is indeed the best place to work, according to them.

These people also have some humourous anecdotes to share. In fact, upon further conversation, one couldn't help but realise that integral parts of the club's history are deeply rooted in the minds of these people and absolutely no one could relate them better. Romanticised versions of the time when Dhaka Club was invaded by Pakistani soldiers seem to be the most popular tales.

The Worker's Union, although an almost alien concept in most corporate cultures, is as much part of Dhaka Club as anything else. The members of the Worker's Union say that it was Dhaka Club's members themselves who worked hard and hand in hand to bring the union to reality.

The Union has been given complete freedom. “But we also repay the faith shown in us,” one of the union's representatives adds, taking us back to the time when all the workers took half-wages as the club was going through some financial difficulties. Such was and is the dedication of these workers.

Just before we took our leave, we met Sree Darsharath Badorat. Having served for over 33 years the shy, soft-spoken man has been around the longest. Starting off with Tk 70 some 33 years ago as a caretaker of the tennis court, Badorat indeed has a lot of stories to tell. “It was during the liberation war when suddenly at night the Pakistanis attacked. They got in and began shooting, killing the guards along with 7-8 people. Two, however, survived. It was a bloody night.” Badorat gravely recollects.

But that is just one of a vast collection of stories Badorat has to tell. When asked about the club, Badorat's eyes light up as he begins praising the club for all it has given him. “President sir is extremely nice. He helps the employees. He even made sure my son got a good job.” Badorat says, smiling as he speaks.

So, what does it take for any organisation to reach a 100 years? Apparently, it is mutual respect and love that is shared by those who make up the organisation, regardless of their place in the social ladder. It is this love and dedication that has brought Dhaka Club so far and sustaining it would lead to yet another glorious 100 years and then some.

By Osama Rahman


FYI

A brief history of Dhaka Club

The Dhaka Club was founded on 19 August 1911. As was expected in the colonial period, Dhaka Club, like other similar clubs in India, primarily served the cultural and recreational needs of the Europeans, namely the British. It created a home away from home where members and their families could socialise, play and dine in a style reminding them of their original abode.

With the departure of the British in 1947, Dhaka Club gradually transformed itself, adjusting to new needs and demands. Even so, the club was characterised covertly by a subsequent bias, that is, of being unfortunately dominated by the second quasi-colonial new elite - the Pakistanis. A veteran staff at the club, once observed dryly that before 1971only about 20% were Bengali members.

After the independence of 1947 from British rule, Bengalis who qualified as members of the Dhaka Club came mainly from the influential and anglicised rungs of society, like Justice Amin Ahmed, the first Bengali President of the club. Others were senior civil and military bureaucrats, police officials and businessmen. With the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971, the last vestiges of the colonial past were shed, giving way to a truly indigenous identity.

In 1973 a Bangla letterhead was introduced and Pohela Boishakh has been celebrated since 1978. Victory Day, December 16, is celebrated with great flair and enthusiasm. Evenings of music by Tagore, Nazrul and Lalon exponents, plays, poetry readings, the rich library all serve to emphasise the shift in the club's cultural character since the colonial days. The once elitist club has asserted its indigenous identity, but retains those elements such as Christmas and New Year's Ball, which are now a part of the metropolitan culture, accepted willingly in an age of globalisation, and not imposed from above.

Of course, some would still argue that the club has entered a new form of elitism based on class and wealth. As membership is jealously guarded, this may be true. To the man on the Dhaka streets this continues to be a privileged social institution. However, it is an institution that has been around for a glorious 100 years. Elitist or not, the ideals of the War of Liberation are upheld with pride in its major official functions. The club continues to be a secular space as well as an avenue for leisure, recreation and sport.

Excerpts taken from Dhaka Club Chronicles

 

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