Just the description should be enough to put you off a gentlemen's club. Then, when you consider that the establishment in question actually stands for what can essentially be categorised as elitism, it may drive you to campaign to turn the place into a public square so it can be redeemed. I know I do. And it's why I am a little embarrassed when I have to admit that I find old-school English-style gentlemen's clubs quite quaint. I could not escape the charms of Mumbai's Cricket Club of India (CCI), though it did its best to convince me otherwise.
It is a place that was born of racial discrimination, when the Maharaja of Patiala was aggrieved he could not sit with the Europeans at the Bombay Gymkhana and decided to build a place of his own. It has since evolved into a place of class difference. The CCI carries the weight of old money. You can see it in the clubhouse. Spiral staircases, thick columns, heavy curtaining, lots of wood. And then there are the people.
All straight backs, swift strides and stiff suits: the mercury has no impact on the dress code. These people need to look the part and they do. They also have the unique ability to see through anyone who doesn't. An unfamiliar face is not even met with a curious side-eye to try and see if there is the possibility of a stranger dropping in. All the members know each other without needing to look; maybe they communicate by the sound of their footfalls.
They're usually headed in the same direction - to one of the dining rooms, which looked inviting, but as a non-member, I was uninvited. The only one I really wanted to get inside was the Porbunder All Rounder, admittedly because of the name. My family traces its history back to Porbunder, in Gujarat, and I was intrigued that there would be a reference to the place in the middle of Mumbai.
At the first opportunity I got to ask someone about the name, I did. One of the senior administrative staff, a middle-aged lady, who said she wanted to be a journalist when she was younger but was told by her father it was "not a profession for women", told me the Maharajah of Porbunder had been one of the many funders of the club, and so had had a room named after him. The All Rounder bit was just a random cricket reference.
In fact, cricket can seem secondary to the club overall. There are stories of members complaining that when a match is on it prevents them from taking their walks. On some match days if play overflows past the scheduled time, the members line up at the boundary rope with their cane chairs, agitatedly waiting for play to end so they can set up for their bridge games.
Even if they wanted to forget about cricket, they couldn't. The club exists because of it and if the walls could talk, the only language they would speak is cricket. Every one of them tells a different story, with pictures of Indian teams of the 1930s, to a history of Don Bradman, to a photographic display of all ten wickets Anil Kumble took against Pakistan in 1999. Kumble himself is only in two of the pictures. When I see him, I'm going to ask him what he thinks of gentlemen's clubs.