British Legacy in India


gymkhanaVisiting the Gymkhana Club in Chennai provides a fascinating glimpse of the British legacy in India. This is a remnant of the colonial days, the British Raj. Is it a symbol of British imperialism? No doubt. But even during the British occupation of India, the club had a mixed clientele. In fact, "independent" Indian women were allowed to join, and were, in a sense offered freedoms that Indian society at the time wouldn't have allowed. The club is a bit worn around the edges, but that lends to the feeling of history you get while sitting sipping (what else?) a gin and tonic on a steamy afternoon, with a fan slowing whirring overhead.

Membership has of course changed since the British days. You can see the list of past presidents on the wall. Up to the 50s, all names are English. Since then, all are Indian. ELI volunteers sometimes have the opportunity to visit the club, perhaps for lunch on the veranda or in the "buttery" (see definition). I recommend it! There are similar clubs in other former British colonies. I've visited the club in Nakuru, Kenya as well - the Rift Valley Sports Club. ELI's coordinator, Rosemary Wangui is a member there.

Of course, the British built more than clubs! Many of India's railway stations and other public buildings that date to the British occupation remain and are quite beautiful. The railway system was quite well-developed, and served India well in the post-colonial era. 

By the way, gin and tonic, that drink that is so emblamatic of the British in India was developed as a palatable way to administer quinine, an anti-malarial. Here's a brief history.

For information on volunteer, intern and study programs in India

By Kevin O'Neill


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