KERALA CLUB: EARLY DAYS
Recollection of A K Damodaran, Former Diplomat
When I first came to Delhi in 1946 to teach in one of the University Colleges, I used to stay in New Delhi and that made all the difference as far as the Kerala Club was concerned. Its location was central in the capital and it was easily the most convenient place for Malayalees to get together when they had some time for recreation or leisure. The Malayalee population in the city was comparatively small. There was a rather large floating population of service personnel who passed through the city after brief sojourns. They were mostly in the cantonment and in the Kitchner Road and Race Course area. The core of the Malayalee community was centered round the Secretaries and it was the government servants and their families who formed the large majority of the membership of the Club. They used to stay mostly in the government colonies but there were also some who were able to cycle down from Karol Bagh. It was a small enough, intimate enough group.
By an unusual coincidence, during those years of transition between the British Raj to independence, there were a large number of senior Malayalee officers at the highest level in the government. They provided patronage, encouragement and support. Among these senior officers were people like V.P. Menon, K.R.K. Menon and Dr. P.P. Pillai who took special interest in the Club. The ladies were also extremely helpful. Both Mrs. K.R.K Menon and Mrs. P.P. Pillai (Ammayi) took great interest in the activities of the Club, but none more than Mrs. Thankam Shankara Pillai, who was everyone’s Chettathiamma. These were the people who, later in the fifties, founded the Kerala School. Along with these names we will also have to remember the contribution made to the health of then Malayalee community by Ammini Chettan, Dr. K.N.S. Nayar. Omcheri was a new and young recruit to his group. Between them they achieved a great during the next 30 years.
In those early years, in the late forties and the early fiftess, the real work of running the Club had, of course, to be done by younger, more junior people, particularly in the media. The location was ideal. Many South Indian restaurants and boarding houses were within reach and the young bachelors who lived in these hotels, formed the regular clinteel, so to speak, of the Institution. There were daily bridge sessions and the availability of newspapers from Kerala was another attraction for more nostalgic among us.
The Club was extremely efficient in organizing the annual Onam festival. There was a Constitution Club those days, on the Curzon Road, and a Hall suitable for fairly largish meetings. It has now become a built up area with the External Affairs Ministry Hostel and the Curzon Road Apartments obliterating ancient memories. It was here also that once in two or three years only we were able to manage a Kathakali performance. I remember giving an English commentary on the Daksha Yaga with complete confidence and total ignorance.
These are all interesting details. But to me the most charming and evocative memories of that period are connected with the Club Library. For such a small institution, they had a very selected collection. In that distant period when such facilities were so rare – there was no Sahitya Academy then, no Indian Language Section in the Central Secretariat Library – the Kerala Club Library was irreplaceable in the mildly active, unselfconscious, cultural and library network in the community.
Source: Golden Jubilee Souvenir