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Bankipore Club turns 150, old-timers rue its missing charm

Press Trust of India  |  Patna 

It hosted Sir Edmund Hillary during his Ganga expedition and its famed lawns perched atop a riverfront drew praises from cricket greats W G Grace and and now at 150, the Bankipore Club here stands as a sentinel of time but shorn of its glory.

Established in 1865 by the river Ganga as European Club, such was its fame that legendary writer E M Forster gave a shadow reference to it in his famous novel "A Passage to India" as Chandrapore Club. The charm and allure of that era the place evoked have all gone now though, feel the capital city's old-timers.

80-year old J K Lall, a Patna-based architect, and also its member, is "unhappy" with the state of affairs of the club for the past few years.

"The heritage is all lost today. What days were those, and what warmth and civility people displayed there (the club). The location was so picturesque, and what a beautiful building it was, with its famed wooden dance floor in the round-front ballroom.

"And, now despite my cautioning them, they have changed the main facade and turned it into a mall-like front, with all glass and concrete, it looks so garish and out of place. I don't feel like going there now, it's not the same place we grew up at," he rued.

Lall, also convener of Chapter of heritage body INTACH, says, "This is not just the Bankipore Club, many heritage buildings in have met with similar fate or worse... The building of the New Club (established 1919) is gone."

Alakh Kumar Sinha, the first Indian to become an Inspector General, was also one of the first Indian members of the club, initially restricted only to Europeans, which included top- ranking government officials mostly and judges, among others.

Lt Gen (retd) S K Sinha, former Vice Chief of Army, and Alakh Sinha' grandson, fondly recalls his childhood at the club by the river. "I used to go there with my father. The place used to be spotless. And, it was famed for its 'goli kebab' and wafers cooked by Nathu. And if you hadn't tasted food made by Nathu's, then your visit to the club was incomplete."

"There used to be a store at the club, and among other items, we could get Californian apples from there. It was such a quaint place with such charm," said Gen Sinha, an honorary member of the club.

Such was the reputation of the club that when famed mountaineer from New Zealand Hillary halted at Patna during his jet boat Ganga expedition in the late 70s, he was given a reception party at the club.

"Oh yes, I remember that occasion, when Edmund Hillary came to Patna, we had a boat party and he quite enjoyed his stay. That charm was somewhat still there back then," Lall added.

And, after Hillary, Gavaskar visited Patna and as written

in a souvenir, after seeing the Ganga flowing right in front of the club lawns, he is said to have remarked, "Bombaites can't even dream of having such a place."

And in colonial-era, Forster, who gave ample veiled references to Patna in the novel, had also stayed at the Bankipore Club, at the peak of its fame, perhaps. The British author, while researching his landmark work "A Passage..." visited Bankipore (Patna's civil station) in 1913, where the New Capital was coming up after the separation of Bihar & Orissa Province from Bengal in 1912.

"He is said to have stayed at the Dak Bungalow and the historic Bankipore Club during his Bihar sojourn," said Anunaya Chaubey, former principal of the College of Arts and Crafts here and a noted artist.

"The place should have been preserved as a historical signpost and also for its architectural grandeur, especially the ballroom, said to be remnant of the structures left behind by the Dutch before the British arrived in Patna. But, who cares about history and heritage, they don't get you votes... and restoration is an alien concept in our country, and especially in Bihar," he rued.

The Club, started by J P W Johnston, who was its founder secretary, is located in the heart of the city, not far from the famous Lawn (now Gandhi Maidan), has about 600 permanent members, and is affiliated to over 100 clubs across the country.

The word 'European' was dropped after Independence and it came to be known as just Bankipore Club, owing to its location in Bankipore area. It is one of the oldest clubs in eastern India, and one of last remaining legacy of the British Raj, but unfortunately, not even its foundation day is yet known.

"We tried to look into our records, and through whatever is left with us, we found out papers which said it was founded in 1865, and 20 years later the Muzaffarpur Club was established across the river in that city.

"But yes, we don't have a systematic archive of the Bankipore Club's history. We have planned year-long celebrations which will go on till 2016 and will try to collect some records and publish a souvenir," Secretary, Bankipore Club, Mahesh Agarwal, told

First Published: Sun, December 27 2015. 09:48 IST