About four years ago, I went over to my friend D’s house for a school mum coffee morning. I’d just arrived, and it was one of my first “Mum Meetings”. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the morning was (in my mind) over-the-top. Everyone was dressed in cute outfits (I’m pretty sure I’d showered that morning, but I wouldn’t swear to it), there were a lot of women chatting animatedly, there was an amazing spread of brunch foods, and although it was only about 9 a.m., the Sula sparkling had been poured. I was new, still trying to remember if the person I was talking to was Vera or Veronica, and then suddenly D shoved a paper booklet in my hand and said, “You’re joining; you have to. Here’s the paperwork. V will sponsor you, I’ve signed, so you’re all ready to go.”
And thus, began our four-year relationship with the Breach Candy Club.
I took the packet home to DiploDad, who looked at it, thanked me for filling it out and then went to go pick his eyeballs off the floor, where they’d popped out and landed when he read the initiation fee.
“No, I’m not.”
“That’s a lot of money at once.”
“It can’t be worth it. There’s no way you can convince me it is.”
But DiploDad married a corporate attorney (recovering) and after I broke it down for him by month and calculated the costs for similar weekend activities, he was close to agreeing. About a week and a half later, the club opened up full time after Monsoon, I clicked a few (forbidden) photos on my phone, and the application was submitted. Now, we just had to wait.
On Halloween of 2014, we interviewed with the committee. The interview was a little strange, but after we went through it, we were offered membership and then joined V, D, and a few other friends who had just been offered as well upstairs for a sundowner and watched the sun set over the Indian Ocean.
Over the past three and a half years, the BCC has been our oasis. The first year here, DB2 was younger, and the mom group I hung out with all had memberships, so every Friday we landed at the Club. We’d hit the club early when the Reception and Nursery kids got out, and then go off in shifts to pick up our older kids. By sunset, some of us were heading home, some of us were ordering wine (which you used to be able to drink on the lawn during the weekends), and some of us were waiting for spouses to show up to order dinner.
Set right in the middle of Breach Candy, the Club boasted a host of leisure activities – a full guy, tennis courts, volleyball court, a basketball hoop, a lawn for soccer and other games, and a walking path that circled the large saltwater pool in the shape of a pre-partition India.
During “the season”, from the end of August to the end of July before monsoon began, we took full advantage of these. Mostly, we went on Sundays, as Saturdays always seemed to be packed with some activity or commitment. Sundays were just about family, so we’d head over around noon or just after the sun crested, to spend the day. For the first three years, my friend, R, would join us. R had been in Mumbai her first tour, and had a membership then. She applied to join again, but was caught in the quagmire that has become a court battle over the fate and future of the club.
We would choose a place on the lawn and the grounds men would come assist us in set-up, magically appearing with chairs, tables, and umbrellas. We’d order water, then take brisk walks in one of the few places we could walk in Mumbai undisturbed, and without a fear of falling. After our walk, we’d have lunch, which was well worth the price and delicious. A favorite dish was the “Awesome Okra”, which I never would have ordered if R hadn’t told me to. I don’t think I ever visited the club after that without at least one big dish of it on my plate. We’d hit the pool after that, and float along or yell at the kids not to stand up on the slide – this is a European club in India, people – no lifeguards, and let the kids just run amok and see what pans out. Eventually, the sun would begin to dip under the horizon and we’d have a sundowner before packing up the bags to head home, exhausted, sunburned (me, usually), and ready to head back to work or school the next morning.
The Club was great for the kids. DB2 had two of his birthday parties there and went to several for his classmates. The Christmas party was crazy and I’m sorry we only made it one year. Seriously – Santa arriving in a zorb?!?
There is controversy in Mumbai about the extensive club system. I’m honestly not sure how many there are – I once got invited to a club in Bandra that I must have passed hundreds of times without knowing it was there. Clubs all lease land from the government, and many of the leases expire soon. The government, under pressure from some groups to free up green space for public use, and under pressure from others to develop green space, has been putting the screws to clubs off and on for the last few years. Bombay Gymkhana, another club in south Mumbai, lost part of its parking, had to cancel its annual New Year’s Eve party when the BMC threatened to take action if someone walked outdoors with an alcoholic beverage in hand, and was eventually forced to give government officials lifetime memberships their kids could inherit. Breach Candy, as a European organization, has come under fire for discrimination for its policy of only allowing Europeans to be on the board and nominate new members, and requiring all Indians to have long-term/lifetime (read: EXPENSIVE) memberships. I’m not saying that’s necessarily fair, however, I’d like to call attention to the Islam Gymkhana and the Parsi Gymkhana, which also restrict membership on the basis of community, and to my knowledge don’t even make exceptions for any others like BCC does (i.e., Americans, New Zealanders, Peruvians). There are also clubs that are de facto segregated, such as the Khar Gymkhana, which is pretty much all Sindhi, and a number of Catholic clubs in Bandra. A friend recently said to me that “everyone here discriminates, but it’s our kind of discrimination and we’re fine with it.” I’m not really sure what to think about that, but as an American, it doesn’t line up with what I’m entirely comfortable with, even as I did benefit from that system.
I don’t know what the answer is to this, but I know that if I go to any public park in Mumbai, I won’t be left alone. Period. Going to the park to have a picnic or read a book simply cannot happen without have 8 or 9 new friends who want to be in your space, share your food, or talk your ear off. There’s no animosity intended, but culturally, the idea that you would want to be alone is something a lot of the Indian public doesn’t understand.
With the city noise, intensity, and lack of privacy, the club was a place I didn’t have to wear a particular kind of swimsuit (or a swimming cap), could eat meat and drink wine without any crappy stares, and could simply sit on the lawn alone for hours. For someone who didn’t grow up in a big city or large family, it’s almost necessary so you don’t go mad. DiploDad, after being inundated with people all week and working long hours, probably would have died without the respite it gave him. In spite of his initial “are you crazy?” protestations about cost, he became the most enthusiastic user of the space. Sure, I’m probably justifying it from the point of view of some people, but I don’t give a damn and I won’t apologize. They don’t live here, and don’t realize that anyone who can, does find a club to join, whether they are Indian, European, or African. As the city struggles with open spaces and more and more people either develop them in their communities or reclaim them from developers who have simply squatted, I hope public parks and facilities are available to more and more people. Only time will tell.
We’ll miss Breach Candy Club. We’ll miss the sea breeze, and the open space, and the lazy days in an oasis of calm in the chaos that is Mumbai. And I will really, really miss the Awesome Okra.