Almost four decades back (February 1989), when I joined as Lecturer in this university I immediately started visiting the Teaching Staff Club in the evenings. I had heard a lot about the Club as a student: that it would remain open the whole night closing only in the small hours of the sun rise. Had also heard about some teachers who would always be found there betting and playing rummy. But then there were many positives too which reached our ears: it’s famed gaming clubs: the badminton, lawn tennis and the billiards! And of course the unending cups of richly brewed chai! We had also heard stories of how once upon a time a number of lady teachers, women like Begum Habib, Sayera Habib, Sajida Zaidi, Zahida Zaida used to frequent these clubs and play badminton or lawn tennis! All these stories would enchanted us and led me straight to the Club the very first evening of having been appointed as a temporary lecturer in the Department of History.
From that day onwards for almost a decade or more, to visit the Club in the evenings and nights became a compulsive habit. We would usually go there as a group (the History Group, as it came to be known in contrast to the Urdu Group and/or the Shouting Brigade).
Soon I came to realize that the Club was known for two things which were made available there: one, the richly brewed Lipton Green tea brought in a classical style in cute tea pots, small white milk pots, bowls of crystal white sugar granules and spotless cups and saucers, all laid out neatly on metal trays.
The second was the “bucket icecream” served in glass icecream cups which contained two scoops of mangoe or vanila ice-cream. To enjoy these cups in the sprawling green lawns of the Staff Club was indeed a heavenly experience! Another beauty of the club was that you did’nt have to pay for the tea, ice-cream, the “mixture” or the “daal” to munch along or the packets of cigarettes. You just had to sign the slip which would be brought respectfully to you by an attendant.
In the club you could play cards, snooker, table tennis, lawn tennis, carrom or just sit and gossip your heart out over steaming hot cup of tea and swirling puffs of cigarettes. By 6:00 in the evening the club premises would start coming alive and would remain alive till around midnight.
Thus the three plus points of the Staff Club, many many years back were the brewed green tea, the bucket ice-cream and the cashless transactions to enjoy these goodies!
The ‘members’ were a different story altogether. The Club was dominated with individuals carrying nicknames like ‘Barula’, ‘Sabjiwala’, ‘Criminal’, ‘Haddi’ and so on…each trying to outdo the other in justifying their “takhallus” (nom de plume)! They came from various departments and disciplines, but what bound them together was their aversion to academic exellence and each had vitriolic tongues which could roll out obscene adjectives with remarkable ease.
Sometimes, in spite of the goodies mentioned above, it really would become difficult to sit at the same place as them: each trying to outshout the other!
However there were atleast two groups who looked at these ‘regulars’ with disdain and indulge in topical discussions and current affairs, as against scandals and vitriolics. One such group was dominated by the ‘Urdu-walas’ who generally held forth literary discussions. It was an intellectual treat to even listen to their discussions.
The second group was of ‘history walas’ and it too was known for its cerebrally high discussions. But then unlike the Urdu group, this second group was also known for its political overtones: every happening on the campus would be analysed in the Right-Left binary! This was the bane of the group! But then it was the general belief that the University politics was influenced and guided by the elite power mongers of History department!
Then there were the chess players who were engrossed in their game and oblivious to the world all around. Similar to them were the occupants of the Billiards room, busy at their game – and power plays – all the while gushing down the elegant tea being served to them.
As decades passed, we started going less and less, for with passing years our academic burden and teaching load started a northward movement.
In a recent visit to the club I discovered that the famed brewed tea in a pot accompanied cup and saucers is now a thing of the past. So is the bucket ice-cream. Silence pervades the club and a pall of gloom and disillusionment seems to engulf it…
For a few years it came to be engulfed by enforced silences and fear of abandonment, the Staff Club resembled a Haunted House in Shambles….the monthly contributions deducted from the salaries was done away with; in fact there was also a threat of a lockdown! But then gloom doesn’t last for ever. The dark clouds passed on.
As soon as the leadership of the University changed, the membership deductions were restored and gradually the life returned. Now I hear that it is brimming with activities again. The tennis club, the badminton club, the table tennis club and the billiards club are thriving once again. But unlike in the hoary past, now you will not find any women there. The old stalwarts have also no more. I also hear that the History Group and the Urdu Group are also things of the past. They have now been replaced by Supporters, Critics and the Fence-sitters! The high philosophical discussions too, I am told have also been replaced by mundane! But still one thing from the past remains: if you want to give wings to a rumour: go and whisper it in the corridors and lounges of the Staff Club. By the next day the whole town would be flooded by the variants of what was whispered!
Long Live the Club! Long Live the AMUTA!