Architectural remnants of the Raj
The ever-busy Jharsa Road in Civil Lines is dotted with several important places including the civil hospital, district library and the Sessions House, among others. Nestled amid these landmarks are two buildings from the city’s colonial past—the Gurgaon Club and the Government Boys’ Senior Secondary School. Located barely half-a-kilometre away from each other, the two buildings bear testimony to Gurugram’s pre-independence history and are among the rare old buildings that weren’t razed to make way for newer ones in this rapidly developing city.
THE GURGAON CLUB
Located opposite the Sessions House and a stone’s throw away from the district library, the Gurgaon Club occupies a tiny corner on an expansive piece of land. However, despite being prominently located, it can be easily missed as a nondescript address due to the air of ordinariness that surrounds it.
As one enters the premises through a small iron gate, the eyes are naturally drawn to the ground, covered in a rich carpet of dark purple jamun (Malabar plums, botanically known as syzygium cumini) dropping from the thick canopy above. Punctuated by fallen leaves and fruit, the path leading up to the club is a pool of slush on rainy days.
In a corner to the left of the entrance is a tall, white, iron board which announces the club’s birth to curious visitors. “Gurgaon Club, Gurgaon, was registered and has been established since 1930”, the board reads. Another rusted yellow board stacked against one of club’s worn-out, back walls warns: “This property belongs to Zila Parishad, Gurgaon. Trespassers shall be prosecuted”. These two boards serve as the only references to the building’s history, which is fast being pushed to the footnotes.
Surrounded by trees and creepers on all sides, from the outside the building looks more like a rest house than a once-posh club. Pillars have bent over time, doors and windows creak, adding to the club’s old worldly charm. Four broken sofa chairs stacked on the porch make a point.
The building has all of three rooms.
One room to the extreme left is pitch dark and the only visible light comes from a television set whose audience comprises two-three men.
In the centre of the middle room is a big, round, table covered in white cloth. Four stacks of casino tokens, a spread of cards, and three packets of cigarettes are neatly laid out. No potential player can be seen around.
In the third room, a visitor occupies the emptiness. He sits all by himself listening to a Haryanvi song on his cellphone. A regular, Mahendar Yadav has been coming to the club since 2006. The 49-year-old has a transport business and comes to the club for a few hours of leisure, mostly to play cards. “Some of my friends were members of the club and they asked me to join. Back then, the monthly membership fee was ₹300. Even now it is just ₹450; the number of members has gone down. I come here for two-three hours every day, mostly to play cards,” Yadav said.
Pointing to the water-damaged ceiling over his head, the transporter said the club was in desperate need of repair. Fewer members, lack of funds and government apathy, he said, had pushed the club to the brink.
The worn-out paint and cracks on the wall bear testimony to a glorious time that has long passed.
“There was a time when ministers would visit this place. Gradually, all of them stopped coming as the club lost its sheen. A few years ago, we got the place renovated by collecting donations, but it needs major (structural) repairs now,” Yadav said.
He added adding that the government had failed in utilizing the club by not developing it. The club is located in the heart of the city. “It would have benefitted all residents of the area and beyond had the government taken care of the club, repaired or developed it,” he said.
But peeling paint and ramshackle interiors are no deterrent to some of its even older members who have refused to abandon it and fondly recall its history.
“Back in the early 1930s, the then administration got the club made. Class-I officers, advocates and income tax payees would be made members of the club. Judicial, executive officers and engineers would also visit the place. In 1976, one had to give a donation of ₹5 per member per month,” said Bhup Singh Yadav, 67, who has been a member of the club since the early 1970s.
The club’s ownership has been a subject of litigation since the early 2000s and a case was presented before the Punjab and Haryana High Court after club members filed a petition against the state government.
As per the court judgment dated September 30, 2015, the club is a registered body and is in existence roughly since 1930. It was set up on government land with a token rent initially fixed at 50 paise per month, which was increased to ₹5 per month on October 10, 1959, and thereafter, to ₹50 per month per month.
Earlier, the club property was under the ownership of the District Board, Gurgaon, which was dissolved in 1999-2000 and Zila Parishad, Gurgaon, took over. Since then, the ownership of the club property rests with the Zila Parishad.
The court’s 2015 order mentioned that the club was served as a centre for recreational and leisure activities since 1930. With the development of the city, such places were needed even more.
Further, the high court directed that the government or the Zila Parishad would not change the nature of activities at the club, but will set up a club under its control.
However, none of the directives of the high court have been implemented by the state government so far.
“The deputy commissioner was given the responsibility of ensuring that the club was developed and opened to public with new membership rules. In all these years, the government has not done anything. We don’t have funds due to which no major activities take place here and only around 20-25 members are left. If the place is developed well, the membership will increase,” said Bhup Singh.
And while the members dream that they would once more see the club return to its old glory, the zila parishad has a slightly different plan.
“We won the court case and as per the directions of the court, the place needs to be redeveloped. It will be developed in partnership with the corporation. The land would be ours and development will take place from the funds provided by the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram. The chief architect and chief engineers are designing the project, and it will be finalized soon. Construction will start soon after the plan is finalized,” said Satender Duhan, chief executive officer of the Zila Parishad.
He, however, said it was too early to say if the original Club building would stay. “The technical team will examine if the original building can be maintained. If it cannot be maintained, then we will have to take an alternative route,” he added hinting.
ERSTWHILE CORONATION HIGH SCHOOL
Pondering the fate of the club’s charm, we walked about a kilometre to reach the Government Boys’ Senior Secondary School. A witness to the city’s colonial past, the school shares its boundary wall with the Civil Hospital. Until recently, it faced the prospect of being partly demolished to make way for the expansion of the medical facility next door. While plans that sought the use of school property have been put on hold for now, principal Geeta Arya hoped the school would stay unharmed in the years to come.
“Our school is possibly the oldest in the city. We have heard that it dates back to the British era, and is over a hundred years old. The campus is big due to which there were talks about giving a portion of it to the hospital. Thankfully, there is no such proposal now. Our school has a legacy and it should be preserved,” she said.
While there is no evidence of school’s age on its premises, many years ago, teachers chanced upon documents that lend credence to the oral history accounts shared by people. As per Rajender Yadav, author and a teacher who once taught at the school, old records give insights into its past. “Around a decade ago, old records were found in some sacks at the school. Among a pile of papers, we found an old certificate which mentioned the school’s name as Coronation High School, Gurgaon. We dug out some more of the school’s history and found that it was among the 13 schools in the country which were created to celebrate the coronation of King George V,” Yadav said.
He added that the school was rechristened as Government High School after India gained independence.
Shobhit Mahajan, professor at the Delhi University and a city resident, confirmed that the school was indeed known as Coronation High School at some point. “The school was established either in 1905 or 1911, one of the years when the coronation took place. My paternal uncle had finished his metric from this school in the late 30s, and his name continues to feature on the school’s honour roll since he had topped the exams,” Mahajan said.
Over the years, a new block was added to the school, but the original structure was kept intact.
But most students today, however, are unaware of their school’s glorious past. In their understanding, it’s merely a very old building. “Puraane zamane ki building hai (It’s an historic building). It is very old and looks different,” they said.