Clubs, as they are called, are for the elite. For those who can afford to be members. They should either be able to buy the memberships worth hundreds of thousands of rupees. Or, they should be spoilt rotten by multi-national companies who are willing to give them these memberships as the ultimate status symbols. Depending on the person’s financial standing, he has a membership in the upper rung elite clubs. And even among these elite clubs, there are levels and rankings. To attend the Annual Ball of the top most club, or to be able to mention that “I go to such and such club’s gym” is a social statement in itself. One has to go through a rigorous process of interviews and recommendations and what not to get admitted into these cliques.
Acceptable, somewhat, to this point. Go ahead and enjoy what you have earned, and flaunt it if you must. That, though, would be another debate as to what this flaunting does to the collective psyche of a nation that already grapples with economic disparity that is unprecedented in its own history.
So to this point, ok. People have to live with certain facts of life. Elitist mentality is one of those facts of life. But to everything, there have to be limits. And the list of rules outside certain clubs and specially their dining areas go beyond these limits.
To begin with, the dress codes. While women can come in any shabby unkempt state wearing the national dress (which, I think, is good because who can forever look like the Kardashians). But the men cannot come wearing a Kurta Shalwar unless they are wearing a waistcoat over it. So if you happen to go to this club, they will politely tell you to leave or lend you an over-sized waistcoat worn by countless other unfortunate souls who have found themselves in a similar predicament. A casual polo tee is apparently more “respectable” compared to the national dress. Sneakers are accepted in a certain club, but not Kolhapuri chappals or sandals without straps. In a nutshell, if you MUST wear the desi garb, take those stiff-collared waistcoats out of the closet (pun intended). Also, jeans are not allowed, but a dilapidated pant might be allowed.
Some might argue that the dress coding is indicative of simply the fact the clubs want to maintain certain decorum and a certain ambience. But the whole exercise reeks of a psyche not so simplistic. If something wildly provocative that might be offensive to certain sensibilities is prohibited, it would be understandable. But shalwar kameez and Kolhapuris? This is our indigenous dress that we are talking about. And this attitude of the clubs goes towards reinforcing the “gora complex” that has inherently been passed down in generations as a cultural aftermath of the Colonial era.
The rules like not smoking or not using mobile phone are still acceptable. But when it writes, specifically, that “maid servants are not allowed”, I inwardly cringe each time at this blatant show of imperialism in our society where a social hierarchy is carefully maintained. Any change that threatens to topple elitism is not welcomed by the crème de la crème of the social pyramid.
Whom are we to blame for this? The administrations of certain clubs that were formed in the Colonial era are milking the exclusivity they offer. This benefits the market value of the clubs. So it is not just the food and the sports facilities they are offering. What they are offering is that sense of smug satisfaction which people get when they announce which club they are a member of. I have personally had an educated girl say to me “what is wrong with these clubs? They are giving memberships to every Tom, Dick and Harry. Why, now even Sindhis get memberships! Har kisee ko de dete hain.” I cannot forget the look on her face when I casually mentioned that I am, in fact, a Sindhi.
Clubs, per se, are great facilities. Particularly in an unsafe city like Karachi where our children can no longer safely play on the roadside, clubs offer these safe havens. Food is good and reasonable. Sports facilities and other services are all available within the walls of the clubs. It is a luxury that is a need.
The problem begins when the acquisition of this luxury (or need) becomes a reason for us to look down upon others or to marginalize certain parts of society. It is time we rose above such complexes. The dress that is a distinctive sign of being Pakistani is acceptable and honorable. And the woman who is good enough to cook my bread and take care of my child surely deserves more respect than being categorically forbidden from entering an elite ghetto. The clubs will change their rules according to my and your attitudes. It is time.