I was born at the Woodlands Hospital, Calcutta. I was raised at the Tollygunge Club!

Unlike other big cities in India with the exception of Bombay/Mumbai, call it what you want, Calcutta has always boasted of a great club culture. The club philosophy was always, and continues to be, the defining factor that characterizes a city with a difference. From sporting events to first dates; from waiters referring to you as ‘baba’ even though you’re approaching your thirtieth birthday to family friends sipping Bloody Marys on Sunday afternoons at the Tolly Shamiana, we loved every moment of it. Fighting over that stroke that wasn’t on the fourth hole to fighting over the bill at the end of lunch. Those that inhabit it best define a city, and Calcuttans can be found across the various clubs through the week. Always happy to give you advice, whether you need it or not but generous with words and beer.

The Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC) was often the heartbeat of the sporting movement. I recall sporting seasons as being irrelevant since we moved constantly from Cricket to Football, Hockey to Rugby and even Cycle Polo. The rains would come and go, and the winter sun too, but we followed our own calendars.

Age wasn’t an issue. The younger/fitter lot would find themselves competing in the inter school and college tournaments. The Club sides would be pitted against each other; some of the memorable matches saw East Bengal take on Mohun Bagan in the 1990s. The schooling rivalry between La Martiniere and St James’ was another one for the galleries! School students would show up in hundreds, ties often hanging loose around the collar to allow for more full throated chanting, heckling and sometimes even fighting. Those rivalries on the pitch were left within the boundaries as friendships blossomed off it. Generations of friendships.

The Merchants Cup brought the cities finest corporate houses out in large numbers. Skill wasn’t an issue. Depending on the first round of matches, one would find themselves in a league where they would best compete, be it the Gold Cup or the Silver Plate. In some cases, the league of the extraordinary gentlemen, with laughs resounding across the grounds with open goals being missed and the theatrics that followed. What stood out was the camaraderie, the willingness to participate and the chilled beer/old monk and Thums Up (We’re in Calcutta, remember) with chicken tikka and fish fingers that would greet everyone post an evening out in the field!

The annual meet at the Saturday Club was an event that was eagerly awaited for. I once played tennis for the Tollygunge Club and recall hitting the ball out of the court (and incidentally the club premises) on numerous occasions. An uncle watching my match then remarked, “He will be a great someday.” I smiled and shook his hand, only for him to say, “at baseball.” Faces became familiar over the years and so did our ability to make friends and stay competitive at all times.

The debates at Calcutta Club were amazing! An opportunity to hear the handpicked statesmen up against one another! Packed audiences, whispers and subsequently, loud applauses. These were often followed by dinners where everyone interacted and made their point heard. Now, this would lead to what I call – intellectual noise. If you can hear the point being made – wonderful, else it’s just a lot of hullabaloo!

As I complete another year of living in Delhi, I do miss the club culture in Calcutta. Delhi has become a city of convenience, with friends and family in proximity. The art and culture capital, politics and formula one! It’s all happening in Delhi. But, what the city misses is the camaraderie that is so easily found through the competitive sporting events, the constant interactions among the schools, the conversations, and the debates, in good old Calcutta.

I go back to Calcutta often, and never miss a session of catching up with friends and family. Running into people that have run into you since you were six years old, or waiters bringing you your regular order regardless of a change in palette and the wish to try something new!

If Nostalgia were a place, Calcutta would definitely be her capital.

Arjun Puri was born and raised in Kolkata, back when it was still called Calcutta. As a young child he spent time in Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru – before their names changed. His last long-term home was London, and he fully expects it to call itself something else soon. Arjun graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2007 and worked as a banker for 5 years, before he realised it was not for him. Arjun now lives in Delhi and works in the education sector. He loves books, sport, people and travel -- and most of all, Leyla, his German Shepherd.

This is part of a series Arjun is working on called Calcutta Diaries.