Don't ask why Winston Churchill won't pay his Bangalore whisky tab

The British statesman, who called Indian politicians freebooters, was himself guilty of freeloading off a club.

 |  2-minute read |   28-08-2015
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Imagine the liquor capital of India being described as "a third rate watering place". Envision a bustling, vibrant, neon-lit metropolis being called a place "without society or good sport". Visualise life in a city known for every amusement and diversion being termed as "stupid, dull and uninteresting".

Bangalore was characterised in such bland terms by none other than Winston Churchill, whose death half-centenary is being observed this year. Churchill arrived in Bangalore in 1896, aged 20 years, as a young army officer. He left the city in 1899.

Bangalore was then a sleepy cantonment town with little to offer by way of entertainment. Churchill, by his own account in his memoir My Early Life, found the city boring.

He went to Harrow, came last in class, flunked Oxford and Cambridge and was packed off to Sandhurst as a consolation prize. Churchill's lack of a university education nagged him. To get even, the young Winston "resolved to read history, philosophy, economics and things like that". He spent his time in Bangalore, reading Plato, Aristotle, Gibbon, Macaulay and Schopenhauer. He also collected butterflies.

Posted in a "prison" of a town , with "lots of routine work" to do led Churchill to spend many an evening in the local club, drinking whisky costing seven annas (less than 50 paise) for a large peg and four annas (25 paise) for a small peg of whisky.

The club he frequented was the Bangalore Club. The Club was established in 1868 and is one of the oldest in India. It retains its original grandiose architecture and old world charm. The high ceilings, the cavernous bars and halls, the well-appointed interiors, the wooden panelling and flooring, and the bric-a-brac have seen colonial history in all its grandeur.

The majestic lobby has a display panel on the left which contains an open Minute Book. In faded ink, on a yellowish brittle paper, is hand-written an entry.

In a deliberate, ornate style (perhaps with a quill) the entry dated 1st June, 1899, reads:

"The Sub Committee approved the following unrecovered sums being written off."

Lt WLS Churchill is named as one of 17 defaulters and appears 12th on the list. The amount? 13 rupees, which was a large sum those days. Many visiting British citizens have offered to clear the dues but the Club has refused.

A framed photograph of a strapping young Churchill with fellow officers adorns the wall above the display.

When the Independence Bill was being debated in British Parliament in 1947, Churchill had angrily remarked, "Power will go into the hands of rascals, rogues, and freebooters. Not a bottle of water or loaf of bread shall escape taxation; only the air will be free and the blood of these hungry millions will be on the head of Attlee."

It's ironic that a statesman, with a pathological hatred towards India, calling Indian politicians freebooters, was himself guilty of freeloading off an Indian institution.

Writer

Ajay Mankotia Ajay Mankotia

The writer is a former revenue official.

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