By Andrew Fleming
The Secunderabad Club is undoubtedly an establishment where its reputation
precedes it. In illustrating this observation, I offer two examples.
First, when I was offered the role in Hyderabad and before I began researching its
history I knew little of the city and had no idea it is in fact a twin city. The first time I
heard of Secunderabad was when a reference was made not to the place but purely to
Naturally, I then looked into it, reading the story of Winston Churchill’s bar
bill (seemingly a recurring story elsewhere) and discovering that Secunderabad is far
more than a name in its own right.
Then, when I stepped off the plane on July 22, 2017, I had an invite to a party the
same evening hosted by someone who has close ties with the club today. I was
afforded my first offer of membership that very evening and replied I would think
about it. Over the coming weeks, I did but ultimately concluded that the location did
not make membership conducive. However, my then US counterpart, Katherine
Hadda, evidently did opt for membership and was the first to entertain me at the
property in October 2017.
I remember this vividly as, despite numerous subsequent visits, this proved to be the
only time I got to sit in and absorb the main bar (Colonnade Bar) in all its glory. Being
one of those places where photography was strictly banned, images of this
masterpiece of top-end carpentry are consigned to memory. In some ways that
make it all the more vivid. Images of a perfectly mixed gin and tonic served at our
high table alongside a plate of masala peanuts, a sizable collection of black and
white portraits of distinguished past members and dark wooden furniture are clear as
if my visit was yesterday.
I always intended to return to enjoy this bar with its quintessentially British feel once
more. Yes, whilst I have battled rush hour traffic to visit Secunderabad Club on
numerous occasions no other host has ever invited me back to sit specifically in the
Colonnade Bar. This I feel will always be a regret but there is also the irony that the
sole person who invited me there was a woman because, for much of the history, the
club preserved strict patriarchal rules which, for much of the club’s history, even
prevented women from frequenting this area. So, as a strong proponent of gender
equality, I can smile at how I got to experience this slice of history sadly lost forever.
Still, it is hard to reconcile I will never return. Yet my feelings are nothing to the
emotions of the many who have had indelible lifetime connections with the club. I
cannot begin to comprehend what memories this place holds for so many
Losses like this are painful and I can feel the shock in so many friends
who had their own associations and those who appreciate the wonderful history and
heritage the twin cities have to offer. It is not the first such loss and sadly, from the
rocks that were here before any of us to other unique and irreplaceable buildings
flattened in the name of progress, it will not be the last. Just like a family member, a
sudden loss is always the hardest to reconcile.
Andrew Fleming is the British Deputy High Commissioner to Andhra Pradesh and