chapter  4
27 Pages

Leisure and segregation: clubs, hill stations and rest-houses

This chapter looks at the hill stations, clubs and rest-houses2 and dak bungalows that became the exclusive leisure and recuperation centres for British colonists in India, Malaya and Singapore. These three institutions with their customs and codes of conduct reinforced and replicated those of the carefully guarded colonial home against the encroachment of the colonized environment and its people. As in the home, the European in the hill stations, clubs and rest-houses depended entirely on domestic servants to provide food and comfort. Colonial life on the hill stations, by dint of their isolation and the constructed surroundings to resemble the idyllic English countryside, was entirely dependent on the local indigenous servants. It was ironical that by segregating themselves in the hill station, in a deliberate attempt to get away from the local people, the British in reality depended on their services for day-to-day existence. The services provided by the local inhabitants ranged from administrative support to maintenance of homes and infrastructure. Similarly, the club, a veritable colonial institution was an extension of the imperial home and was the venue where Europeans spent their leisure hours. Rest-houses were simple accommodation dotted around the countryside for travelling government officials. Dak bungalows in India were not leisure and recuperation centres (aside from those in certain hill stations) but were utilitarian buildings originating from the Mughal period.3 Both the club and the rest-house could also be situated in the hill station. Evidence for this chapter is gathered from works written by the British from travelogues, biographies, autobiographies, diaries and cookbooks. European dependence on the local people for sustenance was entrenched all

over the colonies. At home, every meal was prepared by domestic servants

and almost every drink was fetched by the ‘boy’. This dependence also extended to the times when the colonial was on the move, particularly in areas where there were no European homes or hotels or where there were no wayside taverns or inns that provided meals.4 This book argues that the influence which domestic servants in the colonies wielded over the food practices of their colonial masters was of paramount significance. In the colonial home the memsahib presided over a home that was run by servants, although she might have issued the orders for the meals of the day, it was the cook, the cook’s assistant and other servants who purchased, prepared and served the food. The vagaries of the food markets meant that it was not always possible that ingredients required for each dish could be guaranteed nor could the reliability or honesty (perceived or otherwise) of the cook be assured. The quality of the food that appeared on the colonial dining table would certainly be dependent on the cook and his assistants.