Writer Janet Chawla met her husband and moved from California to Delhi 42 years ago. The language, the people, the culture… it was all alien to her. She wanted to make friends to be able to assimilate into her new life and found company at the American Women’s Association (AWA), now called the American Spouses Association. This social organisation for the wives of American diplomats gave Chawla a chance to befriend others like her.
She liked the taste of good company and looked forward to joining other such clubs. Women’s International Club, Delhi, happened next. It was a place for Indian women to meet and interact with foreigners and diplomats, and share life experiences. Today, Chawla is a club veteran. For many like her, these have offered a home away from home with their enduring appeal standing the test of time. Now, meetings, demonstrations and discussions have moved online.
From virtual tours of heritage sites across India such as Rani ki Vav in Gujarat to online cooking lessons with celebrity chefs; from talks by Japanese Monks on the practice of mindfulness displayed in Japanese gardens, to intimate concerts with renowned pianists and musicians, these clubs let you make the most of it. Because sessions can be conducted from anywhere in the world, they have allowed for greater participation.
These have largely been for women, by women. Their basic purpose has been connecting like-minded people and encouraging fun and educative activities, in addition to business connections. “Before the internet and phones, these clubs were one of the best avenues to foster social connections. Women, such as young mothers, would discuss about their children, housewives would converse regarding their challenges, and professionals would gain insights over work prospects,” says Chawla, adding, “I was particularly attracted to the intellectual aspect of sharing experiences.”
Chawla’s sentiment is echoed by Delhi-based Educational Consultant Peggy Sood, who joined the Women’s International Club, Delhi, in the 1970s after moving from America to India. It was the promise of meeting women from different cultures that attracted her towards it. The club specifically helped her with one important aspect: to understand the nuances of Indian social conduct, its complex customs, language, and the overall way of being. For a foreigner, this was crucial.
For home-maker Anushree Mahajan, the club’s exclusivity was the biggest draw. The fact that every member was cultured, accomplished, wise and philanthropic, helped her widen her understanding of the need for meaningful social interactions. “Age is no bar at such clubs. When we meet, it’s just a bunch of friendly women wanting to have fun while learning from each other. Not to mention, the highlight for me was to meet and nurture friendships with the wives of Ambassadors from around the world,” says Mahajan with a smile.
Apart from cultural and intellectual gains promised by these clubs, some members appreciate the ‘me-time’ it offers. Dolly Brara remembers the time when certain clubs didn’t allow for ladies to join in. But that changed later. “Why should men have all the fun,” she laughs. “Being a part of such clubs has allowed us to socialise, while enjoying the satisfaction of helping people through social work. All of us were similarly inclined and this gave us a platform to do our best through discussions and meetings,” says Brara.
Suja Ayers, Founder of Pala Designs, has been a member of a book club since 2009. Here, they pick popular works of fiction or works relevant to current times, mostly by women authors, switching between South Asian writers and international ones. They then read and discuss the books. It usually ends with a diversity of opinions and an easy flow of conversation. The Chatterbox Club was created as a platform for like-minded women to broaden their horizons through workshops and events. It started in Delhi but has now spread its reach all over India, with everything available virtually. It has about 70 members and is only growing from strength to strength.
The appeal of such clubs now extends to younger women. Prominent ones include Queen’s Brigade, the youth wing of the Rotary Club, Malini’s Girl Tribe among others. Membership fees range from `4,500 a year to `25,000. Book clubs are usually free. Once the pandemic settles down, meetings will be organised every month most probably. Some clubs encourage a greater participation with them facilitating events five or six times a month. Ready for some girly fun?
These clubs have largely been for women, by women. Their basic purpose is to connect like-minded people and encourage fun and educative activities