The year was 1896. A young Lieutenant, serving in the British army, joined his new posting in a cantonment in India. This cantonment was located near the southern Indian town of Bangalore. To be frank, there was nothing unusual or special in this happening, for any historian to take notice of this. Every month, perhaps hundreds of such young British officers were posted, joined or left for some other destination, from numerous such cantonments of British army in India, on a continuous basis. However, it just so happened that the same young Lieutenant, became Prime Minister of Britain later and won the Second World War for his country. His name was Sir Winston Churchill. Naturally after this, Lieutenant Winston Churchill's posting at Bangalore Cantonment in 1896, became part of history.
By end of eighteenth century, East India Company owned by Britain, had assembled a large army to fight a war against kingdom of Tipu Sultan. In 1799, British forces finally managed to defeat the Sultan and annexe his kingdom to British India. To station this large army on permanent basis, Bangalore cantonment was established in 1906. This cantonment, spread over an area of 13 square miles housed besides three squadrons of Artillery, soldiers of infantry, engineers and cavalry units.
In the life style of British people, clubs have a special status. Any Briton of some standing, always belonged to some club or other, where he could go in evenings have a drink and relax a bit. In all parts of the world, wherever British set their foot, they managed to start or set up such clubs. India was no exception. This concept of clubs took roots in India and even after India gained independence from British, all such clubs, set up by British, not only survived but have seen good healthy growth in India. The British officers of Bangalore cantonment had started one such club in the year 1868 and named it as Bangalore club. Today, this club is well known as a club of high class and prominent citizens of Bangalore. This club has managed to maintain its décor and grandeur of nineteenth century, even today . To obtain membership of this club is considered a matter of prestige and honour even today by the residents of Bangalore. People from other places, when they visit Bangalore for work, are seen giving priority to find accommodation in this club, even when there are many five star hotels in the city.
After joining his unit in Bangalore cantonment, Lieutenant Winston Churchill naturally joined the Bangalore club. Somehow, this young officer hated the atmosphere in Bangalore cantonment. In his autobiography he calls it dull and sleepy. In his own words he says that Bangalore was “third rate watering place” with “lots of routine work” to do and “without society or good sport.” He says that he spent most of his time in Bangalore reading books and catching butterflies. It was therefore no wonder that this bored British officer must have spent many of his evenings in Bangalore over a few drinks.
In those days, Bangalore club used to sell a large Whiskey for 7 Annas and a small peg for 4 Annas. (One Indian Rupee was equivalent to 16 Annas during those days.) After 3 boring years in Bangalore, Lieutenant Winston Churchill was finally transferred to Afghanistan border. During the moving, he probably forgot to pay his outstanding bill with the Bangalore club, which at that time amounted to 13 Indian Rupees. The Club's account books kept showing an outstanding on his name.
Later, Bangalore club wrote off this outstanding amount from its accounts. But after death of Sir Winston Churchill, some one in the club found these old ledger entries, which have suddenly become a matter of prestige for the club. The Bangalore club has now framed this page from its ledger and have put it on a wall in a prominent place. Many British citizens subsequently offered to pay this amount to the club and settle the account. The Bangalore club however refuses to accept any such payment. The club rightly feels that the debt has a historic importance and it has no interest in the settlement of the outstanding bill.
There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind, that one may not be able to find again, another such famous prime minister, who has made a bad debt and that too in an another country.
28 September 2012