A photo of the Cosmopolitan Club, taken in 1956
A photo of the Cosmopolitan Club, taken in 1956

Strategically located on Mount Road, the Cosmopolitan Club is one of the landmarks of the city. Founded in 1873, it was meant to be a place where Indians and the English could meet on an equal footing unlike the earlier clubs, such as the Madras Club and the Madras Cricket Club, that were only for the whites. The Club was initially at Moore’s Gardens, Nungambakkam, and moved to its present location in 1882.

Set in a compound filled with trees, the club building is two-storeyed and is a traditional brick and lime structure. The portico spreads into a verandah that goes all around the building. The best feature of the place is the lobby that is accessed from the verandah. Lined with the best timber of the times, it ends in fluted Corinthian columns that frame a wooden staircase. The first landing has an alcove that hosts a bust of Sir C.V. Kumaraswami Sastry, Justice of the High Court of Madras. The first floor is noteworthy for its wooden-floored hall, a card room and a grand library.

W.S. Krishnaswami Nayudu, Justice of the High Court of Madras in the 1950s, has in his memoirs given us some details of the early days of the Club. Formed on July 27, 1873, the first meeting was presided over by H.S. Cunningham, Advocate-General of the High Court of Madras. He became the first Vice- President, when its President was Justice Holloway. The first Secretary was Captain Tyrell. The Club began with 40 members.

The present property is said to have been the site of Simpson’s, coach-builders, or of Thomas Waller’s stables. It was bought by the Club through the good offices of Haji Muhammad Abdul Sahib for Rs.17,000. The purchase was funded through the issue of debentures to members.

Though it was meant to be a mixed club, the European element left by 1890. It had always been the convention of the Club to have a retired Judge or Government official as its President. This was first broken in 1882 itself when Mir Humayun Jah Bahadur, a grandson of Tippu Sultan, became President. In later years, other notables, such as Raja Sir Savalai Ramaswami Mudaliar and Sir Pitty Theagaroya Chetty, have also been Presidents. The convention of Judges or Officers becoming Presidents has been given up in recent times.

The Club played an important role in the formation of the Justice Party, its founder, Dr. T.M. Nair being noticed by the social elite of the city only after he became a member. It is, therefore, in a way the birthplace of the Dravidian politics of today. During the early years, it was also home to the Egmore lobby of lawyers of the High Court, as opposed to the Mylapore lobby. The Club’s platinum jubilee in 1954 was a grand affair, with Justice A.S.P. Ayyar presiding and W.S. Krishnaswami Nayudu preparing the souvenir on behalf of a committee.

It is one of the most popular clubs of the city, known for its South Indian cuisine and its facilities.