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Of Snooker, Churchill and Auld Lang Syne

Updated on January 10, 2014

Within its wood panelled walls, Snooker was anointed a new indoor sport. On its wooden dance floor Sir Winston Churchill was supposed to have danced as a young man when he was stationed in India. In its old world dining room as the pine logs burn in the sub zero temperatures of late December, you can close your eyes and imagine men in uniform sitting down to a dinner with venison as the main course after a day’s hunt. And if you try hard, you might just catch the whispers of late eighteenth century conversation in its wonderful old bar – ‘Mud in your eye ol’ chap’ perhaps?

It's a place where Time has almost stood still, a place that takes you back. Where the whispers of the past mingle with the laughter and chatter of the present. A place that seems to drag its feet even though the winds of change have blown in and brought about changes all around it.

A markerOoty -
Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
get directions

Ootacamund or Udhagamandalam as it is officially known today nestles in the Nilgiris or the Blue Mountain Ranges of South India, 7500 feet above sea level. It is surrounded by tea growing estates but the town serves as a watering hole for all those who work in and around it and is an escape for families from the heat of the plains during school vacations. When the British discovered it in 1819, here’s how Lord Lytton described it in a letter to his wife: ‘Such beautiful English rain and English mud. Imagine Hertfordshire lanes, Devonshire downs, Westmoreland lakes, Scotch trout streams and Lusitanian views!’ In spite of the incongruous concrete structures that have sprung up, in spite of the tourist traffic that clogs up the narrow streets with huge vehicles in peak season, in spite of the haphazard development of the main town, the place still retains its old world charm especially outside the town limits or in some of the old establishments like the Ootacamund Club – also referred to as the ‘Snooty Ooty Club’ because it has only five affiliations all over the world and even if it is running empty, you just cannot book a room there unless it’s done through a member.

Years ago, on our way to the tea estates where my grandfather worked, we would sometimes stop here for scones and tea. So many years later, I wondered if my memory of the old place served me well and as we drove in through the gates into the driveway, this verse came unbidden to my mind:

But thou that didst appear so fair

To fond imagination,

Dost rival in the light of day

Her delicate creation

Our annual New Year get together couldn’t have been at a better place. We’ve been doing it every year for the past five years – a group of friends meeting somewhere far from the madding crowd. When you get into your forties and fifties, the loud and raucous New Year parties you loved, you can happily do without. Instead, there’s a joy in getting together with friends from all over the world in oases of peace and quiet – no, even if old acquaintance be forgot, old friends never will!


And a bit about Snooker. It was Sir Neville Chamberlain, a young man in the British army stationed in India, who first invented the game and it was in 1875 in an army cantonment town called Jabalpur where the first seeds were sown. Snooker was a term used for inexperienced new cadets. After he was wounded in the Afghan War, he served as part of the personal staff of General Sir Frederick Roberts and every summer was spent in the cool climes of the queen of the hills in South India – Ooty. There was plenty of time to hone and polish this new game and add to it with different coloured balls. Today, the staff at the Ooty Club will proudly tell you all about it and the room where this game became popular is jealously guarded and talked about with reverence.

The ballroom is huge and adorned with hunting trophies like heads of tigers, leopards and deer. You’ll find animal skins scattered around the gleaming parquet floors too. The rosewood furniture is polished and has a wonderful gleam that only comes with age. The dining room has portraits of British army officers astride on their horses – hunting was a favourite pastime. In the Reading Room where the air is filled with the smell of old leather and old books, a portrait of Queen Victoria gazes down on you. You wonder if you really are in the present or you’ve time-travelled back into the past.

Vestiges of a bygone era abound – some of them stuffy but it is what gives the club that old world charm. Men still have to wear a jacket and tie in the dining room. Children cannot eat in the main dining hall and there is a separate room where the same menu is served. Men who are not appropriately dressed are also banished to this section – no excuses are entertained. While modern fittings have been added to the rooms, the fireplaces hark back to the old days and in winter, the warmth and the sound of the fire crackling in the hearth is comforting. We stayed in the Annexe which was originally built to house ladies and you wonder as you look around what secrets those old walls hold!

It’s a spot in the midst of a world that is changing where Time seems to have been frozen. There are so many of these little islands that have insulated themselves from the passage of Time and all the changes it has wrought around them. Will the march of progress cause it to melt and merge with the world outside? Or like Tevye in the Fiddler on the Roof, will the Ooty Club be singing ‘Tradition’ and clinging to it like a lifeline, resisting all change for years to come?


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    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      Hi Jaspal - one of your golf destinations? I had a few pictures of the Golf Course too - didn't put them up. Thanks for stopping by and reading!

    • Jaspal profile image

      Jaspal 8 years ago from New Delhi, India

      This one brings back some very fond and nostalgic memories of Ooty. Lovely pics, and a great hub!

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      Hi Dan - I'm guessing you've been there:)

      It is a great place to escape to, isn't it?

    • danielchakraborty profile image

      Daniel Chakraborty 8 years ago from Bangalore

      really liked this piece! ahh sweet ooty! gosh i can visit this place anytime...

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      yes, cgull - it is a place where you can shut out the world and leave your cares behind - thanks as always for reading!

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 8 years ago from North Carolina

      So beautiful pictures would love to visit there and forget about everything else :)

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      Thanks for stopping by Brian!

    • BrianS profile image

      Brian Stephens 8 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

      Very well written and informative, I didn't know Sir Neville Chamberlain invented snooker. Just goes to show you are never too old to learn. Really nice hub.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      CWB - thank you for reading and commenting :)

    • profile image

      ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

      I strive to learn something new each day. Thank you for this elegant lesson.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      Thanks for visiting CC - and thanks Pam for sending him here. You two are hugely amusing!!

    • profile image

      C. C. Riter 8 years ago

      Well hello there Shalini Kagal, let me introduce you to myself, muse extraordinaries. I come in here to muse you a little and i really love those pictures you have there and I like the Scottish flavor of it all. But seems to me like we got different ideas on snooker, woo-hoo!

      Very interesting hub madame. thank you so much, now you have been forthrightly mused, Pam sent me.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      Thanks Laila - didn't realise you had studied in Ooty! Yes, it is a world frozen in time, wouldn't you say?

      Cris A - thank you so much - I've got a swollen head I do now!! :D

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 8 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      I'm glad the time off did not blunt the writing, still as potent as the imagery you have described are vivid. It felt being transported to a place that resists the tide of change - i can almost hear ladies chattering about during tea time and the clinking of china. It also reminds me of the the movie "A Passage to India". Thanks for sharing, elegant writing as always :D

    • Laila Rajaratnam profile image

      Laila Rajaratnam 8 years ago from India

      Hi Shalini..good to have you and your wonderful articles back!:)You brought back memories..I finished my high school there in Ooty..I still yearn for the old world charm of the hill stations and yes,you are right, the old buildings in the hillstations somehow seem to breathe the presence of the British by gone era!Dont know why or how ..but we just feel it.Thanks for the memories!:)

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      Jerilee Wei - do come - we'll make sure you get in :) It is a wonderful getaway!

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      Christoph - thanks so much for reading. Believe me, you'll feel right at home there - with all your charm!

      Amanda - thanks for the comments - feels good to be back on top of things and hubbing again after a break. Yes, the Afghan War just makes one realise how cyclic history is!

      Aya - thanks for the kind words - it's the way I feel when I read yours about Bow!

      Netters - so now you know :) Thanks for stopping by!

      LondonGirl - yes, it's a lot like Shimla and Darjeeling - higher though - and the people are very different in the North and the South :)

      K - Chile's beautiful too - but I guess it's OK going down Nostalgia Lane sometimes :)

      goldentoad - thank you so much :)

      Pam - yes, the British have long since gone but clubs like these struggle to preserve 'the old way' :D

      G-Ma - Hugs to you too :) Glad you stopped by to light up this hub with your words!

      Vibs - you know how busy I've been - good to be back!

      Paraglider - thank you. There is some kind of effort being made all over to preserve the look and feel while modernising the amenities and that's a good way to go!

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hi Shalini - this one's very atmospheric. So few of these old places are left intact. From the sound of it, this one is very well preserved and, more important, still functioning. Long may it continue!

    • Vibhavari profile image

      Vibhavari 8 years ago from India

      Hey Shalini... glad to see you back here!! :-)

      the last I went to ooty was over 18 years ago. It is a beautiful place.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 8 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Some things should remain as they have always been...maybe made a bit up-to-date but stay the old comforting way they have been...Sounds like a wonderful place, which there are many of in the world...Nice hub my dear...G-Ma :o) Hugs & Peace

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 8 years ago from Virginia

      This was lovely and a joy to read. :) Thank you for taking us on this journey. I especially liked the term ‘Snooty Ooty Club.’ LOL! :D

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 8 years ago from Free and running....

      Your words capture my imagination and transport me across the world, I don't even need the pictures as your description does it all.

    • profile image

      Kirubaharris 8 years ago

      Hi Shal, You have done it again, dragging me into that magical past where the past is so present. The ghosts of the British mingling with the living Indians, as if a certain world was held captive in time, whispering in the ears of the living or may be the ghosts sit around with their scotch and listen to the whispers of the living. The past and the present all mingling like one great party.


    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      what a wonderful hub! I've visited some other hill stations in India, such as Darjeeling and Shimla, and this sounds just as interesting.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

      I so want to go there, thanks for another great hub!

    • Netters profile image

      Netters 8 years ago from Land of Enchantment - NM

      There is an old building in our downtown area that says Snooker and Pool on the glass front doors. I've always wondered what that was. Thank you.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Shalini Kagal, as usual a charming and atmospheric piece. Somehow, I always come away refreshed and at peace after reading one of your hubs.

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

      Hi Shalini,

      It's good to see you back on hubpages!

      I'd never heard of this place before but your hub conjures up a by-gone era. I'm reminded of the 'Far Pavilions' and all the stories I've read about the British in India. You mention the Afghan War, which of course was in the 19th century, and I'm reminded that the more some things change, the more they stay the same!

      I knew that snooker came from India, but had never heard the tale behind it before. I'm glad you and your friends had a good New Year, and it's great to see your pictures. Thumbs up!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Hi, Shalini! You have done a wonderful job of capturing the feel and history of the place, and made me want to visit (Don't reckin they'd let me in). I can imagine along with you the images of the soldiers--handlebar mustaches, impeccible white uniforms--sitting down for their spot of tea or a meal of wild game.

      I very much liked the line (and sentiment) of "even if old acquaintance be forgot, old friends never will!" Nicely done!

      I won't ever be able to see this place, so thank you for bringing it to me! Oh, well, as Groucho said, "I wouldn't want to belong to any club where they'd take me as a member."