The Zenith Jubelieth Club house is located along the uphill road in Laban that leads to the Lumparing Hills. A first-time visitor might overlook the club house that is eclipsed by the adjacent church building. Nonetheless, the club sits inside a heritage structure with all its glory.
Zenith, which is in its 52nd year, was built by a group of youths on the ideals of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Swami Vivekananda. The “young members”, as 62-year-old club vice-president Monotosh Chakravarty describes the active members, are making all efforts to live up to the values of the club.
Mohitosh Chakraborty, Monotosh’s brother and one of the oldest members of the club, is a “quiet worker”. But when it comes to talking about the history of the club, he can speak, chronologically, for minutes together.
Sitting inside the sports room, which doubles as a hall on special occasions, of the Zenith club, Mohitosh narrates the story of the club from its inception. Zenith was formed by a group of enthusiastic students of Laban Bengalee Boys’ High School (it was yet to be upgraded to higher secondary level) that was led by an elder in the locality, Pinak Dutta.
“Dutta was an enthusiastic gentleman. He would always encourage us to participate in various social events. This club was the result of that enthusiasm and our keen interest in Swamiji’s ideals,” says 64-year-old Mohitosh, who was in Class VI when he started participating in the various activities of the club as a non-member.
Initially, the club’s activities included physical fitness training, teaching students from economically weaker families and blood donation. Cultural activities started later. The members would gather at Dutta’s house for physical exercise and important discussions. In 1971, Zenith was shifted to its present address.
The property that houses the club belonged to the Brahmo Samaj and was built in 1904. The heritage structure was in a dilapidated condition as most of the members of the Samaj had left Shillong. Zenith members decided to shift base to the building.
“We first started the gym that you can see near the entrance. There was a small library too. The main building (an Assam-type structure) was the sanctum sanctorum of the Brahmos and we were requested to maintain its sanctity. Till date, we respect their faith and never eat in the building,” said Mohitosh.
There was a women’s self-help organisation on the premises that was converted into the gymnasium. The sports room was built later. In fact, it was the members who built the hall and the boundary wall as fund was always elusive.
In the early 1980s, the club faced problems with hooligans who would drink in the open space in front of the club house that is used as a parking space. The compound also houses an art and crafts school and a yoga institute, both under Zenith. It owns a mortuary van and an ambulance for social service.
The club also organises events like debate and painting competitions and other cultural activities.
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At present, there are 30 active members who are taking the legacy of the club forward and living up to its motto: ‘All for one, one for all.’
With limited resources and dwindling number of members, the club is now worried about the future. “Our main problem is lack of young members. We need youth participation to carry on the activities,” said Subrata Sen, another veteran member of the club.
Monotosh blames the unsupportive state machinery for Zenith’s current condition. “Cultural associations and youth clubs were a common feature of every locality. Today, we see a reduction in the number of such organisations. The youths too do not seem to be interested in participating in social and cultural activities,” he rues.
On the 52nd year, the sense of despair among the members is more acute than revelry. But the members have daunting spirit and pledges to carry on the club’s activities as long as they can.
As Mohitosh wraps up his narration and the senior members disperse, the humble sports room looks deserted. A veil of silence covers the building that was once a bustling rendezvous for young and prolific members. The club has long crossed its zenith. Nevertheless, its members are following their hearts in this conflict between ideals and reality.
~ Team Sunday Monitor