Beyond a boundary

Vaneisa Baksh describes her unexpected response when she was finally granted membership in Trinidad’s Queen’s Park Cricket Club, 10 years later

Queen’s Park Oval. Photograph by Robert Taylor

It was over in just a few minutes. Forms filled, photograph taken, cheque and receipt written while a clever machine whirred out the member’s card. The speed made it an almost anti-climactic end to a ten-year quest for membership of the Queen’s Park Cricket Club.

But there it was in my hand, evidence that I was now officially a member of the once all-male establishment, and like a new credit card, it tempted me to put it to immediate use. We should have a drink to celebrate, suggested my companion hopefully, as we walked out of the office. The new pub, The Bat and Ball, beckoned invitingly across the car park as we made our way to the members’ entrance.

We decided to sit at the bar, and I waved my card confidently at the barman as we selected ales.

“I’ve just become a member,” I said. “Does this mean I get a discount on drinks?”

It didn’t—and though my friend was buying, I wondered again, what had this been all about?

Ten years ago, when I’d first applied for membership at the club, everything had been so… well, different. Women couldn’t walk up to the bar and order a drink, not even when the place was all but empty. Now inside this convivial, English-style pub, chatty girls with nary a whisker out of place could breezily quaff their pints without raising male eyebrows. They didn’t even have to be members.

Earlier, I had learned that at least two dozen women had already earned their membership since the club voted to let women in October 2004, and that they were all probably regular users of the gym. It had almost swayed my decision to join—not out of pique at being left so late in a queue that I had headed and manned as a lone sentinel for nearly a decade, but because it made me feel that my mission had been truly accomplished. The acceptance of my personal application was not simply a PR exercise to appease public indignation over gender discrimination.

It signalled that the club had crossed the imperious barrier set mostly by its aged members who felt that the presence of women would dilute the very essence of a sportsman’s club. Time’s passage had thinned that stronghold, as younger members had infused a modern ethos that was fairly indifferent to the old idea of what constituted a sporting environment.

Imbibing the atmosphere of the Bat and Ball—where television monitors showcased global sports events to watchers happy enough to sip their lagers and lunge forward enthusiastically to shadow a touchdown or a goal or a boundary—it was obvious that the average modern sportsman is more inclined to robust spectatorship in comfortable, air-conditioned premises with attentive barkeeps.

Was this what it had been all about? Sensing my ambivalence, my friend grew philosophical. It was an intellectual intervention, he said, and though I forget his exact words, the gist was that while the campaign for female membership was specific to this institution, it was a necessary prick to the status quo in a society that was complacently ambling along without examining its internal relations.

Over the years, I had come to realise that social conditioning ran so deep that reflexes had been more inclined to feel affronted that a woman should demand a space in a man’s domain than to imagine a world of equal access. Just about as many women as men had opposed the idea, although to be fair, those in favour were similarly grouped. Listening to some of their rationales had left a surreal feeling, as if I was living in a completely different world from these confident supporters of segregation. It was not about wanting to be a man: it was simply about having the same rights.

The more I studied West Indian cricket history and wrote about it, the more acutely I felt the disparity between the sexes. As I walked out of the QPCC office earlier, in a box on the floor was a good-sized collection of old books. Instinctively, I stooped for a closer look.

“They were dropped off for the library by a member,” I was told, as I sifted through this treasure.

It flashed through my brain that as a member, I now have access to these and all the other archival material lodged inside this centenarian institution—and that perk was quite enough for me.