The Catholic Gymkhana has always loomed large in my life. I watched goggle-eyed as my parents glammed themselves up for its balls, took my first quivering steps on its dance floor, was married in its fairy tale ambience, involved myself in a clutch of committees. And… now I grooved away at its Centenary celebrations, which took place over the weekend at the Gym itself.
So, when I was asked to collaborate on the Centennial book, my heart somersaulted with nostalgia. Especially, since the mastermind behind it was adman Brendan Pereira, abetted by fellow journalist Vatsala de Sousa and photographer Joseph St. Anne. Our story begins before the beginning, with a brief pictorial survey of Bombay that was. And then in March 1912, a memorandum was submitted by stalwarts of different sections of the Catholic Community praying for land on the Kennedy Sea Face (now Marine Drive) The objective? “To combine the East Indians, Goans and Mangaloreans who were living in uneasy insularity”. The Government graciously acquiesced.
On October 5, 1912, the self same luminaries, with a worthy clutch of others, met at the Goan Union Hall, Dabul and passed a resolution to, ‘acknowledge with gratitude the Government’s generous grant of a 300 sq. yd. site’. The first meeting in January 1913, with Presidency Magistrate Frank Oliveira at the helm, took place in a sturdy tent where, ‘the Catholic Gymkhana be and is hereby established’. The committee of 80, set about framing rules and encouraging membership with a will.
Along came two full sized pukkah tennis courts for the princely sum of Rs 1,200, closely followed by the pavilion, the bar and a spanking new piano costing all of Rs 400. You paid Re 1 to attend the gala ball garbed in a tuxedo or flowing gowns and gloves. The Centenary book chronicles the achievements of 19 presidents, including my father, Dr Menino de Souza, who upgraded facilities in their inimitable styles. After Independence, the Catholic Gym was converted into a Public Limited Company with rules and regulations that were in consonance with the Public Law.
In the early ‘70s, the building, as we see it, took shape. By then it was well known for its excellence in sports like football, hockey, billiards, badminton, ping pong and had fierce competition with the neighbouring Islam, Hindu, Parsee Gymkhanas. The Yuletide dances were the most popular in the city. And now in keeping with his persona, present President Dr Victor Rodrigues, who took over the reins in 1999, gave the gym new vibrance and vitality. He not only livened up the interiors, but introduced a fresh social and sports culture, together with a burgeoning membership which is secular and open to everybody. To kickstart the Centenary celebrations on January 29, Victor and the Crowns, (yes, none other than our good Doctor President) performed The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame to a bursting-at-the-seams house. The icing on the centennial cake is a commemorative stamp released by the postal department.
Gems in the Queen's Necklace
The Catholic Gymkhana is the youngest of the gymkhanas on Marine Drive (barring the Police Gymkhana). These four institutions signify the cosmopolitan nature of the city —a place where people from everywhere make this a melting pot, where they play the game of life on and off the field.
Islam Gymkhana 121 years old
The Islam Gymkhana came into existence in 1891. Lord Harris, then the Governor allotted the Islam Gymkhana ground on the Kennedy Sea Face which is popularly known as Marine Drive and now Netaji Subhash Road. The Annual Inter-Gymkhana Cricket fixture was known as ‘Triangular’ which was played by Bombay Gymkhana, Parsee Gymkhana,and Hindu Gymkhana. In 1912, Islam Gymkhana came on the scene to make this tournament ‘Quadrangular’. The tournament was recognised as the premier annual cricket event in India. In 1937, the Catholic Gymkhana joined in and the tournament became Pentangular. Islam Gymkhana was founded under the presidentship of Kazi Shahabuddin. The original pavilion of Islam Gymkhana was designed by Ibrahim Ahmedi and the existing pavilion is designed by I M Kadri and has been a landmark on Marine Drive. “We have yoga classes, cricket coaching, skating, judo classes, football etc and have felicitated Sachin Tendulkar and Ghulam Nabi Azad,” said Ayub Mansoor, Islam Gym Secretary.
Hindu Gymkhana 118 years old
Parmananddas Jivandas Hindu Gymkhana, commonly known as Hindu Gymkhana is a Gymkhana located along Marine Drive in Mumbai. The Gymkhana was inaugurated by then Governor of Bombay, Lord Harris on May 5,1894. Until 1942, membership of the Gymkhana was restricted to people of the Hindu religion. In 1942, when the government occupied the adjacent premises of the Islam Gymkhana and Parsee Gymkhana in Bombay during World War II, the Gymkhana threw its membership open to Parsis and Muslims as well as an “emergency measure”. The Gymkhana is one of the founder members of the Bombay Cricket Association (BCA). “The Gymkhana is basically a sporting institution and focuses on different sports like cricket, badminton, tennis, table tennis, billiards etc. Famous Indian sportspersons like Vijay Merchant, Dhruv Sitwala, Devendra Joshi, Aparna Popat, Mayur Vyas, Swaroop Khodaiji are from Hindu Gymkhana,” said Deepak Kapadia, Secretary of Hindu Gymkhana. The Gymkhana has been identified as a Heritage Grade II-A structure.
Parsee Gymkhana 127 years old
Parsee Gymkhana is a 127-year-old institution, established in 1885.“Sports institutions like the Parsee Gymkhana deserve recognition in the annals of Bombay for popularising sports in general and cricket in particular,” said Rusi Bhumgara, vice-president of the Parsee Gymkhana. The Gymkhana is one of the founder members of the Bombay Cricket Association and was the first Gymkhana to be built on communal lines in Mumbai. Founded by Parsi cricketers, the Gymkhana fielded the Parsi XI during the Bombay Quadrangular and its successor, Bombay Pentangular cricket tournaments. Parsee Gymkhana was founded in 1885 and opened in 1888, with Sir Jamshedji N Tata as the first chairman of the managing committee. The idea of the Parsee Gymkhana was born and pronounced in the rooms of the Ripon Club, at Hornby Row in Byculla. A preliminary meeting of the gentlemen who signified their intention of becoming members of the proposed gymkhana took place at the Ripon Club on Wednesday, February 25,1885. It was proposed that L M Banajee take the chair and D J Tata read the prospectus: “Much attention having been drawn off late to the physical needs of the Parsee community, it is proposed to start a club where gentlemen of respectable position in society can obtain some sort of healthy, outdoor recreation. The club, would, in the beginning continue its efforts to giving facilities to its members for playing such games as cricket, lawn tennis and badminton.”
Compiled by Saloni Dutta