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Dara’s plight and fight

Updated on: 20 June,2024 04:54 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Clayton Murzello |

Ex-umpire, journalist and administrator Pochkhanawalla sold his cricket club for R1.30 crore, and kept just R1 and a gold coin for himself, only to end up battling a health-related financial crisis

Dara’s plight and fight

Dara Pochkhanawalla at his south Mumbai residence last week. Pic/Clayton Murzello

Clayton MurzelloFor the many years I’ve known Dara Pochkhanawalla, I’ve always seen him dressed in a light coloured shirt. And that is what I expected him to be in when I was welcomed into his home in Mumbai’s Fort area last week. Instead, Dara was in his sudreh (vest worn by Parsis).

He sat behind a large desk, spending his hot afternoon with a television news channel on, oblivious to the busy street down below, populated by traders. I had come to meet a man who is dealing with a cruel blow in the form of a chronic kidney disease  which requires thrice-a-week home dialysis. He’s not been outdoors in months, except to be hospitalised five times in the last seven months.

Dara, 73, has been a multi-faceted personality—gold medal-winning Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) umpire since 1970, journalist and cricket administrator who was twice in the managing committee of the MCA (something that was possible because he ran a club called Fort Youngsters). Dara didn’t just run it, he formed it, owned it and made the late celebrated cricket statistician and scorer Anandji Dossa its president.

A few years ago, Dara decided to sell Fort Youngsters. He got R1.30 crore for it. And what did he do with the money? Distributed it among 42 club members in the form of gold coins and had to be convinced to keep one for himself. If one presumes that this is all he kept from the sale, you are very nearly right. He kept R1.
His current grave financial inconveniences notwithstanding, there are no regrets for keeping nothing for himself. “I didn’t want to earn anything from this sale. I gave it to my players as a mark of gratitude and appreciation,” said Dara.

Fort Youngsters was formed in 1970. They fared well in the lower divisions of the Kanga League and Dara proudly informs me that the club undertook 18 tours within India and organised the first night cricket match at the club level. “It was held at the Wilson College Gymkhana in May 1991. Around 10,000 people came to watch Fort Youngsters v Blue Star Cricket Club after Nari Contractor and Diana Edulji [ex-India captains] inaugurated it,” he recalled.

About a decade ago, Dara developed knee trouble and couldn’t cope with the running of the club which would entail attendance at every Kanga League match and two or three trips a week to the MCA office.

“We were also short  of sincere players who could stay long at the club. Someone whom I knew assisted me, but he stopped. I was worried about who will run this club. I entrusted a former first-class cricketer to handle the cricketing part, but we fared badly and were demoted. I then gave it to another club to run. We dipped further. I thought instead of the club dying a slow death, it’s better to dispose it off. I called a meeting and the members agreed.”

Dara decided to present gold coins instead of cash as the price of gold is always on the ascendancy. He made three categories of players—“senior, semi-senior and junior.” Each senior got a gold coin worth R4.72 lakh, the semi-seniors got a coin which was worth R2.10 lakh, while the juniors were presented a coin costing Rs 78,000.

Dara is understandably worried about his future expenses. He’s been on dialysis for one and a half years. Monthly rent for the home apparatus is Rs 17,000, plus Rs 4,000 as operational costs for each session. Further funds go towards medication and the 24x7 ward boy is paid R26,000 per month, excluding his food expenditure.

Leaving his health issues aside, he recalls his journey vividly. He cannot forget how he umpired the competitive Times Shield games in the 1970s and 1980s. “Any Tom, Dick or Harry couldn’t play ‘A’ division. You had to be really good. The standards were very high and cricketers outthought their opponents, apart from scoring quality runs and taking prize scalps,” he said. Umpiring was tough too. “Tatas v Mafatlal games were tough. I remember having a bad game when ACC played Mafatlal at the Wankhede Stadium. The ball turned a lot and I made mistakes. It affected my career. I faced extraordinary punishment.  I failed the BCCI examination in 1977 and the Board allowed failures to get first preference for the following year’s examination. But I was not sent. Each state association sent 10 umpires for the exams, but that year they sent nine. It’s like you playing with 10 players despite having 11. I was very hurt and I knew who got back at me for that poor match,” said Dara. Among his memorable moments as an umpire was standing at square leg and watching Dadar Union’s Vikram Dutt claiming all 10 Rajasthan SC’s wickets in the 1982 edition of the Kanga League. His fellow Parsi PD Reporter, the late Test umpire, stood at the bowler’s end in that September 5 game at Cross Maidan.

Dara told me he quit umpiring in 1992. By then he was entrenched in MCA administration and journalism. Starting out as a freelancer for Free Press Journal in the 1970s, He joined the Mumbai Samachar in 1983 and handled their sports section for a number of years, dabbling in crime reporting too.

Dara can look back at a road which led to highways. He’s not coping well with the slope now. He is grateful for the help that has come his way, but he appeals for more to come forward with donations. Surely, a man who has been so generous in his prime, deserves our generosity now.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello

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