Danish Reyaz | Maeeshat| Mumbai
Adjacent to the Marine Lines railway station in Marine Drive, Mumbai, stands a building 131 years old, majestically. Unlike the hustle and bustle of the railway station, a cosy calmness pervades every part of this building.
Its ground at the front, with the Arabian Sea on one side, however, remains abuzz with the game of cricket being played day in and day out.
While the youths sweat out on the ground in the open, the elderly pass their time inside the building, immersed in various entertainment and recreational activities.
The British-era building we are talking about is the iconic Islam Gymkhana, a famous sporting and social club in Marine Drive. The same stretch also lines Hindu Gymkhana, Parsee Gymkhana, Wilson Gymkhana, Police Gymkhana, etc.
Gymkhana is an Anglo-Indian expression derived from the Persian word “Jamat-khana”, meaning a place of assembly. However, during the British, it was generally referred to as a gentlemanly club intended for sporting and socialization. The Islam Gymkhana was built on a similar line for the people of eminence from the Muslim community.
Islam Gymkhana looks exquisite with its old-world charm. As much as the building wields a vintage aura, it is laced with all the modern facilities and amenities, making it an ideal place to enjoy a particular lifestyle.
The popularity of Islam Gymkhana has soared leaps and bounds in the last three years with Adv. Yusuf Abrahani at the helm as President. Today, in a short span, the gymkhana has transformed greatly to a level of disbelief.
A Walk Down the History Lane
Islam Gymkhana came into existence in 1890 on a sprawling 14,0000 square metres of land donated by then Bombay Presidency Governor Lord Harris.
Like any other gymkhanas at that time, Islam Gymkhana was established on the idea of the religious community and cricket as its main sporting activity.
British considered colonial India more of a collection of castes, creeds, races, and religions than a nation in those times. Therefore, first-class cricket, called Quadrangular back then, was played on communal lines- between the Europeans, Hindus, Parsees, and Muslims.
When a fifth team, namely the Rest, comprising the leftover communities such as the Christians, entered the tournament, the latter was renamed Pentangular.
Since the beginning, Muslim Gymkhana was a force to reckon with in these tournaments. The club’s team, Mohammedan XI, was one of the major attractions in the early part of the century.
Shedding the Religious Character
Despite the popularity, the communal nature of these gymkhanas and tournaments was opposed by India’s prominent leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, during the freedom struggle movement when social integration was the utmost need of the hour.
In the Second World War, the segregation of Gymkhanas on religious lines was somehow diluted. British took temporary possession of Islam Gymkhana and Parsee Gymkhana for military purposes during the Second World War. So they asked Hindu Gymkhana to open its door to non-Hindus as their members.
It was the first step towards making inroads into the rigid communal structure, long espoused in gymkhana culture. With India gaining independence and the secular movement strengthening with time, gymkhanas became more and more liberal to look beyond religious and cultural affiliations.
Although Muslims form the majority of memberships in Islam Gymkhana, it has become inclusive over the years, opening its memberships to people from all religions. Many bureaucrats, policemen, sportsmen, and even politicians are members of this gymkhana and are not necessarily Muslims.
The secular commitment of the Islam Gymkhana was on display amid a controversy in 2009. That year, one of its trustees, Abbas Kazmi, decided to defend the 2008 Mumbai attacks accused AjmalKasab in court. Enraged by this act, the gymkhana expelled him in quick time.
A Cricket Paradise
Islam Gymkhana cricketing culture has contributed immensely to Mumbai’s social and cultural growth through the development of cricket. Players from various castes, communities, and religions strive for excellence on its playground.
In fact, Islam Gymkhana team that recently won the 72nd Salarjung T-20 tournament and Madhav Mantri Cricket trophy comprises many non-Muslim players who contributed majorly to lifting the prestigious trophies.
The gymkhana has a vast playground area taking up about 80 percent of the entire gymkhana property, accessible to the general public for sporting activities for most of the year. Non-sporting activities on the ground, such as weddings, are restricted to only 25 days a year.
Along with Parsee Gymkhana, Islam Gymkhana was a founding member of the Bombay Cricket Association, making it an early headquarters and training ground for the city’s cricket team. Therefore, for a very long time, it has been a breeding ground for top-class cricketers at both national and international levels.
Several stalwarts like Mushtaq Ali and NawabPataudi used to be a part of its Quadrangular tournament. Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar are among the likes who have played on this ground, nurturing their cricketing skills.
Among the current lot, Sarfaraz Khan, who plays in IPL, is likely on the verge of a call for national duty considering his current sparkling form with second-best first-class cricket average after Don Bradman is a proud product of Islam Gymkhana.
While the history and the evolution of Islam Gymkhana are intriguing, its current transformation is all the more dazzling. However, it all began with an election, heralding an era of rapid development.
Call for an Election
Islam Gymkhana, since its establishment, has been governed by different committees which have done several developmental works. Despite that, over time, other gymkhanas leaped ahead in the race of modernization. It necessitated a desire for an overhaul in the functioning of Islam Gymkhana.
There used to be dissatisfaction among the members with the previous managing committee, which was at the helm for 18 years, without an election since it came to power. So a petition was filed in court, and an order for a fresh election was obtained.
New Committee Takes Over
Following the court order, an election was held on 24 March 2019, which many believe to be a watershed moment in the history of Islam Gymkhana.
In the election, Adv. Yusuf Abrahani, a renowned lawyer, former MLA, and founder of SEWA charitable organization, emerged victorious as the new President, defeating Mr. Asif Farooqui by a margin of 125 votes.
Mr. Yusuf Matcheswalla received the highest number of votes to become Vice-President, while Dr.Suhel Farooqui and Mr. Noorul Ameen Sheikh became Joint Secretaries.
In the hand-over meeting on 4 April 2019, power was transferred to Adv. Yusuf Abrahani and his team. The new committee’s first meeting was held on 14 April 2019, in which it took various landmark decisions to turn around the fate of the gymkhana.
The new committee, under the inspiring leadership of Adv. Yusuf Abrahani worked in mission mode and came good on promises made in their manifesto in real quick time, surprising supporters and sceptics together.
Important Administrative Decisions
Adv. Yusuf Abrahani was actively associated with the Islam Gymkhana as a member before being elected President, so he knew first-hand about the issues afflicting the club. Now in power, he had a chance to resolve them. Quickly, a flurry of administrative decisions was taken for the benefit of the gymkhana. A few important ones are discussed below.
The lease renewal issue was long-pending. The glaring inability of the previous committee to solve it threatened the existence of the gymkhana. The land for Islam Gymkhana was given on lease by the collector of Bombay for 99 years. After the due expiry of the lease, it was never renewed, despite numerous notices by the State Govt.
Adv. Yusuf Abrahani took it upon himself to steer the gymkhana out of this problem. In a quick time, Mr. Abrahani solved what was seemingly an insoluble problem for others.
He not only got the lease renewed for 30 more years but also made Islam Gymkhana first among other gymkhanas along Marine Drive to do so.
His next step was to remove whatever structures had come up illegally inside the gymkhana. He went about it to save it from unnecessary legal trouble in the future.
Adding Female Staff and Uniforms
Another important move was to hire female staff to work along with the male staff. It aimed to increase the comfort level of visiting female members and guests.
Additionally, all the staff across gender in Islam Gymkhana were assigned uniforms, which was not the case earlier. Wearing elegant uniforms led to the development of professionalism and a team spirit among the staff.
Raising Hadiya and Introduction of Hijama
Mr. Yusuf Abrahani is the founder of the famous SEWA charitable NGO through which he has led a campaign to increase the Hadiya (compensation) of Imams and Muezzins since living on a paltry amount was impossible for them.
So when he became the President of Islam Gymkhana, he quickly appointed two Imams as permanent for the mosque inside the gymkhana and increased their Hadiya from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 15,000.
Apart from that, he introduced Hijama, an Islamic way to detox the body and promote overall health. It is a technique that uses heated cups to create suction on the skin, causing improved blood flow, cell repair, and relieving muscle tension.
Widening Club Membership
Acquiring a membership in Islam Gymkhana is everybody’s coveted dream, but not all can fork out Rs. 10 lakh for its membership. The new management has, however, reduced the membership fee to Rs. 5 lakh, which is half the previous fee.
And at a significantly reduced fee, more and more people have come forward to take its membership, which was the core intention behind the decision. Notably, Islam Gymkhana has over 20 thousand members so far.
Further, a decision was made to extend free membership to the city’s prominent people to recognize their public services. As many as 12 personalities who happen to be Asst. Commissioners of Police from Mumbai, both serving and retired, and eminent doctors, have been awarded honorary life membership of Islam Gymkhana.
In another goodwill gesture, the gymkhana has given a one-year free membership to three Muslim girls scoring the highest marks in the SSC exam this year and invited them to inaugurate the new banquet hall. Repeating the same performance in the 12th will extend their membership for another year, and upon reaching graduation, it will be converted into life membership.
Lifetime Achievement Awards
In another remarkable decision, the new management team honoured Muslim individuals from Mumbai, who have contributed immensely in various fields with lifetime achievement awards.
An 11-member jury was formed, which zeroed in on 20 names working nationally or internationally in the field of public welfare such as science, education, medical, philanthropy, etc.
In commemorating Islam Gymkhana completing 131 years this year, a magnificent program was organized on Republic day, and these people were conferred with specially created Shan-e-Millat awards. While the award acknowledged their yeoman’s works, it also inspired the youths to emulate them.
Banning Card Games
Amidst so many forward-looking decisions, one decision of Mr. Abrahani that generated controversy was banning rummy and other card games on the premise of Islam Gymkhana. The decision was met with resistance from a few members who argued it was against the liberal character of the club.
On the other hand, Mr. Abrahani had a solid reason to stop the practice since he had undeniable evidence that under the pretext of card games, some members were indulging in betting and gambling, bringing a bad reputation to the club.
Ever since Mr. Yusuf Abrahani and his team were elected, Islam Gymkhana has been on the road to transformation. New rooms and halls have been added, while a few have gone through alteration to accommodate modern facilities.
The architectural face-lift of Islam Gymkhana catches everybody’s attention. Every wall, every nook, and corner is retouched to look beautiful. While the gymkhana is now fully modernized, it still maintains the sanctity of its vintage character.
Here is a run-down of infrastructural modifications done inside the gymkhana.
Lobby and Reception
The lobby and reception area are always crucial for any building in setting the mood of visitors. Islam Gymkhana’s lobby and reception score high on this aspect. The fully-renovated area is air-conditioned, roomy, and high-ceilinged with shiny walls, creating a neat and welcoming impression on visitors upon their entry. And also, the visitors can’t stop being enchanted with the very first impression they get here.
Since members and visitors who frequent Islam Gymkhana are predominantly Muslim, there has been a Men’s Prayer Hall for a long time. The same has now been renovated. Additionally, a new hall is constructed for ladies’ prayers, a need that has been overlooked until now.
The air-conditioned Prayer Halls are designed following the Islamic architectural aesthetic. The inlay decoration, marbled cladding, tiled flooring, as well as a wide chandelier create an ambience, not exuberant but pleasing and soothing, essential for better concentration during prayers.
Celebration Hall, formerly called Jabir Hall, is now in a new avatar and glory. The glittering hall, amidst all its flamboyance, makes any conference, summit, wedding, or other fancy soiree held inside worthwhile and an experience to cherish. This pillar less expansive hall with a seating capacity of 250 guests is suitable for lavish activities.
Once a card room, it has now transformed into a Conference Hall equipped with modern gizmos such as mics and an audio-video system. It has a comfortable seating arrangement for 25 people. The space is used for meetings, discussions, brainstorming sessions, as well as private gatherings, all in a professional and business-like manner.
President Chamber is another important addition designed to showcase the value of the President post of Islam Gymkhana, one of the most influential and coveted positions for everybody. The chamber is elegant and organized, but it rightfully saves itself from being frivolously lavish.
Pearl Banquet Hall
Carved out of erstwhile Deewan-e-Khas the Pearl Banquet Hall is a bright addition to Islam Gymkhana’s growing facilities. Spread in 750 square feet the Hall looks grand and glorious and can spaciously host 60 people in birthday parties, ceremonies, anniversaries, or sit-in affairs.
If the banquet hall comes coupled with the open lawn, the celebrations acquire another dimension. The lawn with Moroccan mosaic walls and the marbled floor is a new addition to offer a swanky banqueting space for slightly bigger events. It can accommodate 170 people in seating and 300 people in floating, which can go up to 500 people in case outer lawn space is also included.
Whether it is a wedding or a reception, an official function or dinner, or a college function, every event and celebration in the open fresh air with the view of the shimmering sea and the sparkling sky will remain etched in the memory forever.
Improving Fitness and Wellness
The new committee is committed to members’ overall fitness and wellness. It has made great efforts to make the Gymkhana a one-stop place for bodily training and exercises by allocating space and ample state-of-the-art facilities. Below are discussed some of the facilities.
Like any other facility in Islam Gymkhana, the Gymnasium has also gone through a revamp. Built on 800 square feet, the Gymnasium is fully upgraded and replenished with modern equipment to train every muscle on every body part. For help, there are two expert fitness trainers. The Gymnasium is also accessible by women members who have separate timing slots.
Open-Air Power and Functional Gymnasium
If someone is more into pulling, pushing, and lifting than heavy machines, there is also a functional gymnasium. It is open-air and comes with equipment for power training and an expert trainer to assist.
Massage, Spa, Sauna, and Jacuzzi Enclosure
Besides toning up muscle in the gymnasium, members can also soothe their nerves in an enclosure that has come up with facilities like Spa, Sauna, Massage, and Jacuzzi. Using different lotions, oils, concoctions, and more so the steam, one can do wonders to destress their tired muscles and rejuvenate the skin. These new facilities in Islam Gymkhana are pretty popular among the members, especially women who have separate timings for their privacy and comfort.
Martial Arts Training
For training children in Judo, Karate, Taekwondo, Jiu-jitsu, or any other form of martial arts, a facility has been arranged on the terrace of the Gymkhana. It has helped children win laurels and simultaneously made them fit, supple, and strong.
Modernising Games and Sporting facilities
As discussed earlier, Islam Gymkhana has a glorious history as a sporting hub, especially for Cricket. With glories abound, Mr. Abrahani and his team didn’t stop resting on past laurels. Instead, they have assiduously worked on adding new facilities to raise the reputation of Islam Gymkhana as a sporting centre by several notches further.
In a multi-pronged strategy to further promote Cricket as well as Football and Volleyball, the new committee, without wasting any time, has installed a Multipurpose Turf on the ground of Islam Gymkhana, which is claimed to be one of the best synthetic turfs in any gymkhanas in Mumbai. Since the inauguration, it has been attracting youngsters and veterans alike to hone their skills in the games mentioned above.
In a sporting hub like Islam Gymkhana, games must continue the whole day, even at night. It has become possible now, thanks to the mounting of flood lights. As the sun sets in, the ground illuminates with these lights, sparking much energy and enthusiasm among the players, who can now continue their games into the night with more time to practice. The floodlights have other benefits as well. Programs such as weddings in Islam Gymkhana nowadays look more vibrant under the lights.
Just like Cricket, Billiards has its own primacy in Islam Gymkhana. The latter is the headquarters of the Maharashtra State Billiards Association. The game lately received a shot in the arm with the inauguration of a new 1000 square feet room equipped with four giant Billiards and Snooker tables of international standards. It is an excellent space for national and international players to practice amidst a beautiful and non-distracting backdrop for better concentration on the games.
Indoor Game Area
For more indoor games there has been a separate room which was showing its aging signs. The room is now renovated and added with all the needed paraphernalia. The well-equipped room has boards for playing Pool, Carrom, Table Tennis, etc.
Adjacent to the Spa, Massage & Sauna enclosure, a new Dressing Room has been built. The room is capacious and divided into two parts, one for the home cricket team and the other to be used by the guest cricket team during the tournament matches.
Tying Up With Star Players
The new committee has adopted a novel approach to tie up with accomplished star players and play a part in creating champions out of the premises of Islam Gymkhana.
As part of this new approach, the star opener batsman and the Captain of Indian Cricket Team Rohit Sharma is now using Islam Gymkhana’s playground for coaching purposes for CricKingdom, his cricket coaching academy.
While India’s first Snooker player and national champion, Yasin Merchant, in partnership with Islam Gymkhana, has opened Yasin Merchant Snooker Academy here.
The charity was not in Islam Gymkhana’s vocabulary ever. All its activities centred around two things: sports and recreation. However, since Mr. Abrahani took over, the gymkhana seems to have picked up interest in charity.
Mr. Abrahani is known to do charity work through his SEWA organization. So when he became President, his influence rubbed off on everybody at Islam Gymkhana.
During the lockdown in the Corona period, cooked foods and oxygen cylinders for free were distributed in Mumbai without the bias of caste, community, and religion.
Similarly, during the torrential rains when the Konkan area was flooded, disrupting lives, Islam Gymkhana provided adequate relief through trusts and local bodies working on ground zero. Also, for Cancer-stricken children, a fundraiser programme was organized on World Cancer Day.
Gymkhana has further diversified the activities for social and charitable causes. It has partnered with Global Care Foundation to provide legal and financial aid to the under-trials for minor crimes and help them rehabilitate into society. Due to poverty, several accused cannot arrange a bail amount and spend years in jail. Islam Gymkhana now gives financial assistance to such inmates and helps them reform.
While Islam Gymkhana is all committed to charity work on its own, it also helps other organizations working in this field by allowing them to utilize its space at no cost for their meetings and planning.
Projects on the Cards
Mr. Abrahani and his team have brought about a plethora of changes in Islam Gymkhana, which were unthinkable a couple of years ago. Due to those works, the fate, as well as the face of Islam Gymkhana, has been completely transformed.
However, the quest to make it the best so the entire community feels exceedingly proud remains un-halted. And to that effect, a string of new projects are in the pipeline. A few are due for only a few months.
It is one of the most ambitious projects set to soar the popularity of the Islam Gymkhana manifold since it will be the first Swimming Pool in the belt of gymkhanas nearby. Thankfully, the necessary permissions have already been obtained from authorities, and construction work has also begun. A clean and eye-catching pool will be up for swimming for fun and exercise in a few months. Professional swimmers can also utilize it for training and practice purposes.
Another upcoming facility is a Ladies’ Room by the side of the Spa enclosure. The women members can freely hang out in this room, with a spacious seating area and space to freshen up. Apart from that, for their entertainment and recreation, the room will get a Snooker table, Table Tennis table, Carom board and more in the form of indoor games. It will be strictly a ladies-exclusive room meant for their fun and frolic.
Library and Reading Hall
A huge Library and Reading Hall is also proposed for the near future. It will be in the line of other famous libraries in the country containing thousands of books. Besides promoting the reading habit to gain knowledge among the members, one primary aim behind it is to provide the civil service aspirants of the community with all types of essential books and a quiet reading space to help them effectively prepare for their exams.
School and College
Although it may take time, there is a plan to open Islam Gymkhana’s schools and colleges. Providing free coaching to underprivileged meritorious students to prepare them for professional courses has also been deliberated.
Since it is a big plan, a hefty fund will be needed. However, the committee is optimistic that they will be able to figure out the finances for this noble purpose.
A Branch at Lonavala
The new committee has also approved an ambitious plan to expand Islam Gymkhana to different areas on the outskirts of Mumbai in the form of branches. The first will come up at Lonavala, a hilly idyllic location.
It will be a full-fledged replica of the Islam Gymkhana in terms of various amenities and facilities. Spread across four-acre land, the Gymkhana will have 5-star facilities with huge courts for tennis, football, and basketball. Additionally, there will be jogging and cycling trails, among other facilities. The first phase of work will likely be completed by the end of next year.
The other two branches are selected to come up at Panchgani and Igatpuri.
The turnaround story of Islam Gymkhana is incredibly rapid and massive. In just three-year what it has achieved, it might take more than a decade for other gymkhanas to do so.
It seemed like yesterday when everything about Islam Gymkhana appeared to be stagnating, and today the same gymkhana is moving along briskly on the path of development. From lacking in amenities, it now bristles with state-of-the-art amenities. From wearing a worn-out look, it now dazzles with architectural rebuilding and refashioning. In every respect, the gymkhana is transformed.
We have no qualms in telling once again that the architect of this awe-inspiring transformation happing every day in Islam Gymkhana is Adv. Yusuf Abrahani who is also ably supported by a very hardworking team.
Islam Gymkhana is reaping the benefits of members reposing faith in him in the landmark 2019 election. He has not only fulfilled almost all his promises but also exceeded expectations on several counts. We believe his vision and insatiable thirst for development will take Islam Gymkhana to further heights in times to come.
Words of Praise……………..
I have known Yusuf Bhai for many years. He has always been brilliant at what he does. I am amazed to see how he has transformed Islam Gymkhana with facilities akin to a 5-star hotel. And the fact that he has done it in a real quick time speaks volumes about his leadership.
Nana Patole, Previous Speaker, Maharashtra Assembly
I have partnered with Islam Gymkhana to have a Snooker Academy there. It has excellent world-class facilities, and the management is quite supportive. The club has gone through renovation lately and looks pretty fetching. Games and sports facilities have also been upgraded massively. The credit goes to its President Yusuf Abrahani and his diligent team.
Yasin Merchant, Famous Snooker Player
Under Adv. Yusuf Abrahani’s dynamic leadership Islam Gymkhana has changed drastically. With developments galore, its entire ambience has got better and more pleasant. Multipurpose turf and floodlights have also given a big fillip to sports activities. I wish Islam Gymkhana to emerge as the best among other gymkhanas in Marine Drive.
Dr.ZahirKazi, President, Anjuman-I-Islam
The iconic Islam Gymkhana in a new look and avatar adds to the scenic beauty of Marine Drive like never before. The gymkhana now looks alluring and more inviting. Adv. Yusuf Abrahani and his entire team deserve unqualified praise and appreciation for bringing about this transformation.
Dr.Juvale Nazir, Renowned Cardiologist
In the last few years, Islamic Gymkhana has seen a massive transformation in its infrastructure; however, its ethos and guiding principles remain intact. I congratulate Adv. Yusuf Abrahani and his team on this success and hope the gymkhana will touch a new paradigm of growth in the future.
Quiser Khalid, Commissioner, Mumbai Railways
The recent renovation at the Islam Gymkhana has given it a new identity. But what impressed me most was Mr. Abrahani’s care for female members who now have their own praying hall, resting room, and separate timing for the gym. Also, a new branch is slated to come up at Lonavala, adding another feather to Islam Gymkhana’s hat.
Mohammed Wajihuddin, Journalist, Times of India
As a regular visitor, I can say Islam Gymkhana has changed beyond recognition and driving this change is Adv. Yusuf Abrahani. Besides modern amenities and architectural rebuilding, a notable contribution of Mr. Abrahani is that he has made Islam Gymkhana warm up to the idea of charity. During COVID and torrential rain floods, the gymkhana was actively involved in providing relief to the affected.
Mufti AsfaqKaazi, Imam, Juma Masjid, Mumbai