Category Archives: Sports

Captain Grit, Nari Contractor

Najum Latif (L) and Nari Contractor (R)


Nariman Jamshedji Contractor was born on March 7, 1934 at Godhra Gujarat by accident. His pregnant mother was coming on a train from Dahod in Gujarat to Bombay for delivery when all of a sudden she went into labour. Contractor’s uncle was the driver of the train. He arranged medical assistance and dropped her at Godhra as an emergency case. His father owned a distillery and Nari grew up in Nasik.

 After playing successfully for Gujarat, Nari Contractor made his Test debut against New Zealand in the second Test at Bombay December 2-7, 1955, under Polly Umrigar. Contractor came in to bat at No.7 and was caught behind the wicket by Eric Peterie off Anthony MacGibbon for 16.

 In the second Test at Delhi, Contractor was asked to open the batting. He says “I was not to open, but Vinoo Mankad could not make it to Delhi for the Test. During the train journey at Matheran station Polly Umrigar, our captain, said to me, ‘If I ask you to open tomorrow, will you?’ Now Polly was my coach at St Xavier’s College Bombay at that time, so he knew me closely. I had batted well in the first match for my 16 runs, but had I failed again I could have been dropped.”

 Since Nari Contractor was still a newcomer to the international scene, he remembered a conversation with C. K. Nayudu just before the Test. The great Nayudu had asked Contractor why he did not open? Nari replied that it was because he usually came in at No.3. Nayudu then guided him by saying that if the opener was out first ball then the No.3 batsman became the opener. This helped Nari to make up his mind and he agreed to open in the Delhi Test.

 He opened with Vijay Mehra and scored a polished 62, before being caught and bowled by John Reid. He had now become an opener. He says “I was a stroke player in those days, but later on I became a very defensive player because I started opening the innings. Every ball is a ball which can get you out and every ball is a ball on which you can hit a boundary.”

 In the fourth Test at Calcutta, opening with Vinoo Mankad, he was bowled for 6 by Hayes in the first innings and was bowled again by Hayes for 61 in the second innings. In the final Test at Madras he was to bat at No.7 but his turn did not come as India won by an innings and 109 runs. He also appeared against Australia in the third Test at Calcutta Nov 2-6, 1956 and was lbw Richie Benaud for 22 in the first innings and was bowled for 20 by Ian Johnson in the second innings.

He next opened with Pankaj Roy against the West Indies in the first Test at Bombay Nov 28 to Dec 3, 1958. In the first innings he was caught by Atkinson off Hall for 0 and in the second innings was run out for 6. In the second Test at Kanpur, he was lbw Sobers 41 in the first innings and made 50 in the second innings and was bowled by J. Taylor. He was the highest scorer in both the innings. He failed in the third Test at Calcutta as he was out lbw, Ramadhin 4 in the first innings and was bowled by Roy Gilchrist for 6 in the second innings.

In the fourth Test at Madras, he batted at No.4 in the first innings and was run out for 22. He opened in the second innings and was caught behind the wicket by Gerry Alexander off Gilchrist for 3. Playing the final Test at Delhi February 6-11, 1959, Nari Contractor was lbw Wesley Hall 92 in the first innings and was run out for 4 in the second innings.

Contractor then went on tour of England under the captaincy of D. K. Gaekwad. He was out cheaply in the first Test at Nottingham for 15 and 0 to Greenhough and Statham. His great moment came in the second Test at Lord’s June 18-20, 1959 where he faced the fiercest pace attack of Fred Trueman, Brian Statham and Allan Moss. He scored 81 out of a team total of 168.

He scored a neat 56 in the second innings being caught by Barrington off Rhodes at Old Trafford in the fourth Test. He then appeared against Australia in December 1959. In the first Test at Delhi. He was bowled for 41 by Alan Davidson in the first innings and was caught by Favell off Benaud for 34 in the second innings. He rates his knock in the second innings of the second Test at Kanpur when he was caught by Neil Harvey off Davidson for 74 as the best innings he played because India won the test by 119 runs and Jasu Patel took 14 wickets for 124 runs.

Nari Contractor was appointed the 13th captain of India against the touring Pakistan team under Fazal Mahmood. At age 26 he was the youngest ever captain of India. Initially he was made captain for only two Tests but was retained for the rest of the series. He proved to be a cautious and sober captain. The series was a dull affair as none was willing to take risks for fear of losing.

In the first Test at Bombay December 2-7, 1960, Pankaj Roy and Nari Contractor opened the innings after 3 p.m. But before break there was a false joy when Fazal bowled Contractor with a no ball. Fazal bowled only two overs before tea and brought on Mohammed Farooq.  Nari was caught by Javed Burki off Mohammed Farooq for 62. Earlier he was hit by Farooq on his pads with such an impact that he started hobbling. This handicapped his strokes and he tried to hook Farooq without coming in line with the ball and Burki took the catch. Contractor had batted for 245 minutes with four 4s.

In the second Test at Kanpur he was bowled by Haseeb Ahsan for 47. Haseeb again got him at Calcutta in the third Test when Fazal caught him off his bowling for 12 in the second innings. In the first innings Intikhab Alam had bowled him for 25. In the fourth Test at Madras Nari was caught by Intikhab off Haseeb for 81. Haseeb had taken Contractor’s wicket four times on the tour and was quite disturbing. In the final Test at Delhi he was unlucky to miss his century when he was caught and bowled by Intikhab Alam for 92.

As India’s captain Contractor took a decision to change the fixed pattern of same players sharing rooms. He started rotating the pairs so they could come to know each other better. More than strategy, Contractor rates man management as a vital aspect of captaincy. He also introduced team meetings at the end of the day’s play to discuss performances including his own but he received poor response.

My first meeting with 5′-8″ tall Nari Contractor who had worked for Western Railways, State Bank of India Bombay, Tata and Mafatlal, was at his home in Cusrow Baug in Colaba Mumbai in 2007. He was polite, accommodating and cheerful. I also met his wife Dolly who was lovely and very hospitable.

Commenting on the 1960-61 Pakistan series Nari said “Because I had played a lot on the matting wickets I could play Fazal. Fazal Mahmood was a great bowler and a very out-going person but he was not the Fazal of 1952 who had toppled India at Lucknow. He could swing both ways but had no speed and had curtailed his run up to a mere trot. However the batsmen showed respect to his accuracy and he would have been more successful if he had been supported from the other end. I feel he should not have made the trip. He only showed the glimpses of his old self in the Calcutta test where Fazal took 5 for 26.

Mahmood Hussain was quick but his action sent telegrams of a clear message that an in swinger was on the way. He did not bowl close to the wickets and could be easily read. He was not formidable and not much of a threat. Fazal beat me four times in winning the toss. He would say ‘It is a Friday, I will not lose.’ He eventually lost the toss at Delhi, but it was a Thursday!.  Hasib Ahsan, Intikhab Alam and Nasimul Ghani were quite good.

Saeed Ahmed with his upright stance was an elegant stroke player. Hanif Mohammed was a great player but he had become Ramakant Desai’s bunny.

Contractor was again captain against Ted Dexter’s England team that toured India in 1961-62. He played only two notable innings. In the third Test at Delhi he was caught by Geoff Pullar of Tony Lock for 39 and in the fifth Test at Madras January 10-15, 1962 he was bowled by Bob Barber with a googly for 86 runs.

Nari Contractor led India on the West Indies tour of 1962. He lost the first two Tests to the West Indies in February. His own performance in the four innings was dismal. In the first Test at Port of Spain February 16-20, 1962 he was caught by Sobers off Hall for 10 in the first innings and was bowled for 6 by Wesley Hall in the second innings. In the second Test at Kingston, he was caught by Mendonca off Hall for 1 in the first innings and was bowled by Hall for 9 in the second innings.

In all his last four Test innings his wicket was taken by the fast bowler Wesley Hall. Before the third Test there was a side match against Barbados which originally Contractor had intended to miss but the squad’s injury problems forced him to play. When it was heard that Barbados had a mean hostile fast bowler Charlie Griffith to support the intimidating Wesley Hall, several Indian batsmen suddenly turned unfit for the match. Contractor decided to play.

A night before during a cocktail party the West Indies captain Frank Worrell warned Contractor about Charlie Griffith and advised that it would be better to get out than getting hurt

“As a superstition I never took the first strike and always batted at number two, but since Dilip Sardesai was opening for the first time I did not want to expose him in the one over before lunch. I took strike and faced the first six balls from Griffith and headed into the break relieved that Griffith in his only over had not seemed to be the beast we thought. As we walked back to the pavilion Sardesai turned to me and smiled. ‘Fast, my foot. He said.” Dilip Sardesai fell early to Hall for a duck in the first over after lunch and Rusi Surti joined his captain.

Griffith came on for the third over to Contractor and the first ball was short and whistled past the batsman’s nose. ‘My God, this is something’ I said to myself. ‘I thought maybe some lethargy had set in after lunch, so I did some spot running. The second ball was over the shoulder and I left it. The third was the same. The fourth ball I played was again shoulder height and Conrad Hunte fielding at short leg caught it on the half volley. Had he caught it, I would have been saved for it was the very next ball that hit me. When Griffith ran in to bowl the fifth ball, someone in the dressing room opened a window, which created a black square for me as there was no sight screen. I thought of moving away but I decided to play the delivery.

Eye witness Dicky Rutnagur wrote that Contractor got right behind the line to play the lifting ball. Wisden noted that ‘He could not judge the height to which it would fly and bent back from the waist in a desperate split second attempt to avoid it and was hit just above the right ear. Contractor did not duck into the ball. He got behind it to play it. He probably wanted to fend it away towards short leg.

Contractor slumped to his haunches, clutching his head. Within a minute he had started bleeding from his nose and ears.” Remembering the play Contractor said, “Earlier when Griffith was bowling at lightning speed and after the third ball of his over  Surti  shouted across the pitch to me ‘Skipper , he is chucking.”  I walked up to Surti and said, ‘You do not shout across the wicket like that. If you think he is chucking then tell the umpire.’ ‘That was playing on my mind too. My concentration was not there.

Meanwhile when he bowled and when I saw the ball it was right at my face and hit it at 90 degrees. The ball fell on my leg and I sat down with the support of my bat. I did not duck into the bouncer as Griffith wrote in his book. Soon I was bleeding from my noise and ears. I returned to the pavilion with the help of our manager Ghulam Ahmed and another person. Without their support I could not have made it to the pavilion on my own. I changed into a fresh set of clothes but the bleeding continued and I realised the injury was serious.”

Budhi Kunderan, who was not playing in the match was in the dressing room. He said, “We could hear the sound in the dressing room. Nari just stood up and initially thought nothing of it. We thought it was all right. But after a while he felt very uneasy. Suddenly Contractor started screaming loudly. At first the injury was not thought to be very serious, obviously he was in great pain. He was rushed in an ambulance to the hospital accompanied by Ghulam Ahmed and C. G. Borde.” An x-ray revealed a fractured skull and clotting of blood. Time was running out and Ghulam Ahmed took the crucial decision and allowed the emergency operation.

Sir Frank Worrell came to the hospital and donated his blood. So did Bapu Nadkarni, Borde, Umrigar and journalist K. N. Prabhu. The lights went off as the operation was in progress and it was thought to be a bad omen. Griffith too had come to the hospital and was visibly shaken. He kept muttering that he did not mean to hurt him, “It was just one of those accidents. God willing everything will be alright.”  Dr. Leacock, though was not a neurosurgeon but he kept the treatment going through the night and performed emergency surgery to reduce the clot on his brain till Dr. Ghourilal arrived from Port of Spain, Trinidad the next morning, as there was no early flight.

Contractor was throwing up and was losing movement of the left side of his body. A two hour operation was conducted. Contractor’s family was informed and his wife flew out to join him. For several days his life was in danger. Polly Umrigar was a constant companion at his bedside. Miraculously Contractor survived and the entire cricketing world heaved a sigh of relief but his cricket career was cut short at age 28. He says he owes his life to late Ghulam Ahmed who called the doctor that night when I had taken a turn for the worse. After three weeks he was flown back to India with his wife.

Nari Contractor says that he never thought he would play cricket again. It was Dr. Chandy at the Christian Medical College near Madras who gave him fresh hope after inserting a perforated steel mesh on his skull. Courage and humbleness personified Contractor returned to cricket.

Within a year he turned out for Maharashtra Chief Minister XI against Maharashtra Governor XI and scored 37 against a strong bowling attack.  In 1963-64 he played some games for the Defence Fund and did well. He was also opening for Gujarat in the Ranji Trophy. West Indies fast bowlers Wesley Hall and Watson had come to India for coaching in 1964 and Contractor played them confidently. Four years later he made 152 in the Duleep Trophy and also scored 144 against East Zone.

Ironically in his final first class match he scored a century and 93 and retired in 1972. He made 2535 runs in the second half of his career. He said that “Cricket has given me everything but money. However he warns that this must not be construed in the negative. He has no regrets in playing in an era where you got paid Rupees 250 per Test compared to the lacs players get now.

Nari says that there are no regrets in his life except he never played for India again. When you play a game like cricket, injuries are bound to happen. A fast bowler can try to hit you at will but to get hit in the head like me is accidental and I do not hold anything against Griffith. Life has to go on. Every man has his setbacks but one should look ahead, not back. They played without helmets, chest guards, thigh pads and other protectors. They only placed towels on their thighs for protection. There were no limit on bouncers and beamers. As a left hand batsman and right arm medium pace bowler Contractor appeared in 31 Tests and scored 1611 runs with 108 as his top score. He appeared in 138 first class matches and scored 8611 runs with 176 his top score.

He took one wicket and held 18 catches in Tests. He took 26 wickets and held 72 catches in first class cricket. He was member of the Cyclists Club along with Rusi Surti, Farokh Engineer and Behram Irani. Contractor served as coach at the cricket academy at the Cricket Club of India where his philosophy was that “If you can make the player express his view point then half the job is done. The age gap between the coach(average age 60 plus) and the trainee (under 16) does not matter because the kids have respect for the elders and the transparency means that the unit gels well together.” He believes the best form of cricket is test cricket but T20 has taken over the world.

While he was coaching at the CCI there were some English schoolboys who had come for lessons. A 13 year old right handed boy was batting in the nets. Contractor was standing a little far and talking to someone. Suddenly he heard a loud crack and felt the ball hit his knee. The boy had played a reverse sweep. He asked him what was he doing like that? The boy replied that he just played a perfect reverse sweep! What can you say to that? How can you coach a 16 years old when they see reverse sweeps on the TV, Contractor asks! He has kept his humorous attitude towards life and in 1990 he intentionally made sure that the metal detector at Delhi airport beeped at the metal plate in his head and confused the security for a long time.

Contractor was awarded with the C. K. Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award by the Indian Cricket Board in 2007. I asked Nari Contractor if he could give something of his for the Lahore Gymkhana Museum. He replied, “When I got injured in the West Indies, even my kit bag was lost. The coats became small so I gave them away. Only one necktie is left which I intend to keep. He further said that “When Umrigar and Mankad applied for a benefit match they were asked to furnish with their preferences. Just imagine! Therefore, because of this reason, to this day I never applied.”

Commenting on the great players of his time he ranked Sir Garfield Sobers as the Bradman of Athletes. Peter May was the finest and most polished batsman and never even edged a single ball. He played every ball with the middle of his bat. He rates Rohan Kanhai an extra ordinary and under played great.

He rates Ted Dexter a great player for his powerful hits. Hanif Mohammed was a great batsman with a solid defence but he had so obviously become a bunny of Ramakant Desai. He thinks Vinoo Mankad of 1952 was the greatest all rounder of his era.

Polly Umrigar, he thought was a doubtful starter against pace. He rates Ian Botham very highly as a performer. In his opinion Imran Khan was the greatest cricketer of Pakistan. Contractor believes that although Sachin Tendulkar has more records than Sunil Gavaskar was a much greater cricketer and Sir Frank Worrell was the best captain who even advised his opposing team.

By Najum Latif


Adil Sumariwalla felicitated

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Mr. Adil Sumariwalla, President of the Athletics Federation of India, being felicitated by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji for the brilliant performance by the Indian athletes at the Asian Games recently held in Jakarta.

Out of 15 gold medals won by India, the Indian athletes won 7 Golds medals along with 10 Silver medals and 2 bronze medals.

A hat-trick from Dilshad Daruvala

Hello Humdeens
Many of you will remember the Parsi Panja of Dilshad Rayomand Daruvala as she participated and won in the past two years at the All Zoroastrian Arm Wrestling Competition at the Parsee Gymkhana at Marine Drive.
1. On Sunday, November 20, 2016: 
    Dilshad arm-wrestled three contestants before she won the the Gold Medal that many of us saw. 
    She won the Medal in the Over 40 Ladies category. 
2. Then, on Sunday, November 19, 2017: 
    Dilshad arm-wrestled her way to retain her title and won an easy gold medal as an individual. 
    Besides, she was part of a team that scored the highest points and received a cash-prize at the 
    All Zoroastrian Arm Wrestling Competition at the Parsee Gymkhana at Marine Drive.
3. Now, last Tuesday, May 1, 2018:
    Dilshad called me from Nagpur, where she lives with her advocate husband and two lovely little 
    daughters, and where she had recently participated in the 31st State Arm-Wresting Champion-
    ship organised by the Nagpur District Arm-Wrestling Association.
      She has sent the following two attachments with this brief little WA message:
     Stood Second and am selected for the national level arm-wrestling championship to be 
     held at Lucknow
Congratulations Dilshad. What a hat-trick! 
Great seeing your medal and your certificate in the attachment.
May you have many more such victories !!! 
P.S. Dilshad can be seen seen arm-wrestling at 3:47; (she is in a yellow dress) in the attached 2016 YouTube video clip:

Parsis were pioneers of cricket in India

A minority community in India – only about 60,000 live there now – Parsis are the pioneers of cricket in India. Being anglophile in the 19th century, they were the first to learn the game of cricket from the Englishmen. When the Hindus and Muslims had little idea of what cricket was all about, the Parsis took a cricket team to England in 1886.

Kersi Meher-Homji

That was much before the legendary Ranji and Duleep mesmerised Englishmen with their elegant run-making.

Originally from Iran, the Parsis (also called Zoroastrians) – followers of prophet Zoroaster – settled in India about 1200 years ago because of religious persecution in Iran.

In all, 11 Parsis have played Test matches for India from 1932 (the first ever Test India played) to 1975. In alphabetical order they are: Soli Colah (2 Tests), Nari Contractor (31), Farokh Engineer (46), Jehangir Irani (2), Rustomji Jamshedji (1), Kharshed Meherhomji (1), Rusi Modi (10), Piloo Palia (2), Rusi Surti (26), Keki Tarapore (1) and Polly Umrigar (59).

Three of them; Engineer, Meherhomji and Irani were wicket-keepers.

Only Contractor (aged 84 years) and Engineer (80 years) are now alive. Umrigar and Contractor captained India with distinction. Handsome Farokh Engineer was a flamboyant personality, scoring runs aggressively and keeping wickets like an acrobat.

Enough is written on a majority of these Parsi Test cricketers. This article features two less known Parsi cricketers who played only one Test each and while batting, remained unbeaten.

As I reported in Parsiana magazine (India) earlier this month, two “ji”s of Indian cricket were unique characters. Both were good-looking Parsis, one was a slow left arm spinner, the other a wicket-keeper and a dare devil batsman – an earlier day Farokh Engineer.

They were Rustomji Jamshedji Dorabli Jamshedji (1892-1976) and my uncle the dashing debonair Kharshed Rustomji Meherhomji (1911-1982).

Jamshedji the first Parsi left-arm spinner


Jamshedji was the third Parsi to play Test cricket. The first two were Sorabji (Soli) HM Colah and Phiroz (Piloo) E Palia who were selected in the first ever Test match for India; against England at Lord’s in London in June 1932.

Jamshedji played only one Test, on Bombay Gymkhana in December 1933, the first Test on Indian soil.

Click here for the full article with some interesting pics and facts


Khurshid Mistry wins 5 Medals in an International Meet at Thailand


Veteran Athlete Khurshid Mistry has achieved another milestone. She had represented India in the Thailand Masters Athletic Championship 2018 which was held at Lampang Main Stadium, Thailand from March 9 to 11. 2018. Several Countries had participated in the International Meet.


Khurshid gave a stupendous performance by winning 3 Gold Medals in 400 mts, 200 mts and 4100 mts Relay and 2 Silver Medals in 100 mts and 4400 mts Relay under her age category.


In the past 8 years Khurshid has participated in 5 International Competitions including the World Masters Games in 2017.

On Khurshid’s success, her Coach, Dinanath Maurya said “ Khurshid has been training with me since the past eight years and she is my only student who does Sprinting and Marathon running and excels in both the activities. She is extremely sincere, dedicated and focused. Once a goal is set she will go all out to achieve the same. She rarely misses her training sessions. In the past 8 years she has got a numbers of injuries but every time she has emerged stronger and never given up. She is an inspiration to other younger athletes.”


On winning the International Meet, Khurshid said,” After Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018 I got just one months time to train for this competition. However this time my fitness level was very good which helped me in my Sprinting training. International competitions are always a very good experience where we meet athletes from different countries and get a chance to interact and learn from them. The International Meet at Thailand was challenging and satisfying.  Competing with the best athletes from different Countries gives an adrenaline high and winning the events a sense of achievement and fulfillment. Sprinting is my forte and I thoroughly enjoy the sport.“

Clearly Khurshid is chasing her goals with utmost determination. Keep going.

Adil Nargolwala

Some come to climb to the roof of Africa, some come to run one of its toughest marathons. Adil Nargolwala of Delhi came & did both! He summited Uhuru peak Mt Kilimanjaro 19341 feet & then ran the Kilimanjaro marathon a tough hilly course!
Super Effort!!
Heartiest congratulations!!!

The world on a bicycle

Geared to go: Hakim, Bhumgara (standing) and Bapasola with their paraphernalia before the tour.
Long before the sun had peeped above the horizon on 7 August 1924, the last traces of old Damascus had faded from our view. Our objective now was Jerusalem, which lay 190 miles from Damascus. The road connecting these two centres on the whole is well metalled, save some miles of very rough track. By mid-day we had traversed 41 miles and arrived at El Kuneitra in time for lunch. El Kuneitra is a pleasant town populated mainly by Circassians. We were taken to a police station and our passports were examined and endorsed as we were now leaving the province of Syria. While we were at Damascus an account of our enterprise had appeared in a local newspaper. The commissioner of police at El Kuneitra had read the same and on our arrival invited us to stay with him for a day. Of all things, time was the last thing we could spare. We declined his invitation with many thanks and after lunch and tea with him took to road at three in the afternoon. With the sun beating down upon our unsheltered heads mercilessly, it was with difficulty that we negotiated the ascents which we encountered on leaving El Kuneitra. We were not in luck however. When the descent commenced, we found the track very rough, strewn with stones of no mean sizes and it was a hard task to prevent our machines from bumping against one stone in trying to avoid unpleasant contact with another. The track grew worse and worse. Finally, we dismounted and walked; even then one or the other would put his foot on an apparently firmly-embeded stone, only to find himself lying on the ground, with the machine and baggage performing similar stunt. We crossed a river bridge; this is the boundary line separating Syria from Palestine. We were accosted here by policemen who noted down all our details and only then permitted us to proceed. This place is called Jisr Benat Yakub, meaning ‘Bridge of the Daughters of Jacob’. It derives its curious name either from the traditional belief that Jacob once crossed the river Jordon at this spot, or perhaps from the fact that a number of Jacobian nuns were put to sword during the Crusades. A little distance from this place lies a Jewish Colony where we passed the night.

Geared to go: Hakim, Bhumgara (standing) and Bapasola with their paraphernalia before the tour.

From Jisr Benat Yakub, Tiberias, on the sea of Gallillee, is 24 miles. The mid-day sun had not yet attained its zenith in the sky when we found ourselves listening to the music of the waves of the sea munching our rude fare. A time there was when the shores of this lake were hemmed in by busy bustling and thriving towns. Today Tiberias and one or two squalid villages only stand sentinel over the waters of this lake. The Sea of Gallillee is really a lake, measuring 14 miles from north to south and has an average width of 6 miles. It lies 680 ft below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. At its north end, the River Jordan enters through a delta of its own deposit; the river resumes its southerly course and pours its contents into the Dead Sea. It was in the vicinity of the Sea of Gallillee that the Blessed Redeemer opened his career and gave to the world his immortal parables of the lost Sheep and of the net. Of the Sower the Wheat and the Tares, of the Grain of Mustard seed and to the Lilies, which toil not, nor spin. These flowers more glorious than the Soloman glory still abound in the vicinity of this hallowed lake.

Almost every town in Palestine has a history. Tiberias is mentioned in the New Testament. Herod Antipas, built the city probably upon the site of the cemetery of Rakkath, some twenty years after the death of Christ. For centuries past this town is noted for its hot water springs. A dip in the Hammam-e-nabi-Slleman, as these springs are called, cost us each about two Egyptian Piasters. The waters of the spring, which maintain a temperature from 130° to 142° Fahr are locally considered an unfailing cure for rheumatism. With Tiberias is also connected a Jewish legend, viz., that when the Messiah arrives, he will emerge from the Lake, collect His people at Tiberias and march triumphantly to Safed ‘where His throne will be established for ever’.

Back home: (from left) Hakim, Bapasola and Bhumgara.

Leaving Tiberias, that afternoon we had to encounter steep gradients. The uneven nature of this district entails considerable hardships on the travellers. The redeeming feature of the tour through these regions is abundance of fruits. Passing Kefr Kenna en route we arrived at Nazareth. If Kefr Kenna be what many believe it, namely, the true Cana of Gallilee then it was at this place that Lord Jesus performed his first miracle at the marriage feast. Nazareth is too well known throughout Christendom to need any mention in detail. It was at Nazareth that Jesus spent his early days. We find no mention of this place in the Old Testament. When Lord Jesus moved and taught Nazarene was an epithet of derision. We did not tarry long at Nazareth. However, we paid a visit to the renowned Church of the Annunciation situated within the precincts of the Latin Monastery. The building is 69 ft long, 48 ft wide with marble steps on either side leading to the high altar. Below it is the Crypt. From here we reached the Chapel of Angel and the Chapel of Annunciation. Another place of interest in the vicinity of the orthodox Church of Annunciation is a spring the waters of which are conveyed to Ain-Miriam, or Mary’s well. The well undoubtedly is the one frequented by the Virgin. Even today the pretty Nazarene women strut about this place with their pitchers, which they fill from the fountain. We did not stay for more than a couple of hours at Nazareth.

A journey of 19 miles brought us to Jenin, a beautiful little town lying between the mountains of Samaria and the Plane of Jazreel, with luxuriant gardens bearing testimony to the fertility of the soil, which is a volcanic decomposition. From here a spiral ascent once again pestered us. We left Nablus, the capital of the Samaria province. Populated mainly by Mohammedans, Nablus is a town with considerable trade looking to its population of 16,000. Two railway lines branch from Nablus. One connects this town with the Lydda Haifa line at Tulkeram and the other with Haifa-Damascus line at Afule. From Nablus onward our uphill journey continued till we arrived at Jerusalem. Throughout the route, grapes, figs, olives, and pomegranates were seen in abundance. Half-a-piaster could buy us figs in incredible quantities. As we proceeded further we could obtain fruits cheaper and cheaper, until all that we had to do was to get them for the mere asking and at several places even without that much trouble. Occasionally an extraordinarily luxuriant bough of grapes tempted us to break our journey and collect a hatful of them. At times, our poaching excursions were challenged by the owner of the vineyard who saw us trespassing upon his property with such impunity. Often we were mistaken for soldiers, a confusion of identity in our favour, for the farmer of the district as a rule is loath to incur the displeasure of the members of the military. More often than not our own invasion of the vineyard was looked upon with indifference as the owner knew he had more of the commodity than he could ever dream of disposing off, and that a handful or two would not diminish the stock at his disposal.
On our arrival at Jerusalem we knocked at the gates of Casa Nova, a Franciscan hospice at which travellers and pilgrims find boarding and lodging gratis. At first a friar declined to accommodate us, though in the end we successfully persuaded him to do so. We stayed at Jerusalem for four days. Modern Jerusalem has a population of 63,000 people of which more than half are Jews and the rest almost in equal number Christians and Muslims. The city is divided into four quarters by two intersecting streets, inhabited by four nationalities, viz., the Jewish, the Mohammedan, the Armenian and the Grœco-Frankish. Running right round the city is a wall with an average height of 38 ft, and a length of 2½ miles. The wall is pierced by eight gates, each of which bears a distinct name. In 1917, from under the Crescent, Jerusalem came under the Cross, when General Allenby entered the city.
The Holy Sepulchre is undoubtedly the chief centre of attraction in the city. Thousands of pilgrims journey to this place from distant lands to pay their homage at the shrine of the Lord Jesus. To the Christian, the Jew and the Mohammedan the city is an object of profound veneration. In a corner of the city, in the northwest, lie the buildings comprising the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, hidden from gaze by many buildings that cluster round it. The interior is divided into two parts the Rotunda and the Orthodox Cathedral.
Within the precincts of the Holy Sepulchre are also the Chapel of St Helena, and Chapel of Invention. Tradition goes that from the spot where the latter Chapel is built, Empress Helena, who received divine direction stood and watched, as three Crosses under her instructions were being excavated. Popular belief is that with the three crosses, nails, a crown of thorns and an inscription bearing the words ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’ were discovered. Bishop Macarius, who was observing the excavations devised an ingenious method of finding out the Cross on which Lord Jesus was crucified. Each cross was taken to an ailing woman. At the touch of the true Cross, its related health and vigour were restored to the sickly woman.
We also visited the chapel on Golgotha or Calvary. Here we saw a marble slab with a hole in it, wherein the base of the Cross was inserted. On the right and on the left were similar sockets in which the crosses of the two thieves were planted. Nearby these sockets was the ‘Cleft in the Rock’, 10 inches deep, which tradition goes, was ‘hewn when the veil of the temple was rent twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake and the rocks rent’.
On 16 August we left Jerusalem, ‘the city set on a hill’. A journey of 5.5 miles brought us to Bethelhem with its Church of Nativity. The solid building comprising this church lie at the eastern end of the town, and the church is regarded as one of the oldest churches in the world. Beneath the Choir is the cave and the Manger, where Christ was born amidst the rudest surroundings.
During our journey from Jerusalem to Beersheba via Hebron, we had done with mountain climbing and were now journeying on a sandy plain. From Beersheba two roads branch off, one going to Gaza, and the other to Khan Unis. We followed the latter road as on enquiries we learned that the track to Khan Unis was hard. Now that we had negotiated and done with mountains for the time being, we found ourselves crossing sandy tracks once again. There is little to choose between a journey across the desert and a journey over a mountain. Halting at a police station at Khan Unis for some time we resumed our journey. Barely a mile was covered when the track was totally obliterated by fine white sand. Our feet sank deep into the sands and our machines left deep trails behind them as we dragged them with great difficulty. To all indications we were now on the verge of another great desert—the Senai. We were cautioned by many well wishers to abandon the project of a journey on cycle through this desert, as before us none had ever succeeded in performing similar feat. We were advised to requisition the aid of the ‘ships of the desert’—camels, for our purpose. We were assured that of the 125 miles of vast sandy stretch not an inch of ground would be hard enough to permit cycling and sure enough it was so. All through the journey we had to pass ankle-deep through a sea of sand. The Senai Military Railway runs between Gaza and Kantara for 155 miles and we moved along the railway track. Necessity is the mother of invention. By now we were tired of dragging our machines and so we devised a plan of rolling them on the rails, with us walking on the sleepers. But this was not very ingenious, as it necessitated a concentration of attention on the cycle wheels and the rails. Directly the eyes were removed from the rails even for a moment our machines would be derailed. It also made impossible for us the appreciation of the landscape. Anyway this was not a real grievance. What could any one have to see in the barren desert except sand and a merciless sun. Miles after miles we walked looking at the wheel and rails, and the rails and the wheels, till our necks ached. We arrived at Rafa in the evening. Rafa produces a rich crop of watermelons, which are consigned from here to Port Said and Suez. About two miles from Rafa lies the boundary station between Palestine and Egypt. When therefore we entered Rafa we left behind the Continent of Asia and set on foot over the Dark Continent. Rafa means in Hebrew a giant and according to Second Book of Samuel this place was colonized by giants. Be that as it may, we left Rafa the next day at dawn. As we were following the railroad, we resumed our usual practice of securing from the various stationmasters’ declaration that we did not travel by train any portion of our journey.

With Cyclists Around the World: By Adi B. Hakim, Jal P. Bapasola and Rustom B. Bhumgara, Roli Books, 376 pages, Rs350.

There is little of interest to be seen in the Senai Desert. We came across the carcass of camels, lying half embedded in the white sand, relics of some dumb creatures, perhaps slain to solve the problem of water in the desert. They bore adequate testimony to risk both man and animal alike ran in their journey. From Rafa we came to El Arish and then proceeded to Maaden. Before we reached Maaden, we were caught in a sand storm. By the time we emerged from the storm, which fortunately for us was of short duration, we were powdered from top to toe with sand. We retraced our last route with difficulty and proceeded. When weather is very rough, even camels find it difficult to make any headway. These poor beasts of burden turn round every now and then as a blast of wind sweeps into their unprotected eyes and nostrils, the piercing sand of the desert. Then once again they turn round and proceed on their irksome journey. Even the native Bedouine— born and brought up in the desert—is seen walking along the railroad and shunning the interior, when the risk of being lost in the sand dunes is very great. En route we passed railway stations, which had been closed for want of traffic or trade. We passed Mazar, walking and leading our bikes of course with our eyes stuck fast to the rails. We passed El Abd with our eyes still glued to the rails. Romani was passed and yet our eyes could not be removed from the rails. Only a few miles from the Kantara East we got good metalled road. That afternoon in Kantara we halted at a shopkeeper’s place.

Kantara is Arabic for ‘bridge’. For countless centuries Kantara marked a great crossing place for all who crossed from Egypt to Palestine. In the time of one of the Pharaohs, Kantara formed the farthest outpost of Egypt. Few routes have echoed so often to the tramp of great armies from the days of Pharaoh to those of Napoleon and hence to the recent war. Along these railway lines are huge water mains, which conveyed water from the Nile to Gaza, when General Lord Allenbey conducted his campaign here. It was ‘a strange fulfilment of an old tradition that when the waters of the Nile flow into Palestine the Turks would loose their country to the English.’
Kantara occupies a strategic position midway on the Suez Canal. In the last World War many a glorious encounter was fought for the possession of this point of vantage. Even today the travellers find relic of the last war scattered over the shell-torn area.

Bhumgara took a dip into the Suez Canal, swimming the distance between Kantara East and Kantara West. The cycles were transported by a ferry to the opposite shore. At the Egyptian Customs House of Kantara West, a duty of half-a-pound was levied on our machines on which a seal of the Customs Authority was affixed. We were told we would be entitled to a refund of the duty if within six months of our entry we left the country with our bikes. The seals affixed were for identification of the machines. This seal is to be valued at half-a-pound; you smash the seal in a fall and your half-pound disappears instantly into the government treasury.

…Leaving Kantara, on 24 August in the early hour of the morning, we succeeded in covering 115 miles, the distance from Kantara to Cairo in the course of one day. It was not, however, without considerable difficulty. The road from Kantara to Ismalia is devoid of vegetation and at times degenerates into sandy patches over which cycling is impossible. From Ismalia to Cairo the whole region displays green and luxuriant crops. By the time we rested at Bilbeio for the afternoon we had covered 73 miles. A ride of 39 miles from our last halting place brought us to Cairo even while the sun lingered on the horizon as if waiting to congratulate us on our record run.
As we entered Cairo, we were greeted with a din and clatter characteristic of a huge metropolis. Cairo, the Egyptian metropolis was humming with throng and activities. The honk of the cars, the hum of the tramcars, the creaking of the cart wheels, the none too polite language of the hack-victoria driver when he finds his progress impeded, the brawls at toddy shops—all vest Cairo with a marked resemblance to Bombay. In fact the localities of Bombay seemed transplanted here. With its population of 800,000, Cairo is a city that outrivals Bombay in many respects, though commerce and industry of this place sink into insignificance before those of Bombay. Cairo is clean and free from one ugly feature that mars all appearance of cleanliness in Bombay. Two systems of tramcars ply in the streets of Cairo. Tramcars bearing resemblance to those in Bombay but with three classes run in the streets of the city proper. The system of tramcars, designated as metro-tram, locally, serves the needs of suburban population. Outside the city, these cars attain considerable velocity and ply over a distance of 15 miles. Fares are charged according to distances. During our stay at Cairo for a week we paid a visit to the Egyptian museum, the Zoological gardens, and the world-renowned pyramids, which rank not without justification, as one of the Wonders of the World.
The visit to the Egyptian museum is more than worth the trouble. Here you find ‘mummies’ or embalmed bodies of ancient kings and celebrities. The mummies are an object of gruesome interest and they fascinate imagination. One shudders to recall that many of these relics of human organisms which once in dim distant ages moved about with all the pomp and glory, not content with continent-wide kingdoms, now rest content with six feet of stone casing. Despite the undoubtedly great antiquity of these mummies one sees the nails on the finger, the hair on the head and teeth in good condition. Age has shrivelled up the frame but the shrunk human structure conveys faithful representation of what it must have been when alive. It is not only in Egypt that you find mummies. They have been discovered in Persia, Peru and Mexico too.
Old story, new life
This reprint was a quest fulfilled for Adi Hakim’s son

Gen next: The son and daughter-in-law of Adi B. Hakim, Vadodara-based Dara Hakim, 73, and his wife, Roda, 63.

Dara Hakim’s father was not one to boast about or even dwell on the epic journey he, along with his companions, had undertaken as a young man. Only after much goading by Dara and his six younger brothers would Adi Hakim occasionally regale them with an anecdote or two. Usually, they were exhorted to go and “have adventures of their own”. Dara attributes his father’s reserve and modesty to his humble background. Like his fellow adventurers, whom he first met at the Bombay Weightlifting Club, Adi Hakim came from a solid middle-class background.

Nevertheless, Dara had always nursed the desire to see ‘With Cyclists Around the World’ in print again. Fortunately for him, his wife Roda shared his enthusiasm. His first attempt was to contact Khushwant Singh, then the redoubtable editor of the ‘The Illustrated Weekly of India’, in the late 1970s. He got no encouragement whatsoever.
The book, Dara was told, would be of little interest to anyone. Some years later, Roda and he were surprised to see photos and an excerpt from ‘With Cyclists…’ in a book commemorating Asiad 82, the Asian Games which were held in New Delhi in 1982.
Some more years passed. Then, one day, Roda happened to show the fragile old copy of ‘With Cyclists…’ to her friend, the novelist Esther David. David read the book and couldn’t imagine this bit of valuable history being consigned to oblivion.
She gave Roda a list of publishers to contact. They all said it was a wonderful book but, for one reason or another, didn’t say much beyond that. Roda’s persistence paid off when the Delhi-based Roli Books decided to bring it out again.
Dara doesn’t want only nostalgia and history buffs to read the book; echoing his father’s sentiments, he hopes it will inspire today’s youngsters to undertake adventures of their own. (Himanshu Bhagat)

Livemint – First Published: Sat, Apr 12 2008. 12 07 AM IST

Savukshaw, Rohinton Mistry’s “greatest [cricketer] of them all”

Thanks to Savukshaw, things took such unusual proceedings that MCC’s annual ball budget took a serious toll.

Left: Cover of Tales from Firozsha Baag (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons) Right: Rohinton Mistry © Getty Images

Few have depicted pre-globalisation Bombay — for Mumbai it used to be in those days — like Rohinton Mistry in his award-winning Tales from Firozsha Baag. The collection consists of eleven delightful stories based in a Parsee-dominated colony (called Firozsha Baag, as you may have figured out). The stories are intertwined in the sense that the same set of people appear in almost all stories, but every story centres around one character or family.

There is, in fact, one titled Of White Hairs and Cricket, but this is not about that one. Our story goes by the name Squatter. It features Nariman Hansotia, who drove a 1932 Mercedes-Benz, sported a Clark Gable moustache, and told intriguing stories (that sometimes bordered on the lines of extreme creativity) to the children and adolescents of the colony.

Squatter features two stories by Nariman Hansotia. This is the shorter one.

Nariman Hansotia was not impressed by the fact that they were impressed by “Contractor [whose first name was also Nariman], Polly Umrigar, and recently, the young chap, Farokh Engineer.” He insisted that there was one Savukshaw, “the greatest of them all”.

The story tells the tale of an Indian tour of England. India were led by Contractor. This was obviously not possible, since Contractor had never led India on a tour of England. But then, though the characters (or most of them) are real in Nariman Hansotia’s world, there is no claim that the events are.

Unfortunately, Nadkarni (Bapu?), India’s star batsman, was down with influenza. MCC scored 497. India, after being bowled out for 109 (Nadkarni’s replacement had to retire hurt after being hit by a bumper), were asked to bat again. When India were 38 for 5, still 350 runs away from making MCC bat again, Savukshaw walked out to bat.

He left the first ball outside off (“but with what style! what panache!”). He did the same with the next with “boredom written all over him”. Then came the third ball, a straight, quick delivery, aimed at the stumps.

Savukshaw flicked the ball at tremendous pace. The fielder there was six feet seven inches tall, weighed 250 lbs, and nothing had gone past him in the match. But Savukshaw had intentionally hit it towards the fielder, whose gargantuan palm came down to pouch the ball…

But that was it. The fielder erupted in “a howl that rang through the entire stadium, that soared like the cry of a banshee right up to the cheapest seats in the furthest, highest corners … into the pavilion, into the kitchen.” The cook inside the kitchen was injured after spilling boiled water on himself.

As for the fielder, he was bleeding as profusely as any seen in the history, “like a fountain in an Italian piazza, like a burst water-main from the Vihar-Powai reservoir.” There was tremendous blood loss, soaking the fielder’s flannels and the grass.

But what about the ball? It lay peacefully just beyond the boundary line. ’It’ is probably not the best possible objective, for it had split neatly into halves. The stitches had come off, and most of its innards had spilled out.

That was it. As the match continued, Savukshaw hit the ball with at least as much power. The fielders had no intention to stop the shots. One replacement ball after every stroke, which meant MCC’s “annual ball budget was thrown badly out of balance.”

India saved the innings defeat. In fact, if there was time they might have won it.

But how did the bat survive the onslaught? Obviously because it was no ordinary bat. Savukshaw used a special oil, the formula of which he had acquired from a cricket-talent-scouting sadhu. Despite the bat, however, Savukshaw insisted that the real secret to his success was hard work and hours of practice.

Unfortunately, Savukshaw quit cricket soon afterwards to become a cyclist, to nobody’s surprise the fastest in the world. After a short stint with pole-vault he switched to become a hunter. He could shave the whisker of a cat in the backyard of C Block (of Firozsha Baag, of course) from the third floor of A Block. He would later move on from that as well to another profession, one where he would earn the moniker of Parsi Picasso…

Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry. He blogs at ovshake dot blogspot dot com and can be followed on Twitter @ovshake42.
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