The Bombay gymkhana , a ''White only Club'' in colonial India made Parsees form their own cricket club!!

Bombay Gymkhana, Mumbai.

Soon after Bombay and the adjacent islands  had become part of the British settlement, Bombay city in the 1870s  became an important and prosperous port and  commercial hub. The population of  Europeans and the natives also grew up with the establishment of many industries and trades.  Particularly, the  Europeans  needed some kind of respite during  holidays and on weekends  to spend time with their friends and families and be free from official morass. Out of necessity,  there came into  existence various sports clubs  such as  cricket, polo, football,golf clubs, etc. These clubs provided a fine opportunity by way of  offering membership  to any person desirous of further improving his skills in sports. The purpose was: “to offer young sportsmen of small means the opportunity of indulging their proclivities at a minimum cost to themselves and at a maximum production of enjoyment to the general public”

 On 09 June, 1875, the Bombay Gymkhana. was formed by sports enthusiasts,  clubbing all the existing sports clubs, cricket, polo, football and gun under one roof. This historical decision was taken in  the office of Wm. Nicol and Co., Bombay. In the wake of it  the Bombay Golf Club  had a separate entity and was independent  of Gymkhana. Captain Ernest Lindsay Marryat and Lieutenant Carmichael Light Young were the forces behind the Bombay Gymkhana club which was incorporated in 1876.  

Located in the Fort area, South Bombay,  after restructuring of the fort in the 1860s with the demolition of ramparts, foreshore beaches, and maidans, the Green Space and Esplanade became the core of city's social and spoting life. It was initially built as a British-only club  (exclusively for the lily white people of European decent) and the architect was Claude Batley, an Englishman. 

To construct a suitable spacious pavilion,  permission was obtained from the city  authorities to erect it on the Parade Ground (now Azad Maidan) close to the site where the Cricket club tent was formerly pitched.  A  fascinating  Swiss Chalet style Club House along with Pavilion was  designed by  John Adams at the southern end of the maidan close to the junction of Waudby road with Esplanade (Mahatma Gandhi Road). The cost of construction of Rs.18625  was met by public subscription and funds from the members. The membership was restricted to Whites only. No natives were allowed to enter the portals of the club that had separate grounds for Tennis, Skating, etc. Many social clubs in the  colonial era openly practised racial discrimination. The Bengal Club, Madras Club, etc were in the forefront.

Considered one of the first social club in the world, the Bengal club was opened in 1827 as the Calcutta United Service Club.  The clubhouse functioned   in an old  building in Esplanade West. The paradox is  the Bengal Club  that was exclusively for the "Whites" was functioning in a building owned by the famous writer Kali Prasanna Singha. Bernard Shaw, Irish satirist, who was highly critical of the aristocratic arrogance of the British and the class ridden society in England,  once remarked, "Oh, a  club  is  nothing. The  best  club  in  England  is  the  one  every sensible  man  keeps  away  from".


The Heritage Committee of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai  recognized the importance of the Bombay Gymkhana  building and awarded heritage status  and protection to the Bombay Gymkhana Club House. Accordingly, it is treated as a protected structure under the guidelines laid down by the Municipal Corporation of the greater Mumbai (MCGM).

In all   capital cities of the Presidency under the British, there were  many clubs exclusively for the British government officials or for the army men with higher rank  or for the traders, etc. The natives were prohibited from entering such clubs except those who were employed there. Racial discrimination was very much there and when  such class distinction and insinuation  spilled into open  and entered sporting events, an embarrassing situation would be created. 

Bernard Shaw (26 July, 1856 – 2 November, 1950) while touring Bombay  in 1933  with his wife,  was in rage  upon  seeing  a  sign  on  a Yacht  club near  Taj  Hotel (a well- known heritage hotel) right across the famous Gateway of India site. The sign said,said, "Reserved exclusively for the  white  people  only."   He  remarked  angrily, "It   was   nothing  short  of  snobbery  to  have  a  club  exclusively  reserved   for  the  use  of  the  white  people  in  a  land  of  colored  people"

racial segregation period  way in the past Southern USA

The Parsees of Bombay who were traders and wealthy could not tolerate the subtle racial disparity.  Once they  were quite sore over the way the British treated them and the  natives in the sporting arena.  The  small community of Zoroastrians (Parsis) was the first indian community to form a sporting club to conduct cricket matches  on their own in Mumbai(Bombay) . The elite clubs run by the whites gave priority to their folks and not to the natives. Obviously, when the Parse youths took active interest in games, particularly cricket, the  white cricket elite in Bombay or elsewhere  India  turned their eyes  away and offered no help to the enthusiastic young Parsees. 

Central Public park, Bombay was denied access to Gymkhana and non sport events were restricted to weekends.  The brewing animosity between the whites and Parsee youths led to verbal duals on many occasions. In fact, the  quarrel between the Bombay Gymkhana, a whites-only club, and Parsi cricketers over the use of a public park reached the peak.  Parsees felt the park was left unfit for cricket for the simple reason the whites  used the ground to play polo. The frequent movements of polo  ponies  of the Bombay  Gymkhana  made the cricket ground  very rough  and uneven -  unfit for cricket.  At many places there were holes, dug up by the fast moving ponies with players on them. The extra weight on the ponies had an impact on the surface of the ground. If the pitch is uneven with small holes how can you bowl and bat. The cricket ground was frequently rendered unfit to  play.  


When  the parsees took the matter to higher colonial authorities for a remedy or an amicable solution, it became quite clear to them that the  colonial authorities were  biased  and prejudicial. They openly sided with their  white compatriots.   Being shrewd and competent as they were Parsees had their own gymkhana  built to play cricket, etc.