Chapter 7. Summer Holidays and Football in Calcutta

During the three years in the Training Ship “Dufferin”, 1939-41, we had three months of summer holidays – June, July and August – which I spent mostly in Calcutta with a fortnight or so, each, in Darjeeling and Dhaka. While in Calcutta, almost every morning I used to cycle (later motor cycle) to “Pari Manzil” 36. Theatre Road, the home of Nawabzadi Pari Bano Begum, whom we used to call Kalkutta-ki-Nano, since she lived in Calcutta. She was half sister of our Dadi (Grandmother) Nawabzadi Bilquis Bano.

I would join Ayesha, then 10 years old, and Haseen, 9 years, while their Nanny, a lady from Madras, would be combing their hair and getting them ready for school. I sat on a ‘morah’ (a cane stool) and told stories. I would then join the family at the breakfast table – having had my breakfast before leaving home – and, soon there after follow the ghora gari (horse carriage) taking them and Akhtar Morshed to La Martinere School. Sometimes Akhtar would ride with me on my cycle. During tea-time around 3 p.m. I would turn up, once again, and join the family for a sumptuous tea.

Nawabzadi Pari Bano Begum, daughter of Nawab Sir Ahsanullah, was married to Khwaja Badruddin, brother of our grandmother (Nani) Begum Asghari Khanum, and became a widow at the age of 21. Her two children were Zulekha and Khwaja Sudderuddin. In his Booklet, Dilkusha – the place that made Me, Me (page 34) distributed among close family members only, Dr. K. Ismail Sudderuddin  writes: “We were told that Dadi’s strategy to ensure she kept a close watch and handle on her daughter was to arrange a match for her two children, to a brother and sister pair.

Thus, in a two-way swap, my mother Chandni Begum), at the tender age of 17, married my father, 23, an only son, while her older and only brother (K.G.Morshed) married my father’s older and only sister (Zulekha Begum) in Kolkata on 24 November 1927, in Dadi’s famed residence, Pari Manzil, at 36. Theatre Road. Their offsprings would thus be double first cousins.”  Therefore, my wife Ayesha and Akhtar Morshed were double first cousins. In fact, he was like a brother to her, as her own brother, Khwaja Badruddin, eldest of seven sons, was ten years younger than her.

Before lunch I would study for a while and do the ‘Home work’ set for us by some of the teachers, visit some relations, and occasionally go to a 11 o’clock movie.

Late afternoons were usually spent with my friend, Sadri Ispahani, at their home on 5. Camac Street, and we would normally go somewhere, never missing a football match being played by Mohammedan Sporting Club, (popularly known as the Mohammedans) either at their own grounds or at the ground of one of their opponents. There were times when we would go to a matinee show at one of the Cinema Houses on Chowringhee and then walk across the Maidan to see a football match.  We also met up with Brij Thapar, Keshab Mahindra, Kassim Dossani and my best friend from St. Paul’s, Rene Palit, and spent some happy times together.

There were two persons in the Nawab Family, who were my closest friends. One was Najma Ismail (wife of Rahman Quader Bhaijan) and the other was Akhtar Morshed. Outside the family my closest friend was Sadri, whose full name is MIRZA MEHDY ISPAHANI, son of the late Mirza Ahmad Ispahani. He was well known to many members of the Dhaka Nawab Family of our generation, and was loved and respected by all those who knew him or worked with him. He led a good life and was a very keen golfer.

My memory goes back to the month of December, in Calcutta, in the year 1938. The All India Muslim Women’s Association were organizing a ‘fun fair’ for the 25th of December, and my mother, being an active member, was involved in making the arrangements, and I used to accompany her every morning to help with various things. Like me, Mehrangese Ispahani used to come with her mother, and we worked together. One afternoon her brother came to take her home and she introduced me to him. That was my first meeting with SADRI ISPAHANI, and we became good friends. He was then studying at St. Xavier’s School, and I had appeared for the entrance examination to join the Training Ship Dufferin, in Bombay.

In addition to spending time together in Calcutta we even made plans to be together when he accompanied his family to spend a part of the summer in Darjeeling, where we had great fun roller skating at the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club, going for long walks in the evening with our friends; in general enjoying ourselves as much as we could. It used to upset him whenever I told him that I was going to Dhaka for a few days to see my Nana (grandfather). I remember him saying: “What is this place Dhaka, and why must you go?” Little did he know then that a time would come when Dhaka would be home to him, and it would be his final resting place.

During my last voyage – my ship was sunk on 11th March 1942 – I had written him an eight-page letter and remember vividly writing: “I have been to the place where you were born” as writing the name of the port – in this case, Rangoon, – was not permitted. He was actually born in Mandalay. That letter never reached him as it went down with the ship. But, after the war, when I had the first opportunity to write letters from a Military Hospital in Rangoon, he was the only person from whom I received a reply. Not only that, he asked his uncle, Mr. Ghulam Hussain Shirazee, who was living in Rangoon, to see me, and Mr. Shirazee very kindly invited me to his home for dinner and to meet his family.

Later in life, I worked with Sadri, as Secretary, The Pakistan Jute Association in Narayanganj, when he was the Chairman of the Association. He was the most lovable person and we kept in touch with one another no matter where we were. We spent many pleasant early mornings playing golf, sometimes at the Dhaka Race Course, Golf course, or at the Cantonment.

In recent times, whenever he came to Karachi, one of the first things he would do, was to call me in the morning, and we spent some happy times at the home of his sister Robaba and Ali Akbar. Once in a while he would call from Dhaka, and my regret is that, when I called to speak to him on 14th May 2003, on his 80th birthday, he had, had a bad night and was asleep. However, we exchanged e-mails until a few months before he passed away. Sadri was the oldest close friend I had, and  he is no more. May the Lord Almighty, in His infinite mercy, grant him eternal heavenly peace in the company of those He loves most.

The most enjoyable holiday I spent in Dhaka was the summer of 1941. I was in my final year in the “Dufferin”, and there was plenty of  ‘home work’ and studying to be done in preparation for the Dufferin Final Passing Out Examination, later in the year. But a big event was to take place in Dhaka. The wedding of Hassan Reza Bhaijan and Hajra Bhabi. Therefore, I was allowed to accompany the rest of the family to attend the wedding. Majla Bhaia (Khwaja Wasiuddin), who had also come from Dehra Dun, and I, were to stay at “River View”, the home of Khwaja Muhammad Ismail, brother of our Nani (grandmother Begum Asghari Khanum) whom we called Ismail Bhaiia. He was a great personality, most generous and loving. There are many stories about his exploits. On one occasion, we were told, he asked his mother, Khodeija Begum (our great grandmother) for money to repair the clutches of his car.

It was a substantial amount which surprised his mother who asked why were these parts for the car so highly expensive. His answer was that they were made of silver. He thus succeeded in getting a large amount of money from her. He was married to Obaida Begum, from Benaras, lovingly called “Saut”, who was very fond of us, and made us all welcome in their home. Their daughter, Najma, my mother’s first cousin, hence my aunt, and ten days younger than me, was my closest friend, and the one whose letters I looked forward most to receive during my Dufferin days.

They used to be full of interesting news about our age group in the family. She, Majla Bhaiia and myself got on very well and spent a lot of time together, playing cards and other games chit-chatting etc. Her two brothers Anwar and Hamid were at the Muslim University, Aligarh, and were not in Dhaka at the time. Ibrahim was too young to be in our company. The two-storied house, “River View”, was situated on the banks of river Buriganga and, from the upstairs verandah it was so pleasant to see people walking on the road, country boats, some with sails, launches and steamers moving up and down the river. Quite often, Majla Bhaiia and I used to join some of the boys from Ahsan Manzil for a swim in the river.

Prominent among them was Rahman Bhaijan (Khwaja Rahman Quader). One day he paid two or four annas for a ‘foot-path’ barber to give me a shave. All of us spent a lot of time and had great fun at the Shadi bari, the house of uncle Syed Abdul Hafiz, father of the groom Syed Hassan Reza. All of us got together for dinner followed by musical sessions popularly known as Bhaitak. Young, as we all were, we had great fun teasing the girls. I have faint recollection of our train-ride to Laksham, the home of Hajra Bhabi, for the wedding.

I think nostalgically of the wonderful time we had – the last family get-together I attended as a teen-ager – and I had to leave immediately after the wedding on 11th July, to get back to Calcutta and continue with my preparation for the Final Examination. We were then staying at 30. Lower Range, and I was all by myself as the rest of the family were still in Dhaka. I used to spend four hours every morning – 7 to 11 a.m. – studying and then go visiting etc. That last summer holiday came to an end as I left Calcutta, at the end of August, to return to the Traning Ship to finally complete the three years of intensive training and proceed to sea.

Having mentioned about the time Sadri and I  spent watching our favourite team – Mohammedan Sporting Club of Calcutta – it would be most fitting to add here an article I wrote about this famous Club which appeared in the Millennium Memories issue of Dawn Karachi on Monday January 24, 2006:

“THE MOHAMMEDANS”, as the famous MOHAMMEDAN SPORTING CLUB of Calcutta was known in the days when they made football history by winning every major football tour­nament ‑ the IFA Shield in Calcutta, which was the blue riband’ of Football in India; the Rovers Cup in Bombay, and the Durand Cup in Simla; several other trophies, all in the same year; and having been Calcutta football League Champions (the most impor­tant Football League in India) for eight years from 1934 to 1945, and probably in later years as well.

“It was the year 1936, which every school boy of that time in Bengal would remember nostalgically, that the Mohammedan Sporting Club won the Calcutta Football League for the third year in succession, equalling the record so far held by a British Military team ‑ Durham Light Infantry. On that occasion, a poem appeared in the Star of India on 2nd July 1936, which appears at the end of this chapter, received through the kind courtesy of Zafar Ali Khan from Kolkata.

That year, for the first time, the Mohammedans also won the IFA (Indian Football Association) Shield and achieved the most coveted “DOUBLE”. Until then Mohun Bagan was the only Indian team which had won the I.F.A. Shield in the year 1911. However, what a great final that was, between the Mohammedans and the Calcutta Football Club, popu­larly known as the “CFC”, which consisted of 100 % British civilian footballers. The first two days the match ended in a draw.

Then, on the third day, the CFC took the lead in the first half of the game. I do not remem­ber at what stage of the second half, Rahirn, who hailed from Bezwada, near Madras, the inside right, equal­ized, and shortly before the end of the game, Rashid Ahmed, popularly known as Rashid junior, from Calcuta, scored the winning goal. He was playing Centre Forward in place of Hafiz Rashid (Senior), who had frac­tured his right shin bone in a league match. The moment the final whistle was blown by the referee, the whole of Calcutta erupted like a volcano.

It was the normal routine in those days, whenever the Mohammedans played, there was hardly a household throughout Bengal where elderly Muslim ladies were not sitting on their prayer mats and praying; and those who had radios, had their ears glued to their sets, listening to the running commentary on the game by the well known commentator, Bertie Meyer. While every match the Mohamme­dans played in the League or the Shield was watched and listened to with keen interest ‑ shop‑keepers used to shut shops to watch the – the local “Derby” – between the  Mohammedans and Mohum Bagan Football  Club. It is now a forgotten fact that a sig­nificant role was played by the Mohammedan Sporting Club in gal­vanizing the Muslims of Bengal at a time when the movement for attain­ing Pakistan was in full swing.

Originally known as Mohammedan A.C., its football team earned promo­tion from the 3rd Division of Calcutta Football League to the Second. Division and then to the First Division in successive years. 1 do not remember when the name of the club was changed, but it was, as Mohammedan Sporting Club, that it won the League in 1934 in its very first year in the First Division.

The Club had the support of all the well‑known and leading Muslims of Bengal, prominent among whom were Sir Adamjee Haji Dawood, Mirza Ahmed Ispahani, Hassan Ispahani, G.A Dossani, Khan Sahib S. A. Rashid and many others. The President of the Club was Khawaja Nazimuddin but the most important person who was solely responsible for organising, running and making it into one of the finest clubs in India was, Khwaja Nooruddin, who was elected Honorary General Secretary of the Club in 1936. He was assisted by Shafi Ispahani, (who was probably the Treasurer also) Azmat Ali, Abdul Jalil and Maulana Ghafoor.

The football team was made up of players from all over India. It had the services of four goal‑keepers that I can remember. Shirazee, a resident of Calcutta, Tasneemuddin (Bengal), Osman, from East Africa and Kaloo Khan (N.W.F.P.). The two regular full­backs were Jumma Khan (N.W.F.P.) and Serajuddin (Bengal). The half­backs were; Bachchi Khan (N.W.F.P.), Noor Muhammad (Senior) not sure where he was from) Rashid Khan (NW F.P.) and Masoom (from another well‑known football club ‑ the Bangalore Muslims).

The forward line was made up from among the follow­ing; Salim, and later, Noor Muhammad (junior) ‑ not certain where they came from. Rahim (Madras), Hafiz Rashid (Senior) from Nasirabad, U.P., Rashid Ahmed (junior) from Bengal, Rahmat (Bangalore Muslims), Saboo (Bangalore Muslims), Habib, Rahmat’s brother – (Bangalore Muslims), Samad (Bihar), the football wizard, who did not stay long with the Club, was from Eastern Bengal Railways, and Abbas Mirza, the Captain, from Bengal. With the exception of Jumma Khan, Bachchi Khan and Rashid Khan, and perhaps Abbas Mirza, all the players played ‘bare‑feet’ until football boots were made compulsory in the late forties. It is, therefore, all the more creditable that these play­ers, playing ‘bare‑feet” were able to get the better of fully booted British Military and Civilian teams.

It was during a League match in 1936, against the British team “Attached Section” that Hafiz Rashid (Senior), one of the finest football centre forwards of his time, fractured his shin bone, and when he was being taken out of the ground in a stretch­er, there was hardly a dry eye, and elderly people were seen crying openly. Because of this injury he could not play in the IFA Shield that year, and his place was most ably taken by Rashid Ahmed, popularly known as Rashid junior. He and the Captain, Abbas Mirza, were the only two University Graduates in the team. Rahim, from Bezwada, though not a graduate, was educated as he used to correspond with me, in English, while I was at school in Darjeeling. He was one of the three famous “R”s ‑ Rahim, Rashid (Sr.) and Rahmat; inside right, centre for­ward and inside left respectively.

Hafiz Rashid (Sr.) was in his eight­ies, when last heard of a few years ago, living somewhere in Karachi. Rashid Ahmed (junior) passed away in Dhaka a few years ago. We have no news of the rest, except that a brief news item in Dawn of April 13, 1991, reported the death of Jumma Khan, which prompted Mr. Anwar Enayetullah, from Karachi, to write (Dawn, 19.4.91) that he had been for­tunate to watch Jumma Khan in action, and his famous team for four yeas from 1942 to 1946. Recounting the achievements of the club and the famous players, he concluded suggesting: “It is time the history of the achievements of the magnificent sportsmen like Jumma Khan and his remarkable Club are recorded along with the commendable contribution of Khwaja Nooruddin’s family which was at the back of this great venture.”

The last time 1 saw this great team in action was in September, 1941, in Bombay. It was the last term of the three‑year training as Cadet aboard the Training ship, “Dufferin”, and it happened to be a Sunday when we had our ‘Shore Leave’, which we got once a month. I had no problem in deciding what to do as, on landing ashore around 9 a.m., I went straight to the Hotel where Uncle and Aunty Nooruddin were staying.

It was the day of the Final of the Rover’s Cup between MOHAMME­DAN SPORTING CLUB of Calcutta and the WELSH REGIMENT, a British Military unit stationed some­where in India, at the Cooperage in Bombay. I have such vivid recollection of the excitement that prevailed and 1 had the privilege of witnessing from close quarters the discussions, plan­ning etc., that went on as various peo­ple collected in the sitting room of the Hotel Suite occupied by Uncle and Aunty Nooruddin. I still remember how anxious Mr. Shafi Ispahani was about the important role that Bachchi Khan, the right half‑back, had to play to keep in check Hill and Langton (Inside‑left and Outside‑left respec­tively), the two British International Footballers serving with the Welsh Regiment. Bachchi Khan, a great half­back, had the reputation of losing his head on and off if the opposition tried to rough him up. Mr. Ispahani spent a lot of time with him explaining how important it was for him to keep his head and be cool and calm.’

It was one of the fastest games of football I had ever seen. Sitting next to Aunty Nooruddin, in the enclosure a few rows behind the Governor of Bombay and other well‑known per­sonalities, we were gripped with ner­vousness when the Welsh Regiment scored and maintained their lead at half time. The second half was even more exciting as the Mohammedans kept pressing and looking for an opening to equalize. Then came that great moment which I can still see in my minds’s eye; the most wonderful sight of Noor Muhammad (junior), one of the fastest outside rights of his time, tearing down the right wing, cleverly jumping over the sliding tackles by more than one defender, and sending a beautiful pass which landed a couple of feet in front of Hafiz Rashid (Senior) who made no mistake in placing it in the corner of the net.

That was the turning point of the game and the Mohammedans went on to score two more goals to beat the Welsh Regiment by three goals to one and win the Rover’s Cup. Perhaps someone who followed the fortunes of the Club during the years 1942 to 1945, when I was in Japanese captivity, and thereafter, or someone who can get more details from Club records in Calcutta, could add to what I have written, add names of those players and officials whom I may have left out due to lack of knowledge or failing memory, so that the history of this great Club, its role in the Pakistan movement, and those who were involved with it could be put on record before our generation passes away.

It is a matter of great coincidence – almost a miracle – that, while writing about this famous club, from out of the blue,I receive an e-mail on 8th May 2011 from an unknown person in Kolkata (Calcutta), Zafar Ali Khan, stating that he is making a documentary on Mohammedan Sporting Club and needs as much material as possible so that he could do justice to the club which has special attatchment and significance close to his heart.

I cannot find words to explain this coincidence. I got in touch with Shahnaz Babar, second daughter of the late Khwaja Nooruddin who was the Honorary General Secretary of the club, and she has given him as much material as she could lay her hands on, including a video clip. Zafar Ali Khan very kindly located and sent us the poem which appeared in the Star of India of 2nd July 1936, reproduced below:

Three cheers for Mohammedan Sporting !

The shrill of the whistle – a shower of claps –

Three lusty cheers at the close,

The Champions had played a most crucial match –

The whole of Calcutta roars.

Hip – hip – Hurray ! They’ve made history today,

For a Nation so proud of their feat;

Long live the champions – they’ve carried the day,

Their effort no rival can meet.

The laurels of fame now crown their great deed,

Victory – three years in succession;

They’ve equaled the record of the military team –

The Durhams – that now have no mention.

The absence of Rashid, their hero in need,

Though bitterly felt – yet with courage –

They played on with hopes – and did succeed,

In their sporting and friendly challenge.

With delight and applause wish the winners good luck,

Cheer the team of Mohammedan Sporting !

And hope that all times they’ll have courage and pluck,

And carry the day without doubting.                          E.M.

2 responses to “Chapter 7. Summer Holidays and Football in Calcutta

  1. If possible, please give me some details regarding, Mirza Ahmed Ispahani (Bara Sahib), Ghulam Hussain Sherazee (GH Sherazee), and Mohammad Jafar Sherazee who was the son in law of GH Sherazee, and most probably it was him that you mentioned, as Sherazee of the Mohammadan Sporting Club. I would be extremely grateful. Could you also give me the date, month and year when Bara Sahib passed away, and where is his body buried, and also of Mr. GH Sherazee whose house you visited in Rangoon.
    Love and best!
    Mehmood.

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