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New makeover revises glory of iconic Islam Gymkhana in Mumbai
October 22, 2017, 5:08 pm

Described as one of the heritage building, the Islam Gymkhana in Mumbai is witnessing a modern makeover in a bid to revive the  glory of this iconic building, which was established as a social and sporting club.   The makeover has not only restored its past glory but has enabled this historic institution to move ahead with the times.

Facing the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea on the Marine Drive, land to the Islam Gymkhana was allotted in 1890 by the then Bombay Governor Lord Harris. Sir Khan Bahadur Kazi Shahabuddin was elected as the first President of the Gymkhana in 1892.

Islam Gymkhana soon donned the mantle as a leading sporting body of Mumbai and played a pivotal role, along with the Parsi Gymkhana, in the promotion of cricket as a key national game. In fact, Islam Gymkhana housed the Bombay Cricket Association in its premises till 1942.  It is also considered as the alma mater of Indian cricket and till today various cricketing events are held here.

In 1942,  during the Second World War, the Islam Gymkhana and Parsi Gymkhana were taken over by the British Government as an emergency measures and its members were allowed to use the facilities of the Hindu Gymkhana which was situated nearby.

But with cricket catching the national imagination and new stadium like Wankehde coming up, the focus shifted to the new venues, although Islam Gymkhana continued to host some local sporting events. Over the years, the institution had not much role in its coffer

In 2000, a towering businessman of Mumbai, Zakaullah Siddiqui, a key name in the travel sector besides other business interests, was elected as President of Islam Gymkhana.  Known among friends as a go getter and a visionary, Zakaullah soon got down to script a new chapter in the history of the gymkhana.

“ My major task was to attract existing  members of the institution, some of whom barely visited the gymkhana, and get them involved in the sporting body's activities. I worked on various fronts to make this happen,” recalled Zakaullah.

Among the first task that he identified was to set new meeting points where members could meet and interact.   The conference hall was fully renovated with ACs, new sofa set, tables and chairs. “We also worked to renovate the meeting room on the ground floor that could hold a small conference.”

Along with Honorary Joint secretary Rizwana Panjani, who was also  an event management expert, Zakaullah decided to set up  two new  restaurants which had Mughal aura associated with it. The two restaurants, Diwan-i-Aam and Diwani-i—Khaas, boasted not only Mughlai, but also of Chinese, Continental and vegetarian delights.

Ornately designed Diwan-i-Khas, which provided cuisines at a very reasonable rate, was inaugurated by thespian Dilip Kumar in 2003. In the evening with bracing fresh air blowing from the sea, Zakaullah made a wide seating arrangement on the spacious lawns for members to sit and enjoy their tea.  In addition, he set up a modern gym for physical fitness, renovated billiard rooms, created a new indoor game center,  besides renovating the card room.

The members returned in drove, many new members joined the old list and today Islam Gymkhana boast a membership of 1,500 prominent citizens.   “When we took over in 2000, we had a small corpus of fund just at  Rs80 lakhs today we have a reserve  capital of Rs15 crores.”

With the demand for membership increasing the Islam Gymkhana hiked its admission fee and yet the demand continues to soar. “We have decided to maintain a healthy balance and keep membership controlled to a level that we can handle”.

Zakaullah said his main aim was to revive the glory of this historic institution which its founding members had dreamt and aimed for. “Our focal area remains to give the best facilities to our members, to make it modern  and  blend the past with modern outlook.”

Islam Gymkhana till today is the headquarters of Indian Billiard Association.  “Our committee will continue to put focus on the institution as a social and sporting club.  I am happy that large number of our members now use our facility for their family function like marriages, birthdays and even their social meets.”

Zakaullah has many other plans up his sleeve for this institution which already has become a talk of the town.


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