Club Culture in Guwahati
Subodh Malla Baruah
It was the last decade of 19th century when club culture had started to grow up in Guwahati. Here is a journey to the down memory lane
Though the British left this country but impression and impact of the raj continued through the institutions they left behind. They established educational institutions, spread football and other modern games and founded clubs to make their presence felt among people. They instituted clubs with the purpose of providing congenial surroundings where they could meet and exchange pleasantries among themselves.
The term club is usually applied to a particular organization of people who are tied by common interest. As humans, our primary need is to stay connected and clubs are one place where we can meet like-minded people and exchange ideas and thoughts while having a ‘good’ time. At the time of British raj, some clubs excluded natives and admission was restricted only to the British or white people. Naturally, the British who introduced the club culture in Gauhati can claim to be the one who heralded a club culture in the region.
Even though the British planted their feet formally in Assam after the Yandaboo Treaty in 1826, club culture took place in 1894 when Gauhati European Club was established. Soon after, few more clubs were established in Gauhati. It is claimed that the first club outside Britain was perhaps the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CC&FC) established in the year 1792. A year later, Calcutta Racket Club was established. Some of the oldest Indian clubs are Cochin Club (1821), Madras Club (1832), Bangalore Club (1868), Secunderbad Club (1878), Coonoor Club (1885) and Kodaikanal Club (1887).
So, club culture in Gauhati emerged a century after the first club was established. But it did not take too long for non-sahibs to become part of it, in Gauhati. Yet, locals were not allowed to be full-fledged members of the Gauhati European Club, which prompted the sentimental Assamese community to form a club named Indian club.
EUROPEAN CLUB OF GAUHATI
The European Club of Gauhati was established in the winter of 1894 on the banks of the Brahmaputra, where the present judges’ Bunglow stands. A “Europeans Only” meeting place from all walks of life. It was an oasis of exclusivity that resulted from their lack of interaction with the local community. This is the oldest club in Gauhati. The club culture of the British put its mark in the north-eastern part of India and prepared a platform for the British to meet and exchange their views and pass time at leisure with the formation of this club.
Though the establishment of the club is earmarked as 1894, but several prominent member of the club want to say that the club was born earlier. At the beginning of the 20th century, documents regarding the club’s initial year were burnt in a fire broke out in the club house. The club management was dominated by the British government officers and people from the Joint Steamer Company, Imperial Tobacco Company and officials from Steel Brothers. The club house with a traditional British style caught the eyes of the general people. The roof of the club house had four layers and made of 'kher'. The facilities then included the sport of Bridge, Billiards, Table Tennis, Lawn Tennis and Badminton. It even had three fishing boats for members. The club was exclusively for the Europeans. They never allowed Indians into the club. Even the members did not hesitate to behave rudely with the Indian people. It would not allow, other than its members, to use the Judges’ Field more than five days in a week. At the time of Christmas and New Year, the Gauhati European Club used Judges’ Field for a period exceeding even a month. The attitude and activities by members made them vulnerable to the local youth. The anger and hatred grow by the day. One day in 1896, before a Christmas Party, some youths of the locality entered the Judges Field and dug the cricket pitches. This forced the club authority to postpone cricket matches. Incidentally, this is the first recorded protest against the club's authoritarian rule. Then in the early years of 20th century, the newly formed Assam Anarchist Party led by a young Turk Asom Kesari Ambikagiri Roychoudhury in a midnight swoop set ablaze the club house along with valuable belongings. The fire almost finished the club house. Ambikagiri in his book titled 'Mor Jiwanor Dhumuha Achati' narrates the incident with pride. On the other hand, the British government tried its best to arrest those responsible for the incident but did not succeed. After the incident, the club authority constructed the club with the same vigour and design and started club activities all over again. In the year 1950, it had to vacate the premises as the government of the day acquired the land and buildings for the construction of High Court. The government acquired the land by paying a sum of Rs 121603.15 in 1950. The Club was subsequently set up on two steamers, "Dilwara" and "Cashmere" moored side by side at Uzanbazar Ghat as a temporary arrangement. It would have continued, but for an incident where an inebriated member, slipped from the wooden planks connecting the two steamers, and drowned. Rattled by this experience and not wanting any repetition, it was decided to change the venue yet again, and this time on to terra firma. The Club then shifted to a nearby building where the facilities more or less remained the same. In fact, a mini golf course and a shooting range were added. Indians were ultimately allowed to become full members with all attendant rights and privileges, including the right to vote, just a few months prior to Independence. In 1952, the club changed its venue to Kukurmuta presently known as Guwahati Club. At the beginning, the locality protested the activities in the club. One day, Asom Kesari entered the club and threatened members with dire consequence if they fail to stick to Indian culture. After that, prominent personalities like Radha Govinda Barua, Punya Duara and Bharat Das took the initiative to make the club an attractive one to the locals. They started organizing Bihu, Independence Day, Republic Day with fanfare. At present, people like-Navneet Agarwal, Utpal Barsaikia, Kaushik Barua, Sukumol Borah, Jitendra Newatia, Dr. Shyam Barua, Arun Sarawgi, Anit Banerjee, Dabiruz Jaman, Ravi Himatsingka, Rupa Barsaikia, Upasha Phookan are taking the lead in keeping the century-old flag flying.
GAUHATI TOWN CLUB
Gauhati Town Club (GTC) is one of the oldest and the premier sporting organizations in the North-east. It was in the year 1906 when Capt. L.B.Scott, I.M.S. who was a civil surgeon, Dr. H.K. Das, an assistant surgeon and founder secretary of the club; Sir Saiyid M Saadullah, an eminent lawyer and Khan Saheb Khalilur Rahman and others formed the club. The idea to form a club was conceived in the year 1901 but it was in 1906 the GTC came into being with its club house and pavilion at the Judges field. Captain Robert Bruce was the founder president and Dr Harekrishna Das was the founder general secretary of the club. Some famous personality of the state namely-- Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi, Mona Babu, Banku Behari, Hemanta Kumar Lahiri, Prabodh Kumar Lahiri, Tajen Sen, Ramesh Chandra Dasgupta, Chandra Nath Choudhury, Piyari Mohan Dutta, Giyasuddin Ahmed, Chapal Babu, Md Nurul Haque, Kamal Lahiri, Dr Deben Changkakoti, Debendra Nath Bordoloi, Md Mosahaque Faizuddin Ahmed, Roufoddin Ahmed, Premoda Kanta Sarma, Jogeswar Das, Ramesh Saraswati, Habibur Rahman, Hemrath Dutta, Mohibuddin Ahmed, Ramesh Guha, Gopal Nath, Kamala Kanta Choudhury, Aswini Sarma, Suresh Dasgupta, Kumar Rajendra Deb, Kamakshya Thakur, Jogabandhu Das, Srish Chandra Saraswati, et al also propped up the club in the initial years. Radha Govinda Barua, Pulin Das, Lohit Das, Prafulla Hazarika, NN Bhattacharya, Dayal Das also gave yeoman service to the GTC. Initially, GTC participated mainly in exhibition matches in football. In 1911, Prof. PC Roy donated a trophy in the name of his eldest son Prosenjit and GTC, Cotton College and Sonaram School participated in the triangular tournament. Hopefully, this is the first football tournament of the state. The club was essentially instrumental in introducing the coveted Bordoloi Trophy Football Tournament, initially played at the Judges' Field from 1952 to 1961. Ranji Trophy cricket matches were also played at the same venue. Judges Field was occupied by Indian Army at the time of Second World War. GTC is the first club team from Assam to participate in the famous Rovers Cup football tournament in Bombay. Some famous sporting heroes of Assam did GTC proud by wearing the club jersey in football and in cricket. Among the football stars like Dr Talimeran Ao, Debasish Roy, Prabin Phukan, Dilip Singh Kothari, Prabhat Hazarika, Dr S Gupta, Kamal Lahiri, Sushil Lahiri, Subedar Major Binoy Lahiri, Satya Bora, Dharitri Bora, Indrajit Namchoom, Animesh Ganguly, Hemanta Guha, Abdul Hamid, Gobinda Sarma, Upen Das, Rabin Nabis, Surya Borah, Amanullah, Sarat Das, et al. On the other hand, cricketers like Prabir Hazarika, Bimal Bharali, Badal Thakur, Khakan Ahmed, Abani Hazarika, Ram Prakash Kapur, Ashwini Rajbongshi, Sankar Dutta Lahkar, Gautam Hazarika also played for this club. GTC came into the limelight when they captured the coveted Lokapriya Bordoloi Trophy football thrice in 1954,1956 and 1963. GTC also celebrated its diamondjubilee with much pomp and grandeur and invited Moscow's Dynamo Minsk club for an exhibition match. Now under the presidentship of Health Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, the club has a modern club house with every facility, a lush-green green Judges Field, swimming pool and other sports infrastructure with a football academy.
In April 1907, 10 individuals of Gauhati led by Jogesh Chandra Sengupta, Pabitra Gupta and Uttam Chandra Das, formed a club named Oriental Club for promotion of sports in the city.Unfortunately, within two months, factions emerged in the group. A group led by Kartabya Gupta, Nripen Sen and Shyama Gupta formed another club in June 1907 with a peculiar name — Lago Shyama Club. According to sports historians, the name Maharana was adopted after Nripen Sen got inspiration after reading the life and character of Maharana Pratap. Incidentally, Maharana Pratap was being staged at Arya Natya Mandir for two days by a local theatrical party. Lago Shyama became Maharana Club from that day. It is debated by some who claim that Maharana Club was established in the year 1908 but it is generally agreed that Maharana’s first “public appearance” was in October 1907. Though Maharana made its mark in football but the club had its debut in a hockey match. Barefooted and equipped with bamboo sticks, a group of players, including Satya Banerjee, Deben Sen, Prabir Das, Gobar Dutta, Kiron Dutta, Canquo and Nripen Sen played hockey following a book on the sport. This club made important contributions towards sporting activities of Assam. Maharana became the first team from Assam to participate in a tournament outside the State when they joined with merit in the Govindalal Football Shield in Rangpur in 1932. In 1937, it reached the final of the Narayanpur Shield Competition at Dinajpur. In 1947, the club won the IFC Shield at Lucknow. In 1952, Maharana became the proud winner of the All India Kamal Kumari Trophy at Benaras.The club had some dedicated office-bearers like Animesh Ganguly, Gauri Himmatsingka, Manoranjan Bannerjee who got closely involved with its activities to take it to greater heights. Ganguly nursed the club throughout his life with fatherly care and his efforts did not go in vain. The Bengal government declared a half holiday when Maharana Club fought against Mohammedan Sporting in Calcutta in the IFA League in 1940.Besides Himatsinghka, Ganesh Sen, Anna Ram Baruah, Ashutosh Sengupta, Sashi Sarma, Murali Chowdhury and Debabrata Banerjee were closely associated with Maharana and left distinguished marks on different arenas of sports. On the other hand player like Dr Talimeran Ao (captain of Indian Olympic footbal team in the 1948 London Olympics), Sarat Das, the first captain of Assam team; Putu (Jiten) Choudhury and Pilik Choudhury represent the club and earned laurels for it. Later, Sarat Das became a household name in Bengal football. Though the club functioned from three different houses at Panbazar for a long time, in 1970s, the club purchased a famous old building named Mukherjee Lodge in Danish Road, Panbazar, where it is housed at present. This building, built in 1900, belonged to Panchu Gopal Mukherjee, the first Indian Deputy Commissioner of Assam. Maharana Club still carries nostalgic moments of para-culture or club culture of the city.
INDIAN CLUB OR INDIA CLUB
India Club was formed in the year 1933. The original name of the club is Indian club. The name speaks the sentiment of an influential section of the local people. It is one of the oldest tennis clubs of the state and some illustrious sons of Assam helped this club to grow into a premier club nowadays. Rai Bahadur Kanaklal Barua, Dr Harekrishna Das, Gopinath Bordoloi Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Bishnu Prasad Duara, Dr Jyotish Chandra Das, Prof. P C Roy, Prof A C Dutta, Prof Indu Mohan Sarkar, Prabodh Lahiri, Hemanta Lahiri, Debi Prasad Barooah, Bhabani Prasad Barooah, Subodh chandra Das, B S Guha, Justice P K Goswami, Dr Gunabhi Ram Das, Dr K C Barooah, Dr Hiranya Kumar Bhuyan, Iswar Das Bhuyan, Chidananda Das, Priyalal Das, Bibekananda Bharali, Dharanidhar Choudhury, Premadhar Choudhury were among those who contributed to the setting up of the club on the southern part of Dighalipukhuri. The club soon became the hub for the Indians. Before Independence, Gauhati European Club had two types of membership. One was categorized as half member and the other was full member. The club management had a policy from the start that full membership will not be accorded to Indians because that entitled a member all facility, including voting rights. Hence, the club management decided that Indians would be given half membership. A ‘half member’ was not entitled to vote in any meeting. According to documents, only three ndividuals namely-- Sir Saiyid M Saadullah, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and P C Roy, a professor of Cotton College got half membership of the club. This prompted the setting up on Indian Club. In 1938, Indian Club was rechristened into India Club. During Wolrd War II, the club was under the jurisdiction of military. After independence, India Club rose from strength to strength and established itself as one of the prestigious clubs of the city. From a mere Assam-type house in the 1940s, it was transformed into a five storey building near the famous Dighalipukhuri. The club is now the hub of tennis activities in the State.
CLUB OF BLACK SAHIB
Some Anglo Indian people employed by the Railways, Telegraph and Steamer Company and based at Gauhati started a club before Independence at Panbazar Telegraph Office complex and put a new dimension to the club culture in the city. It organised sporting activities among its members. In the evening, members participated in dance and exchange pleasantries among themselves. It also set up a tennis court. The club was known as the Club of Black Sahib. Some years after Independence, local people took over the management of the club and started playing badminton among themselves and hosted an All Assam Open Invitation Badminton Tournament in its premises. After some years, the club was disbanded and the Telegraph Department constructed a multistoried building on where the club had so proudly existed.
In the last part of 19th century, an organisation named Ekata Sabha was formed. The Sabha emphasized physical culture and socio-cultural activities. After some years, Ekata Sabh started its sports wing which was known as Union Athletic Club. This was is in 1903. UAC started its journey through cricket, football and volleyball. At the same time, the Sabha also formed a cultural unit. UAC used to practice football and other outdoor games in the northeastern area of the Judges Field but Gauhati European Club refused it permission to practice in the Judges Field after the first few months. At that time, the locality was surrounded by a big tank named Latasil Pukhuri. In 1889, Manik Chandra Barua took an initiative and filled-up the tank and UAC started practicing there. It was in this fashion, the Latasil Field came into the history of Gauhati. Initially, Karmabir Nabin Chandra Bordoloi took the lead role in developing UAC into a big one. Under the stewardship of Karmabir, an atmosphere of sportsmanship and camaraderie in the locality was created. Players like Nip Barua, Girin Barua, Durga Choudhury, Garokon, Kalinath Sarma started their eventful journey in sports from this club. The first captain of Assam football team Jiten Choudhury and Pilik Choudhury also started playing in Latasil Field and caught the attention of everybody. After a great run, the club lost steam mid-way through but some energetic youth of the locality came to its rescue and started organising different socio-cultural activity, including Saraswati Puja. At that time, one of the successful footballers of the state Nip Barua with his innovative skill gave a new outlook in the set design of Saraswati Puja. Barua also proved his versatility in the world of films after retiring from football. UAC’s journey abruptly ended before Independence.
Para culture or club culture got a tremendous boost after the Independence of India. Some noteworthy sports and socio-cultural clubs started its journey in Gauhati. Every para now has its own community club with a club room and often a playing field. Some prominent example of this type of para club is Santipur Athletic Club, Young Amateur, Rising, Friends Union, Kohinoor Club, Rajbari Athletic Club, Dynamo, Navajyoti, Sunrise, Navarang, Ranibari, Young Union, Boys Union, West Gauhati Club, etc. Santipur Club has its support base around Santipur and Bharalumukh while Young Amateur enjoys the backing of its fans in and around Machkhowa; Rajbari enjoys a massive base in Manipuri Basti while Dynamo has Kachari Basti backing it. Ulubari and Rising draws its strength and motivation from Chatribari. Whereas Santipur was established in the year 1961, Dynamo was founded in 1970. Rajbari was registered in 1958 while Navajyoti was set-up in 1965. Meanwhile Sunrise came into existence in 1957, Young Amateur was formed in 1970. Friends Union came into being in 1943 and Rising got off the ground in 1951. In the fifties, several club cropped up in the Pan Bazar locality. Subodh Barman (Lin) and Pankaj Barua established Ranibari Club in the Ranibari area. Once a familiar name in Assam football, Ranibari produced players like Choukhum Sujit Gohain, Debananda Das, Hemen Barua, Sambhu Tamuly, Nalini Barua, among others. At the same time, people of Lakhtokia established Kohinoor Club. Bengalis from Panbazar formed Boys Union while some others formed Young Union Club. Young Union produced players like Gobinda Kalita, Kanak Bordoloi. Kanak Bordoloi narrowly missed an Olympic berth in 1956. Incidentally, Young Union Club is the second club from Assam to win a football tourney outside Assam after Maharana. The club won a football competition at Katihar in 1948. Its players practiced and honed their skills at Jubilee Garden in Panbazar Panikol. On the other hand, West Gauhati Club is the heartbeat of the people of West Gauhati. Former Union Law Minister and famous football commentator Dinesh Goswami besides Naba Das played with merit for this club. Friends Union won the very first edition of Gauhati Football League. Kohinoor Club of Lakhtokia became the runners-up in the very first year. Para club has been adding value to Assam’s social system in the true spirit. Even though club culture in United Kingdom is now a multi-million pound industry but Assam’s club culture has its riches in the respect people have for players and administrators.
(The author is the Sports Editor of Dainik Asam.)
PHOTO : India Club