The idea of forming Parsee Gymkhana was born and pronounced in the rooms of the Ripon Club at Fort, which was founded only a year earlier (in 1884) by Sir Pherozeshah Mehta for Parsi liberals and gentleman with Western education. It was proposed to start a club or gymkhana where Parsi gentlemen of respectable position in society can obtain some healthy outdoor recreation.
Parsee Gymkhana was therefore formed on Wednesday 25th February, 1885. The hand written list of the first Managing Committee (written by either Nowroji Wadia or Dorab J. Tata, the Jt. Hon. Secretaries) on the letter head of Ripon Club is preserved by us (copy attached). All 15 members of the first committee were highly placed well known Parsis, with Sir Jamsetji Jijibhoy as its Founder President and Jamsetji Tata as the Chairman.
It was decided to initially make efforts to give facilities to members for playing games like cricket, lawn tennis & badminton. It was agreed that a plot of ground conveniently situated near Fort area be obtained and a tent pitched on it. Temporary arrangement was made by putting up a tent at the Oval maidan. With so many affluent and influential members willing to offer donations, it was decided to search for a better place and to construct a pavilion. On 12th January 1887, the committee drove to a large plot near Marine Lines station and within a week’s time a ground 160 yds. x 140 yds. was selected adjacent to railway line between two railway crossings north of Marine Lines station. Thus Parsee Gymkhana found its permanent home.
Four tennis courts (two concrete and two turf) were put up. Lawn tennis kit was ordered from England. Ground was levelled to prepare a cricket ground. A small temporary pavilion was ready in 1886. The first ever cricket team comprising of all Indians / Parsis visited England in 1886 and again in 1888. The Gymkhana also finalised its cricket blazer. It became the world headquarters of Parsi cricket. In 1988 the Gymkhana pavilion was ready.
Though Parsee Gymkhana may have been the focal point of Parsi cricket, there were other Parsi clubs located at Azad & Cross maidans, which were older than Parsee Gymkhana. The oldest being Esplanade Liberal Club formed by an individual Parsi, Behramji Surti. In 1895, the Parsis started playing what were known as Presidency matches. Every year two matches were played against European teams, one against Bombay Gymkhana and the other against Poona Gymkhana. In these matches, the Parsee Gymkhana was inviting prominent Parsi cricketers from other Parsi clubs to play for them to form a formidable team to match the Europeans. Then in 1908, the Hindus were invited to play this tournament, which was renamed Triangular tournament, which from 1911 was called Quadrangular tournament when Muslims were invited. Few of the outstanding yester years’ Parsi cricketers were Dr. M. E. Pavri, D. D. Kanga, H. D. Kanga, Jamshedji, Kapadia brothers (Dadi & Bahadur), B. Kalapesi, Dadi Havewala & a few more. Dorab Tata (founder Secretary & son of Jamsetji Tata) was an outstanding athlete who also excelled in many games.
Though cricket has always been the main sport of the Parsee Gymkhana, its members showed considerable proficiency at other games too. Tennis, which had started as early as cricket, for a while rivaled cricket in popularity. At the Annual General Meeting held on 31st January 1891, the Chairman was constrained to admonish the members on this matter saying “I am sorry to learn from the report that allurement of tennis has proved too strong for several cricketers during the off season and induced them to neglect the more manly game.” Another important game, Billiards was introduced in the Gymkhana in 1902, which is still popular.
Electric lights and telephone were installed in the year 1912 and a radio in 1927. The extension of gymkhana building, known as “Dinshaw Kanga Pavilion” was carried out in the late 1920s and soon thereafter, Parsee Gymkhana became well known for having one of the best badminton courts in the city of Bombay. Athletics (since 1889), football (1894) and hockey (1918) too were played regularly by the Gymkhana members since the early days. A silver trophy won by Dorab Tata in the year 1889 for middle distance running, still adorns the grand show case at the entrance of the Gymkhana.
In 1942, the Government requisitioned the Gymkhana ground and building when the effects of second world war was approaching Bombay. The Gymkhana was given partial use of the courts and ground at the Brabourne Stadium for sports activities and Currimbhoy House on Waudby Road was selected as the Gymkhana’s new temporary premises for the next 4 years.
The Gymkhana celebrated its centenary in Feb. 1985 with a 10 days’ celebration and 125 yrs. anniversary in Feb. 2010 with a 4 days’ celebration.