Assam - Jorhat

 December 16 2012
We are grateful to Pullock Dutta of the Telegraph in Calcutta for sending us this story of 80 years ago--we will try to keep you up to date on the progress of this story
Thank you Pullock




(From left) The head of the New Zealand TV crew, David Lomas, and Jorhat businessman O.P. Gattani examine documents relating to Albert Douglas Masters in Jorhat on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos

Jorhat, Nov. 29: A New Zealand television crew trying to trace the history of a British officer, who lived here in the 1920s and had subsequently gone missing, believes his disappearance could have had something to do with some money belonging to the Jorhat Race Committee going missing.

Albert Douglas Masters, the missing Briton, was the secretary of the committee when the cash disappeared. He also ran a garage here.

"Masters went underground soon after some funds of the race committee went missing. He fled to England where he changed his name to Alec St John Masters and remarried," David Lomas, producer of a TV series called Missing Pieces in New Zealand, told this correspondent today.

Lomas and his crew are trying to unravel the mystery of the missing man who used to stay in the bungalow of the present manager of Cinnamara Tea Estate with his wife and three daughters.

Lomas and his crew arrived here on Tuesday, started filming recorded documents regarding Masters yesterday and will leave tomorrow for London en route Calcutta and Singapore. Lomas said the episode on the Britisher is scheduled to be complete by March next year and would be aired in 60 countries across the world. The Telegraph had reported about the expected visit of the TV crew from New Zealand in an article published on November 8.

Lomas said Masters' youngest daughter, Veronica Jeen Masters, 84, who lives in Auckland now, had approached him for help to find out what happened to her father after he went missing in 1932.

"It's been four months now that we are working on this. We will be going to England from here to probe further," he added.

Masters was a member of Assam Valley Light Horse Infantry and the Jorhat Masonic Lodge. His wife and three daughters had returned to England in 1932 and he was supposed to follow after wrapping up things in Jorhat. However, his family never heard from him again. His wife, who was left destitute, then approached the Masonic Lodge in London for help. The organisation agreed to pay for the education of her three daughters.

Lomas said Masters wrote his last letter to his three daughters - Jeen, Pam and Angela - on July 15, 1932 from Cinnamara. "That was probably the last letter from Masters to the family and it mentioned how a storm damaged a cowshed in the bungalow where a calf was injured," he said.

The New Zealander said investigations have revealed that Masters remarried a British lady, Florence Wild, who was then a nurse based in Calcutta. "Shipping records revealed that he sailed back to England but we are yet to find out when he married for the second time and when he came in contact with Florence."

Lomas said Masters, who owned about seven horses, was the secretary of the Jorhat Race Committee in 1932. Records of that year show that the committee had to borrow Rs 3,000 from other sources to run the races because of shortage of funds. "This was the time when Masters went missing. The exact amount that went missing from the committee's kitty is not known but would be a minimum of Rs 3,000 as it had to borrow that amount to run the races that year. Masters may have fled with more than Rs 3,000."

He said it was not known where Masters had his garage in Jorhat but he could possibly have worked in a garage of the Allied Forces at Rajabari, where the Industrial Training Institute is located at present.

"This was the place where the Allied Forces had a garage in those days and several British officers used to work there," Lomas said.


February 22 2011

We are grateful to Ali Zaman for forwarding this article from the Telegraph, Calcutta
Kids take on Jorhat reins-
Students display riding skills before 131-year-old derby
Participants in the horse show at Jorhat Gymkhana Club on Monday. Picture by UB Photos

Jorhat, Feb. 21:
Jorhat Gymkhana Club today handed over the reins of horses to schoolchildren, hoping that they keep the sound of hoofs alive.

The occasion was the Junior Equestrian Exhibition, held significantly a day before the 131-year-old Jorhat Horse races begin tomorrow.

High school students from Numaligarh Delhi Public School and youngsters present at the Jorhat Gymkhana Club displayed their skills at the exhibition-cum-competition, organised with help from the Assam Equestrian Federation.

The idea was to acquaint children with horses so that they grow up to love the animals and even stable them.

Organisers of the derby have watched traditions change and wane - fearing that the saddles-less Mising ponies currently used in the Derby will disappear just like the British-era horses.

The steward of the Jorhat races, Pranab Bhattacharyya, said the day is not far when the Misings will no longer need horses because of rapid developments in agriculture and roads.

"These domestic horses are used for ploughing, pulling carts and other work but with tractors, good roads and vehicles making life easier, the Misings may no longer require these horses and like the horses used in the days of the British, these, too, may disappear from the scene. We hope that by popularising horse-riding among children, they will later be interested to stable horses," Bhattacharyya said.

As the children took the ground, there was little fear in the air - for the present or future - but sound display of skills in events that ranged from hack, sack and musical statue to balancing tennis racquet and ball and quadrille.

Brig. (retd) KS Rao, coach of the Assam Equestrian Federation, Dibrugarh, said the hack contest basically tested how well the horse was trained for pleasure-riding.

Since the horse is being used for joy riding it should not buck, bite or kick and should be docile and easily led.

Moreover, the riding habit and control of the children over their horses are also taken into account, Rao said.

In musical statue, the horse led by trainers on foot had to freeze when the music was stopped.

The racquet-balancing contest was where the rider had to balance a tennis ball atop a racquet while riding.

The quadrille was a musical event where four horses and riders performed cartwheels and other tricks to music.

Numaligarh DPS and Assam valley School, Tezpur, are the only two schools in Assam where horse-riding is taught.

Siddhartha Sharma, secretary of the Assam Equestrian Federation and representative of the Northeast in the Indian Equestrian Federation, said tea planter of Dibrugarh, Manoj Jalan, who had set up the federation on his land, was committed to popularising equestrian sport in the region, particularly among children.

"They are the future and there is hope of equestrian events becoming popular in the region if they take to riding," Sharma said.

After a day with children, the Jorhat grounds will prepare for the races tomorrow.

Actor Nishita Goswami will hand over the Governor's Cup on the last day, February 26, as the governor is indisposed, because of a broken leg.


Celebrating it's 125th Anniversary

March 2004

This is the Story of the Celebrations to mark the 125th Anniversary of the Founding of  
                                          "The Jorhat Club" --
This has been taken from  The Flashback  programme edited by Dr Bikaas Barooa and
under the direction and support of the Club President Hemen Barooah--
Please enjoy

To read the stories/pictures please click on the #

# Twenty Years Ago                                     H. Ferguson

#Riding to fame  saddle-less                      Sanjoy Barkataki

#Flashback.............................................      Bikaas Barooa  

#Governor of Assam..............................Dr Bhisma Narain Singh

#Pictures From Programme   ..... Click each small picture and it will enlarge with title. 
                                               Click larger image to return to small images

#The Sundial & the first stolen car................Chandra Kant

#The missing car and the fly ...........         .....B.S.Sukarchakia

#Ramblings of a time gone by ....................Indrani Sen

End of an era                                             Susil Doss

#Equinism,Humanism,and a flying horse.......Barun Banerjee

#Dahlings! through the eyes of a tyler...........Hemen Barooah

#Gone with the wind..................................Ali Zaman

#Down memory Lane....................Basanta K. Goswami

#The week that never slept...........                ...Eric Ram

#the most remembered sights                               Balamani Bezbaruah

#Nostalgic memory of a bygone day                        K.N. Sircar

#jorhat races                                             B.C. Mahanta  Hony. Secretary

#My Experiences & Vision                                     Dr Tapan Dutta

The Flashback

I am sure, I was not more than eight years old when I had the first step inside the Jorhat Gymkhana Club. On those days we the local kids were allowed to move freely in and outside it, but of course on Saturdays only. We could even see the movie! Ah, what a thrill it was! We saw from much below the screen everything in it vertically elongated!! What excited us tremendously were the cars, the actions, comedy, and the 'english type' kisses. I still remember many scenes from the film `The way way out', - one of the funniest ever made on celluloid ...

Every Wednesday, eight heroes played Polo in front of the Gymkhana Club. That was the real, ultimate adventure and quite obviously we could never afford to miss it. Neither we could forget to collect the ball after the game was over, and take it home as a memento!

And then, - the `Horse Race'. For us at that time, - that was the greatest show on this universe! No other festival, except Durga Puja, could come closer to this `maha-mela'. As one of our contributors Mr. B. K. Goswami beautifully described, - the very word, - Jorhat Races, - would once spell magic for not only the tea planters in and around Jorhat, but also the entire population of the district, - rich and poor, urbane and rustic. It used to be a great occasion for everyone. For one whole week, JGC ground used to wear a festive look. Thousands would throng the 'Khelmaati' from every nook and corner to watch animals of equine species in action. This local 'derby' used to have white Europian riders, - both men and women on tall Australian stallions or short Arabian ponies, right down to local Mishing tribal jockeys astride even smaller ponies without saddles'. Then there were the attractive stalls. The exhibition was wonderful. A lot of villagers came for 'jhaandi-mundaas'. Local people got immediately involved with putting up cycle stands, shops, selling spicy pokoras, luchi, puri, pithaa, laddu and what not. Also we were fascinated by beautiful men and women who we thought perhaps came from abroad.

As a little kid we also came to know that Jorhat Gymkhana Club was such a great thing which we could always be proud of. It appeared to us just like a tourist spot. Whenever asked by a stranger of our address, we liked to name it as the only mark of identification.

Yes, no doubt the world has changed. At least a lot in last 125 years. But JGC is still there. With all its glory, and its spirit, not to speak of the nostalgia, the history, the sweet memories. Let us hope for a more wonderful future.

Bikaas Barooa

 Page 6

      Dr Bhishma Narain Singh

DR BHISMANARAINSINGH                      

Assam Governor has been the Chief Patron of the Jorhat Races since its inception. Jorhat being one of the traditional centres of Assam Tea industry was the hub of the social life of the British Administration and Tea Planters those days and continues to be a major cultural and sporting centre of the State even today. In olden days planters congregated from all parts of Assam and Bengal for the Race Week at Jorhat which was regarded as an occasion of Social get together. The Governor of Assam used to ritually come down here every year from Shillong, the then capital of Assam, to give away the Governor's Cup. I am happy to write that the profits from the Races were given to charity and this laudable tradition continues till today. "Service to man is service to God". Charity is the Via-media of rendering service to mankind. It is in the fitness of things that a renowned organisation like Jorhat Gymkhana Club is extending their helpful hands towards charitable causes which is of great importance for social uplifting.  

The situation in the country today is vastly different from what it was when the Races were held at Jorhat during the old colonial days. Like everything else, the Races also have to move with the changing times. I am happy that in Jorhat you have been able to make the adjustment making this particular event both traditional and a continuing one. Horse Races, in the annals of sports, date back to ancient civilization. Modern Races are simply evolution in the events of sports. I am glad to mention that this traditional sports have become not only enjoyable in and around Jorhat, but also a source of support for charitable causes.

On its 125th anniversary this great and old organisation, under the stewardship of Shri H. P Barooah and his colleagues, will continue to serve the people of Assam and the country in its humble way in the days to come. I take this opportunity to wish you all the best in the years to come.  


The Sun Dial and the First Stolen car of  a Tea planter

Those were the days my friend we thought they It shall never end. Such one event or institution of those golden days was the Annual JORHAT RACE WEEK and the year 1956.

Pat Williamson & John Morrice - the Guardian Angel and the Camellia Giant of the Williamson Magor were on the North Bank of W.M. Camellia Empire. They were to fly back to Sangsua for J.R.W. meet by the W.M. Plane Piloted by the Ace Pilot of the Pilots-who else-but-Tony Torrence!

At the schedule time the Two Mughlas duly arrived at Majulighur, air strip with Eric Hammay at the wheels, all looking more pink then the setting sun and getting redder by the minute waiting for Tony. Fortunately he arrived late by minutes - unforgivable by all tea standards. To add to the hurt pride Tony was accompanied by who else - but - Chandra -The Chota Brown Sahab to take Tony's jalopy back to his bungalow for rest, care and murham patti!

While I got away with the "stares", Tony received the dressing down by Eric Hanny - the Superintendent Saheb. When asked for an explanation of my presence and not being on duty, I with a straight face replied - we were chasing Burra Sahib "Goroos" to clear the air field for take off! Next morning, Eric Hannay received an indent for the latest Rolex Watch specially meant for Pilots, the indent was of course turned' down. Tony was advised to buy the watch personally. Like no other but Tony, he put another. indent for fairly lavish quantity of Sand, Cement and What not. Duly summoned to explain the indent and its purpose pat came the answer for five "Sun Dials". One for the Airstip, One for Superintendent's Bungalow, One for the Pilot's Bungalow and Two for the Jorhat Race Course, One at the starting line and the other at the finishing line for Horses to see they start and finish punctually at the right time. That ended all the arguments but in 1956 Christmas Tony received a Christmas Present from Pat Williamson - a watch - so goes the horses tail / tale!

Many veterans and planters of the time would remember Tony's 1936 Austin / Ford tourer with no doors, thatch top and tyres stuffed with Hessian Cloth fortubes. A photograph of the Car duly made the pages of the Statesman and Daily Telegraph of London in spring of 1959.

Tony are you listening/ reading! where are you? I am not letting out the other secret when you lost your way in the Skies to end up in Lucknow while taking "Moth" from Assam to Calcutta for annual checkup. Its another story that by chance a marriage was taking place in Lucknow and you and John Reece of B.B. were expected to materialize from thin Air!

Having had most of the Bridges from Mangoldoi to Behali in Bishnauth named after him, W.M's decided to send the undersigned to South Bank to take charge of Soraipani in Mariani -Jorhat belt-the last remaining bastion of dear old East India Tea Company - and possibly to give him a opportunity to have more bridges named after him. While dear old Ambassador was fast at 30 km/hr. the bridges used to fly past midnight at 80 kms/hr. How so ever louder the car honked and rear axle rattled the bridge would not get out of the way - the result - Big Bang - another bridge named! But this is only an introduction of what is to follow during Jorhat Race Week of 1977.

During the first interval of the film dressed in D.J. Hemen Barooah, the then Director of Williamson Magor and East India Tea Company and yours truly were standing on the Club Verandah and sipping the first whisky of the evening. Suddenly Chandrakant says aloud to himself, "that's my car being driven away". On being asked by Hemen what's that - he was advised," somebody is driving away my new car and in return was reminded by the companion, "come on, this is your first drink and it's too early for all that. Second interval followed and another drink - but no sign of the car or worry. After second interval came time to attend the "Lodge". So we drove off to the Lodge followed by Indian Curry at the only Sardar Sahib restaurant at Jorhat and then back to the Club hoping the car might have been returned by the errant planter. Those days any key could fit any Ambassador!

Even at that reasonable hour passed midnight it was decided to lodge a report at the Police Station and the two gentlemen dressed in D.J. & very very sober arrived at the Jorhat Police Station to report the theft a stolen car. The Hawaldar on duty who was already frightened to see Hemen Barooah in person could not believe a Tea planter's car could be stolen and that too from Jorhat Club. We were politely requested to go home and sleep it off. After much persuasion, he decided to wake the S.H.O. who also could not believe a planter's car could have been stolen from the Jorhat Club. At last a report was filed and Hemen kindly offered bed & breakfast before deciding on the next step. We both were sure the car will be back in the morning. Next morning having got up as usual at 5 am as planters do, I headed in an usual direction when a most feminine shriek of horror made me fully awake and to realize that I was not in my bungalow but in the corridor of Hemen's palatial Bungalow. Mrs. Barooah who had retired to bed early blissfully unaware that Hemen had brought a guest in the middle. of the night and the man dressed in D.J. was not black ghost but yours truly.

Next day with Hemen's contacts in administration and mine with the Army, Indian Air Force, road blocks were put out till SiliguriI in West Bengal for a look out for a silver blue new ambassador. Yet no sightings reported.

Once back on the garden, Bamboo Telegraph was activated. Some Naga's working as contract labour at Soraipani reported seeing mysterious lights on the normaly unused cart / Jeep track which only the daredevils and the brave some time used for Shikar and to go to the Inner Line without permit. The lead was followed, the hurt planter turned Sherlok Homes and his son, back from Sherwood Nainital for holidays playing "My dear Watson" borrowed the assistant's car and went up the hills. Soon some friendly Nagas patronizing Soraipani weekly "Haat" recognized the Burra Sahib. On enquiry they merrily informed him that his car was with the Naga Youths out for Shikar and shoot. Soon we arrived at their camp. The lone watchman was courteous and pointed out where the car was hidden, but I was to await the arrival of the leader. Around 3 pm the party arrived in high sprits loaded with their kills. The leader turned out to be the brother in law of a fellow planter and son of Ex District Magistrate and Collector of Darrang (Tezpur). The leader was the son of D.M.'s Naga wife and had taken to the "Hills" to help the "cause". After much anger, laughter, and back slapping.the car was duly returned to the owner after being away from the stables for 7 days.

I was later told I was lucky to return alive. Many years latter, a letter from the Transport Commissioner's Office Shillong arrived in Mauritius redirected from my last posting in Tanzania . The letter enquired, "how a car engine of a car registered in your name was found in the Transport Commissioner's car". To which I replied ask the Transport Commissioner - mercifully to which I received no reply.  

The Missing car and the naughty fly

Two amusing instances come to my mind connected with the Race Week activities of yester-years. First one was narrated to me but I was witness to the second one.

Race Week had come to end very successfully, as usual. Planters were sitting down in their own groups in the Jorhat Gymkhana Club premises and were enjoying their drinks while listening to those who were boasting about the great contribution they had made towards the success of recent event.

These groups were made up of superintendents, senior managers, managers, acting managers, assistant managers etc as was in vogue at the time. One such group consisted of spirited young planters who carried on drinking while one by one all other groups had melted away.

During the drinking session of this group, one very observant young planter interrupted its serious proceedings. While pointing towards a moving Ambassador car, which came out of car parking area and went out of the club gate, he said, "Hey look, how funny, that car looks exactly like mine." Since his observation had no connection with the proceedings of the session, no one paid any attention to it and the group including him, and continued with its agenda- hard drinking !

As all good things have to come to an end, so did the ,most enjoyable proceedings of this get-together of these tough young planters. And one by one, they all staggered towards their respective cars in the car parking area and, drove off merrily, one by one.

However, the final score was one car short and the observant young planter, who had interrupted the proceedings of the session earlier in the day, could not find his Ambassador car at the end of the evening!

As the years passed, the planters had become less fussy about their seniority while choosing people to socialise with. So one saw senior planters and the younger lot freely mixing with each other at equal level socially in the clubs and the bungalows.

During this era, at the end of a satisfactory Race Week, some senior planter couples and not so senior, were having drinks together in the sun in front of the Jorhat Gymkhana Club. They talked about the recently concluded event soberly and how to get more people interested in it next year to improve this famous annual fixture.

In one group amongst the senior couples was a Bara Mem. Sahib (Mrs. X) who was very pucca-pucca in all respects. However, when she was really amused, she would roar with a non-Victorian laughter which could be heard by one and all, even in a very big gathering. Mrs. X had rather a slim built with very mild physical contours. In the same group that day was sitting a younger planter (Mr. A) and his very sweet-natured wife. Mr. A was famous for coming out with sudden unpredictable remarks which did not always amuse every one, specially the pucca-pucca types. This younger couple was in the same tea company as the pucca-pucca Bara Mem-Sahib (Mrs. X) and her husband. But the relationship between them was not exactly very appreciative of each other.

Having discussed the various suggestions to involve more people in the next Race Week, the conversation of this group drifted towards the attributes of some characters in the planting community.

 At one point Mrs X said about some one, "there are no flies on him". Immediately and all of a sudden Mr. A addressed Mrs. X saying," but, my dear, you have a fly on your tity". There was a pin drop silence like the lull before the storm.  Mrs A looked almost dead with shock and embarrassment while all others eyes got focused on Mrs. X. She lowered her nose and chin with great grace and dignity and looked at her chest and abrubtly shot back at Mr. A and said, "you are damn well right," while waving off a fly from a particular spot on her snow-white polo-neck top. Simultaneously, looking all around to eveyone's utter surprise she then burst our in her trade-mark laughter so loud that even the bar­man came out of the club to see as to what had happened. Upon seeing the bar-man, Mrs. X ordered a round of drinks for all and the dying party got into full swing once again

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Ramblings of a time gone by
The Jorhat Races --198

On the green, the peaceful expanses, the winter chill, a bright sunny day. Awake, arise the campus is abuzz in anticipation. The Jorhat Races, no less than Ascot or Derby , are to begin.

The hobnobers out in their finery, the children excited and full of plans, anyone but everyone must attend. The grand event, held annually at the Jorhat Gymkhana Club - one of the finest of its kind with an enviable golf course doubling albeit as the racing turf. The need of the hour, adaptability. All for the joy of the moment, of life and living so seldom found.

Sturdy steeds, though not handsome, chosen carefully from rural surroundings and lungi clad jockeys on bareback - truly a visual experience. Though one will find the paraphernalia, the betting to be of the highest order.

Hi ! Hello! Did you see so and so ..... you've really missed something. A couple of rounds at the bar and then we'll try our luck with the betting. Smartly dressed gentlemen, well groomed ladies abound. The talk of the occasion Mr. Hemen Barooah, President of the event on how neat and dapper he looks in the latest blazer that he's wearing. Witty, charming, very much the ladies man. Important personality, skillful businessman, art connoisseur, truly a man of many parts. Then again Mr. Susil (Dushtu) Doss, a stalwart of his time rarely to be found today. Proprietor of the famous Doss & Co., the prestigious departmental store established during the British era handling the distribution of cars to milk powder - basically the works. No less smartly turned out in pristine white dhoti and kurta both well starched and highly polished pump shoes, the epitome of Indian gentry. Sweet natured, soft, dignified, the VIP of the occasion all set to flag off the races - so important a part of life in Jorhat and the neighbouring areas.

We trudge to the inspection area to choose the horse/ mule we feel would be the best to bet on. A difficult choice by any standards. Resplendent in their ugliness and underfed appearances the best of us would underestimate these hardy animals. The choice being made and bets laid, binoculars would then take up their positions and lusty cheers would fill the sky for each selected steed. Alas, not to be. None of our choosen few were destined to win. They all look the same but their numbers don't lie. Bronzed jockeys on bareback as sweaty as their beasts - one race down, several more to go.

The children place their bets, feeling all grown up, thrilled when they win and heartbroken when they lose. Little understanding the modalities of it all. Honestly, I'm confused about it myself.

Myraid participation from the periphery consisting of townspeople, household help, malis , jamadars, all and sundry. Drunken husbands on lao pani from the wee hours, complaining wives with kids in tow each with a tale to tell of loss and gain. Fun though it was for them it was also a serious matter - gambling at its very best.

Lunch is served, the last race to commence, buoyant with liquor, a little flirtation, a lot of gossip, an all in all a merry air brings to a close the morning of the first day of the races. Another two glorious days to go.

Back home, often a distance of miles - though not enough to dampen the bubbling enthusiasm. A little rest, freshening up and back to the club for the evening's movie show. Where cinema viewing is rare other than the club, it is itself a rather special occurrence.

Glasses topped up, feeling mellow with the usually jumbled film reels unfolding their mixed up drama. What the heck! It was rolling, something was on, so what if it made little or no sense. What does make sense anyway. Positive thinking what? The children packed off with their ayahs, either home or to the ladies room to sleep while ma and pa down a few rounds more. Gosh the capacity ! A special ability given solely to planters. Fresh air and the smell of the tea bush does the trick.

Goodnight, another sunrise, another day at the races, another filmshow - possibly better than the last, another full day.

Finally day three. A little nostalgia, a lot of excitement, looking forward to the gala evening with live band and dancing till the early hours. Adults only! Kids safe at home. Have a ball. Ooh the naughty flirting, the teetering feet, the slurring of the tongue, the knowledgeable discussions above the din of the music, many at their brilliant best - a missed Einstein or perhaps Shakespeare - doomed to the oblivion of the tea bush. The air heavy with inanity, brilliance and cigarette smoke combined with clinging bodies or agile gyrations, as you will, on the dance floor. No one upmanship, a collective whole - rather innocent though the description might belie the statement.

End of the races. Reality strikes. 4.00 am in shorts and on the morning rounds. Back to work.


End of an era
Susil(Dushtu) Doss

One of the stalwarts of a majestic era. Mr. Susil(Dushtu) Doss left us this August. It is. with heavy heart that we confront a future without him as one of the guiding lights for a misguided generation. ! had the good fortune of having met him several times while we were in Jorhat. And as always his gentleness and humility touched the soul. A pioneer of sorts in the distribution business and other related businesses at one time the famous Doss & Co. dealt with anything from cars to milk powder. This being a small world I have been acquainted with two of his sons, Paltan da and Nilu da in Jorhat and have subsequently met his eldest son, Chandan da and daughter, Sumita in Kolkata. All, though in different fields would make their father proud. His daughter in particular is an extremely close friend and she adds meaning to my life. We will miss Dushtu da during the races which I feel will never be the same without his powerful presence.

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and a flying horse-

   Reminiscences of Jorhat Races


 The title might appear somewhat apocryphal, but to me the Jorhat races are not yet past despite the vicissitudes of time and space. I clearly remember the crisp and cool February afternoon in one of the penultimate days of the races at Gymkhana Club in the swinging sixties of the last century. I was on my way to the club gate through the lugubrious crowd that had gathered to watch and participate in the races, open as they were to the public. Being the last day of the races, the excitement of the crowd was at its pinnacle. People from the surrounding tea estates and far flung villages had gathered in their Sunday (though it was not a Sunday) best with their colourful attire to make the whole arena look like a canvas of multiple colors.

This magnificent crowd was so aural and full of nimbus that I decided to stay on with the hoi polloi to share their ecstasys, if not agonies. Just behind the massive crowd, horses, rather ponies were going through the physicals in a special enclosure under the watchful eyes of Clifford (Cliffy), Denis Wild and Bill Hadfield. The job done, the ponies were escorted to the main runway accompanied by a cacophony with a virtuoso not normally encountered. I thought the Jorhat races had infused such a great sense of joy in them that they had fallen for the fun with hook, line and sinker, to say the least.

Presently, the ponies were lined up with eager expectations all round about horses that are going to make or mar it, that is, the jack pot of not less than hundred rupees, a princely sum those days. But before the winners could be maxed out, and the participants could run with their impatient jockeys, one pony on an impulse under the cacophony of noises suddenly made a beeline in the opposite direction at a_perceptly high speed. The prodding by its jockey to turn it round was of no avail until the poor fellow fell off the horse and the horse stopped as suddenly as it started off. The greatly embarrassed rider, got the (now) docile horse back to the line to the whistles and loud cat calls of the crowd that went into ruptures of laughters. After the excitement died down to an extent, a formal starting nod was given for the race number seven to which the odd pony was billed. The crowd went rapacious, all the numbered horses started jumping and running at varying speeds, but the odd one refused to move, not even an inch would it move, persistency of its rider notwithstanding. It was an awkward moment for the young jockey, with puzzles writ large on the faces of the authorities of the race! But it was great fun all round with speculations and theories for non participation by the horse running thick and fast. Eventually the matter was no doubt sorted out to the pleasure of all.

The horse's last laugh was however reserved for the evening gala. It was a dazzling with ladies in their resplendent best with perfectly attired gentlemen on the toe. The more bold (and some balds as well) of them were swiveling with beatuties with dexterity that was cynosure of all eyes. Someone passed on to me a glass of brandy with soda, which I later realized was from Hemen Barooah as he knew my softness for this particular brand of hard drink. I drifted from one mini crowd to other till I came close to Dagee Brown (he was managing Dhoolie) and Commander Thompson(?) of JTCL in an animated discussion about the horse that wont run. I heard references to Ascot and Calcutta turf and about equine behaviour and how close the horse sense could be to human behaviour, for whatever they connote. Deeply impressed with the unifyihg concept*of equinism and humanism, I finally mastered enough courage to ask the good commander why indeed the horse behaved the way it did. The answer, the Commander assured me, was a matter of sex, as the horse was actually a mare among the horses and that her mare sense forced her to go the other way, as, he delicately delibered, was the wont with the hu(wo)man. Before I could react to this unique exposition of gender analysis, someone asked the Commander for a match box. He had his cigar in one hand, and a large glass of whisky on the other, but ever courteous as he was, he instantly put his hand into the pocket to fish out the match; as he did so, the glass he was holding on his right hand dropped off his hand, possibly without his knowing because he continued to sip the drink that was not there!

The flying horse (or was it a mare) had it last laugh!

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Dahlings !  Through the eyes of a tyler



 started my career in tea in 1950 at Jorhat. The first thing I was told by the then stalwarts was that I must join the Gymkhana Club. Although at that time the number of active Indian members was perhaps not more than ten, a small group of seniors, consisting of Prasanna Kumar Barooah. Khan Bahadur Keramat  Ali K. N. Datta Saikia, all hard-core bridge players had made their presence felt in the club. They always sat at a particular corner of the Club playing serious bridge.

Two other members who visited the club regularly but not quite belonging to the Bridge group were Sammy Dutta and Jan Gokhle, both from Tocklai, with their respective wives, Pat and Koki. Pat always vivacious, madly fond of dancing and Koki, always elegantly dressed in silk sarees, eloquent in English, - a rare trait among Indian ladies in those days. - made the scene complete in the mixed bar.

After two disastrous efforts to play bridge with the three Assamese experts I decided to join the group at the mixed bar where ladies like Pat Dutta, Lenor Gore, Claudie Mole (wives of Tiger Gore and Willy Mole of Jorhat Tea Co.) ruled supreme with their glamour, vivacity-and irrestible sex appeal for all men from sixteen to sixty.

I vividly remember my first dancing encounter with all these three redoubtable ladies. The music was fox trot of reasonably timing. There were about a dozen

couples on the floor. I asked Pat Dutta to dance. and we started dancing. Suddenly Pat broke away from. me and burst into fast Jitterbug. Not to be undonce, and fortified with recently acquired Jitterbug lessons from Arthur Murray of the US . I joined her, but just for about half a minute. Pat broke into complicated acrobatics. Literally bending backwards to out do me completely. I had to leave the floor.

My first dance with Claudie More was in the Airforce Mess, in those days a tin shed with CI Sheet roof and walls. I was sitting alone at one side of the floor. I did not know very many people. Claudie, a beautiful buxom, came upto me and asked me to- dance. "Dahling you must not sit alone, come dance with me!" Caludie always spoke with a French accent, and her Dahling in a hoarse voice sounded very much like Tallulah Bunkheads "Dahling".

Before I could thank her for the invitation, she pulled me out of the chair and started waltzing, -very fast, and held me so tight, that I could hardly breathe. In the first couple of minutes, she swept me off my feet, literally, because my feet were not on the floor, with my head just below her neck, being twirled around fiercely to the tune of Johann Strauss. This acrobatic was possible only because I was good six inches shorter than Claudie and may be at that time half her weight.

My introduction to dancing with Lenore Gore was a more dignified and sophisticated affair. It was New Year's Eve and in those days to us, Jorhat Gymkhana Club was the world's best place to celebrate New Year. There was Lenore sitting on a bar stool resplendent in a milk white lacy dress, with her back to us. Lenore appeared indescribably attractive looking something like Judy Garland. I was in two minds about asking her to dance, in case she said no. After three whiskies I picked up enough courage and asked her to dance the next dance. She flashed her beautifully made up eyes with turquoise blue eye shadow and black mascara and said "But honey, aren't we going to have a glass of champagne, before that?"

In those days champagne was available at Jorhat Club. The barmen even knew how to open a bottle of "bubbly", and the cost for a bottle was a princely sum of thirty six rupees.

As I was about to pour the champagne in two glasses, she said "Only one glass dear and for me only. You have to drink from my shoe; this is our very first dance, isn't it T' I had read about gallant and chivalrous men drinking from shoes of beautiful ladies, I never thought that such luck would fall to me too !

I did as Lenore said, knelt down, took one of her shoe off, and poured champagne in it. But her white shoe had designs in tiny perforations. The champagne ran through the little holes and what was left was not enough for drinking; it could only be licked.

Once the champagne ritual was over, Lenore stood up, lead me to the dance floor, and danced divinely, to a very very slow foxtrot. First time I realized one could dance on a postage stamp!

So much about dancing in the fifties.

There were other exciting things that happened in Jorhat Gymkhana Club. Lodge "Light of Assam 3195 EC", was very active in those days. I was just inducted, and if I remember correctly I was the only local person; the rest of the members being Scottish and English. The junior most person in the Lodge was given the post of Tyler - to do all house keeping chores like laying tables, serving drinks, collecting food, attending to the Worshipful Master's requirements and comfort. Being the junior most member, I was designated Tyler .

The Wednesday routine was to go to the Lodge, (Jadu Ghar) attend the meeting - and then come to Club. Besides Sundays, Wednesday was also a Club day in those days. This particular evening, when we were back in the Club and relaxing after my Tyler's regular chores and arranging the dinner at the Lodge I was summoned by the Worshipful Master, -a planter from Sonari area. I was given the assignment of locating his wife who could be somewhere in the Club premises; Worshipful Master was getting ready to drive back to Sonari.

I however could not find the lady anywhere in the Club premises, - including the Ladies Powder Room, - and reported the matter to the Worshipful Master. The Worshipful Master who was relaxing and enjoying his tete-a-tete with the brethren present and the other Club members told me. "Brother Tyler your findings have been noted but before I leave for Sonari will you please check if my wife is relaxing in my car at the parking lot." Not knowing his car number, and not having the courage to put further queries to the Worshipful Master I made up my mind to take matters under my own control. My home was only one minute from the Club. I drove my Austin A-40 to my house picked up my three battery torch and came back to the Club to explore the parked cars at the Club. I went round in my D. J. - black tie and all. - fortified with my three battery torch and my official designation of Tyler of Lodge, to locate the lady by flashing my torch inside the parked cars.

One dramatic incident I remember was on a Wednesday night a Lodge night. The Lodge at Jorhat,

It was a night of revelation. I found couples not at all connected through matrimony, in a variety of compromising positions: men I thought would not look at another woman except his wife : ladies I believed were Sitas not Draupadis. Some couples shooed me off "Hey what 'the hell are you doing ? I will hand you over to the police." Others said Hemen, you are an understanding person, not a word to anyone, promise?"

I however could not locate the Worshipful Master's lady. She had driven off to Sonari with a young lad!

The other incident I remember was a show at the Tocklai Guest House, a very exclusive show. I was the only dark skinned local to be allowed in apart from Sammy Dutta.

First item was a Can Can. Beautiful ladies dressed in green satin skirts with crimson underlining dancing to a fast Offenbach . But this was only an appetizer.

The main number was yet to come. Shut your eyes we were told, as the lights were dimmed almost to darkness and then, two heavenly milk white bodies in their birthday suits, slowly descended the majestic teak staircase of the almost imperial Tocklai Guest House to the thundering applause of the select spectators.

Two white celestial human forms looking like Lady Godiva; not riding a horse but slowly walking down the majestic stair case. May be, they should have slid down the teak balustrade

That was Planters' Jorhat half a century ago.

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Gone with the wind

By Ali Zaman


A h! The cold weather. Time for club meets, polo matches, duck shoots and the prime khel of them all, the Jorhat (Jorheaut) Races.

As most bara sahebs were at the races it was a thin crowd at Misa Club for the Saturday movie. Nevertheless bar sales was a time to relax when club bills went high but tea life was at its zenith.

Discussions at the bar was livening up. The topic was the races and the prerogative of burras attending leaving chokras to hold the fort. While the debate continued three spirited assistants, lead by Alec Hay, of Salonah who possessed a Ford Prefect, decided to take off and attend the gala event of the races the Dance Night, or what was left of it.

It was past midnight when the trio arrived but the Club was full. The dance floor was jam packed with members swaying to the music of Mark Fernandes and his Shillong boys. It was no vivacious crooner that captivated the crowd, especially the bachelors and grass widowers. What activated them were airhostesses.

The Calcutta based airlines, BOAC.KLM. Lufthansa put up stalls for the race week and flew out their prettiest girls, from Europe , to man them. With a sizeable number of ex-patriates flying to and from UK there was good business for the airlines in Assam .

The band played and the crowd swayed till murgi dak. The three Misa knights found willing hosts who offered them a bed. Next day it was late breakfast, a good soak in the bathtub, and they were fresh for the club. Beers, pink gins the Sunday races and more drinking followed.

Camaraderie was at its best and would have continued had it not been for the time. It was late. The trio decided to depart once they realized that they would just about make it for Monday kamjari. Alec more sober than the others got into the driving seat. He could barely keep his eyes open but drove as far as Kaziranga. He eyed his mates to try and get one to take over the wheel. The front passenger was too far-gone, dead to the world. The other, sprawled out in the back, stirred. He was woken up and told to drive.

The car meandered but did arrive in Misa. It was time to wake up the owner but what they saw jostled them out of their stupor. The rear seat was empty. There was no Alec!!

They searched. The boot was checked in case the passenger had slipped in through the seats. With Alec's car one could never tell but there was no trace of the man. It was panic and more so when they noticed that a rear door was slightly ajar. They mystery was discussed in detail and the possible cause of the disappearance examined from all angles. A decision had to be made and it was a painful one. The concluded that the gallant man had fallen out. May be DEAD!

Two somber assistants decided to report the case of the missing planter to Misa Police Station, in case they were hauled up for murder. When they entered the thana whom should they see? Sipping tea with the OC. Alec!

What had happened? Alec got off and stepped aside to spend a penny. The rear door had automatically closed shut. The driver without even a backward glance drove off. A lorry picked up the boga saheb and dropped him at the thana .

Ah! The tales of the Jorhat Races.  

Down Memory lane.........



 Jorhat Races ! The very words would once spell magic for not only the tea planters in and around Jorhat, but also the entire population of the district ­rich and poor, urban and rustic. It used to be a great occasion for everybody. For one whole week, the Jorhat Gymkhana Club ground used to wear a festive Iook.Thousands would throng the'Khelmati' from every nook and corner to watch animals of equine species in action. This local 'derby' used to have white European riders - both men and women on tall Australian stallions or short Arabian ponies, right down to local Mishing tribal jockeys astride even smaller ponies without saddles.

Jorhat - the capital of the Ahom kings towards the close of their six hundred years of glorious reign for a brief period, also was the hub of the tea industry, Cinnamara being one of the earliest plantations started by the famous Moniram Dewan, the first Assamese tea planter and the one responsible for the course leading to the discovery of tea in Assam by Robert and subsequently his brother Charles Alexander Bruce. Similarly, Jorhat Gymkhana Club was the second oldest planters' club, the first being the Tezpur Station Club which was started in 1875. The second oldest tea company, Jorehaut Tea Company, had its headquarters at Cinnamara, Jorhat, the oldest Company being the Assam Company which was incorporated in England in 1839.

The planting community at Jorhat introduced various games and sports for their recreation one of the oldest being polo and horse-racing. Although it is not exactly known as to when the races started, it can be safely guessed that it was around the year 1877, and have traditionally been held in the first week of February. Initially the horses, which were used by the tea planters for their usual 'kamjari', were also used for racing and polo. Later on, horses were also brought from Shillong and Calcutta for the races.

In the early days, the Race Week used to coincide with the Annual Meet of the Assam Valley Light Horse and the entire planting community used to take part in it.

This writer recalls the great fun and enthusiasm amongst the planters during the race week where the Governor of Assam used to be the Chief Guest and would give away the Governor's Cup at the end of the Race Week.

There were many interesting incidents which, this writer recalls, took place during the races. Once a Mishing jockey, clad in the ubiquitous 'gamocha' reported for the races, and wanted his pony to be listed for the next run. But Rathin "Lulu" Sarma, who was one of the stewards, refused since the pony was a pregnant mare. But our jockey who had come with the hope of making some money, was insistent and started an argument. He demanded that he must be allowed to participate and he would take the responsibility in case of any mishap. After hurried consultations, the stewards allowed the mare to run. But when the pregnant mare was exhibited, the spectators started laughing and making all kinds of outrageous comments. No one was willing to bet on the pregnant mare. But at last two persons decided to stake their money on this mare.

The race started in right earnest and as expected this mare started lagging behind. But suddenly the miracle happened. The pregnant pony took everyone by surprise and strode past the others to reach the finishing line. After winning the race, the proud jockey got hold of Lulu Sarma and asked for a bottle of rum for his extra-ordinary feat on a saddle-less pregnant mare. A short while later, to the great delight of all those present in the Gymkhana ground, the mare gave birth to a healthy filly !

There were also some sad incidents which were bound to have left indelible marks in the minds of particularly the animal-lovers. Once during the races, a horse owned by the wife of Mr. Frank Malvi of Jorehaut Tea Company was participating. The race started with a lot of excitement. This horse of Mrs. Malvi was running well and was ahead of the others. But suddenly this unfortunate thing happened. As the horse was almost reaching the finishing line, it hit a temporary fencing post put up for the show and stumbled on to the ground. The horse was seriously injured. There was a commotion and a quick decision had to be taken. If it was allowed to live, the horse would be cripple and would have to live a painful life. It was therefore decided to put it to sleep. On the request of the owner, M. Wazir Khan, the well-known shikari, shot it through its head with a single bullet. Death was instantaneous and painless.

There were some people who used to take a great deal of interest and it was because of those people that Jorhat Races reached the pinnacle of its glory. The first name that comes to my mind was R. N. Clifford, Manager, Katonibari tea estate, one of the most active members of the Organising Committee. He could speak fluent Assamese and would personally visit the nearby Mishing Villages to contact the owners of ponies and selecting the jockeys.

Prasanna Kumar Baruah was the first Indian to be admitted as a member of Jorhat Gymkhana Club. He was one of the great horse enthusiasts and acted as steward for long years. S. C. Doss (Dustoo) of Messrs Doss & Co., who passed away recently, was one of the most popular organizers with an every ready smile on his face.

Others names that come to my mind are - J. K. Robertson, Hemen Barooah, Dhiren Borbora, S. G. B. "Gusl" Brown, Norman Smith, Peter Allen, D. P D. Woodhouse of the BrahmaputraTea Company and Lt. Col. (Dr.) L. C. R. Emett, one who would take care of the medical emergencies-of both riders and at times even horses. He was a well-known hockey player who represented India in the Olympics where India won a medal.

The Race Week would wind up with a "Ball Night" and it was great watching beautifully attired couples going round in waltz and foxtrot. There used to be tack shops put up by Calcutta traders which used to be liberally patronized.

Things have changed, but the rich tradition of the Jorhat Races lingers even after 125 years of its existence.

The Most Remembered Sights

by  Balamani Bezbaruah

I have no anecdote to cite. As a part-time wife (the .rest of the wakeful part of my life was devoted to scientific research or so I like to believe), I was always the curious onlooker of the activities of full time wives who always organized such a splendid show at the Jorhat races with food, fun-fare and provided such gracious company while their respective husbands organized the pony races as if they were running the Bangalore races or let us say the Ascot. There were indeed some who had actually been to the Ascot races. Some even acted as if they had been sharing the same platform as the Queen of England's family during the Ascot races. There was one lady who even liked to discuss the problems of the queen as if she was her first cousin. But she being a very important member of the Jorhat scene the women who crowded around her eagerly added more information to her conversation about the current emotional status of Princess Margaret or Princess Anne or whoever in the British Royal family was on the divorce list, depending upon the year in which the races were being held. She was a great stickler for tradition and would be horrified if the volunteer ladies selling the tickets to the races were served the wrong kind of eats during the show. Without her presence Jorhat races never had the same kind of charm. This despite the glamour that descended upon Jorhat races once, when it was used as a scene in a Hindi movie shot at Jorhat. To me, neither the leading actress nor the highly talented actors who charmed the women that particular year, could replace the glamour of the more English than the English, type lady who used to be the chief figure of the Jorhat races.

Nostalgic Memory of a Bygone Day


Of the pleasant memories I have cherished dearly of the years I spent in Assam the annual Race Week at Jorhat Gymkhana Club is one. With the passage of time and advancing age memories have started fading. The psychologists say that we tend to remember the happy events in our lives and forget the unpleasant ones. May be for this reason I still remember well the enjoyable time I used to have during the Race Week.

I think it was in 1958 that I had my first introduction to the Jorhat Races, not very long after I had gone to Assam . I joined the services of Indian Tea Association in 1957 and was deputed to work with the Assam Branch of the Association. After a brief stay at the headquarters of the Branch at Dikom, I was posted at Jorhat as the Additional Secretary of the Zone 2 Office. Jimmy Gee-Smyth, a happy-go-lucky type, was the Zone Secretary. We got along very well with each other. In fact it was Jimmy who introduced me first to the Jorhat Races and to the accompanying week-long fun and frolic. Alas, Jimmy and his wife, Terry, are no longer in this world. Looking back I think I was very fortunate in being posted there. I could not have become acquainted so quickly with the rich cultural heritage of Assam-Sibsagar having been the capital of the Ahom Kings - if I was posted, say, at Guwahati or Tezpur. Living in a bungalow within the Tocklai Experimental Station campus and rubbing shoulders with the scientists gave me soon a familiarity with the technical side of tea. Perhaps the most important benefit of being posted at Jorhat was meeting some important and nice people connected with tea. Among the seniors there was Hugh Ferguson, Director of Tocklai, Bill Gawthrop, Superintendent, Jorhat Tea Company, John Morice of Williamson Magor Group, Hemen Barooah, scion of a well known family of Assam and owner of tea gardens. And so many others.

For the planters the Race Week was a week-long carnival. With the end of the manufacturing season and the cold weather field work being over the planters could relax. And the relaxing they did in a grand style. Most of the gardens in the District suspended work for a week and granted thir workers their annual leave.. The actual races took place in the afternoons, but for the planters the merrymaking started early in the day and ended late in the evening. A number of reputed firms from Calcutta came to Jorhat for the Race Week and put up stalls for promoting their products. There were the Airlines Companies - Air India , K.L.M. (Royal Dutch Airlines) and British Airways (then known as British Overseas Airways Corporation) -to target the large number of expatriate planters and their families. Suppliers of machinery and chemicals and fertilisers - Imperial Chemical Industries, Fisons and others - were there with their product samples and literature.

They put up stalls along the crescent motor track stretching from the Mariani Road entrance to the Club grounds to the Club building. Some of the stalls would have well-stocked Bars where the visitors were entertained with liberal helpings of beverages to lift their spirits. One could do a sort of pub crawling. Starting from the Mariani Road end one could proceeed towards the club building visiting one stall after another and reaching eventually the Club building. If any of the visitors still felt a little thirsty, there was for them the Club Bar. excitement. I learned eventually to bet on the horses, but lady luck never smiled at me and I never won even a penny. Incidentally I have never won in my life even a paisa from a lottery or betting. After the races were over some-mainly those who came from distant gardens-moved over to the Club Bar. My routine was to go back to the bungalow for a hot bath and change of clothes, a lounge suit being obligatory for the evening. I would then be ready for the cocktail party in the evening, where there would be a lot of wining and socialising.

In the evenings there were cocktail parties thrown by some of the visiting Companies. All senior tea people were invited to the parties. Scotch was the popular drink but beer, gin and brandy would also be available. Wines, sherry or vodka were not there. The Companies throwing the parties would some time try to out-do each other on generous hospitality with free flow of drinks and liberal helpings of a variety of snacks. If one of them offered fine imported sausages-, (a delicacy no longer available easily then in the Clubs) another would bring varieties of cheese. One year BOAC played the trump card by offering caviar at their party. K. L. M.'s answer to that was to bring "tandoori chicken" from Motimahal Restaurant in Delhi (a delicacy not yet widely known at Planters' Clubs in distant Assam ).

I was innocent of the pleasures of going to races, and never had much of an inclination or guts for gambling. But I attended the races every afternoon for fun and

On the last day of the Race Week there would be distribution of trophies and prizes in the afternoon by the wife of the Governor of Assam. Traditionally the Governor of Assam and his wife attended the races on the last day. The show would end with a grand dance in the evening. That year the Governor, General Srinagesh, accompanied by Mrs. Srinagesh and their young daughter attended and participated in the evening programme. A live-Band from Shillong was in attendance. To our great joy all the three VIPs took part in the programme and danced with the hoi polloi like us. Ultimately, like all good things, the dance and the Race Week itself would come to an end, leaving us a little sad, but full of expectation for the following year.

I am happy to learn that Jorhat Races will be celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year. I congratulate the organisers and wish all participants a wonderful time, as we used to have in our days.

   Jorhat Races

B.C.MAHANTA Hon.Secretary 

Jorhat Races are a great mela which are held every year in the month of February, after the Bihu, were thousands of people, of all classes high and low, rich and poor, majority from the villages, attend three days in the race week to enjoy themselves. Most of them do not gamble as normally people think. It brings a great change to their life once in a year. The Jorhat Gymkhana Club is virtually taken, over by.the misings of both sexes, old and young, in their best finery of their traditional weaving art. Some come out with their beautiful endi shwals and stoles which are eye catching to art lovers.
The present Jorhat Gymkhana Club, which is also 125 years old, and the race course is situated in Chekonidhora Gaon in Charaibahi Mouza of the Jorhat District, West of Gar-Ali, opposite Tocklai experimental station, but the original club was somewhere else. In 1876 the said club and the race course were little far away to the east of the existing club ground, on the Eastern side of the Gar-Ali, at the back of the Baptist Mission Compound in Garamur Mouza. The old race course is still called "Melachakar" or "Purani Khelmati" i.e. Old Gymkhana. Old club ground is now paddy fields and parts of the race course is still there. The original club buildings were of wooden structure on about 6M High Ground.
The original part of the present club, i.e. the two storeyed part, was the first steel structure with C.I. sheet building in old Sibsagar District, and was built in 1885. Everything was carried by country boats, river steamers and bullock carts.
Before 1947 we had many race course in old Assam, namely - Shillong, Tezpur, Dibrugarh, Jorhat and one is believed to be at Silchar. The Shillong race course was the best and most picturesque and had regular race meets. But some wise people thought it was spoiling the people and was closed down, although in western countries it is a part of people's life, entertainment, relaxation to have some fun, and their progress is far greater than ours. All other race course have been closed down except the Jorhat, which will be celebrating 125 years of the race meet.
The first historical 1876 / 77 season race was held named as "Jorehaut Races" on Tuesday the 16th January, 1877. It was "Princess Cup" race. The value was Rs. 400/- and was presented by Messrs. G F Pinney and J N Wallace. The steward of the races was Mr. C G Showers. Then, as now, there were three days of racing. There was an Amguri Hunt Cup run over a Steeple-Chase course (I.E. Jumps and also over fences) of 2 1/2 Miles. The prize to the winner Rs. 300/- (that was over more than 100 years back).
Before 1947 the race meets in February were timed to coincide with the Assam Valley Light Horse Annual Camp. The A. V L. H. was a part of the territorial army who contributed valuable services to the British and Indian Army on all occasions. Every British planter had to join.
The Governor of Assam was a regular visitor to the races and presented the traditional Governor's Cup. Even now they do. In old days the race horse came from Calcutta , Shillong and Dibrugarh. The country ponies, in 1938, were introduced and brought from Manipur. Now, the "Missing's horses have taken over almost all the races. The unique thing is that the missing riders ride without "Saddle".
Mr. Alban Ali, Superintendent of Police, was a Steward and also the Joint Honorary Secretary in 1938. In 1946 Mr. P K. Barooah and Rai Sahib J. C. Doss became Stewards. These were the first Indian Stewards.
Along with the races there were games and competitions of many kinds. Tennis and Polo were very popular. Tennis is still popular but the Polo is no more while cycle Polo has been introduced in the year 2000. Till 1959 Annual Exhibition was held which was participated by the Commercial Firms, Industries,
Travel Agents, Aviation Companies and many others from all over India . Apart from Air India all other aviation companies were foreign who produced varieties of western food.
Many Viceroys of British India visited the club. Prince Philip paid a visit to the club in 1960. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru also paid a visit to the club on 15th December, 1937 to meet the British Tea Planters.
People are under the impression that the Jorhat Races are held for the members for the Gymkhana Club only. They do not realise the hard work put in by the Stewards. Elaborate arrangements, planning and preparation have to be made  months ahead. They devote considerable amount of their time in honorary capacity. Donations are collected from the tea companies, commercial 'firms and individuals to meet the vast expenditures. The owners with their ponies and the jockeys are to be brought in and accommodated, and prior to that the Stewards have to visit their villages time and again. After the races the committee give away the major part of race earnings to various local charities like Leprosy Colony, Hospitals, Namghar and Schools of participating 'mising' villages etc.


My Experiences and Vision


"Jorhat Races" organised by Gymkhana Club was considered as a glamourous sports event at Jorhat during pre and immediate post independance era. Although it has not been able to maintain its past glory for several social and economic reasons, of course, even now a section of the society look forward for the event. The sustained efforts of the members of the Gymkhana Club for which the event could complete 125 years is-.commendable..
Horse racing is considered as a prestigious sports in a few selected cities of the country. Same is the case with world scenario also. Therefore, we should feel proud for the unique distinction.
The horse racing is popular in England , the birth place of the sports. It had gained popularity initially as social event, but developed into a means of betting. Therefore, it was banned on the criticism of conservative english people in 1754. However Charles II took initiative to lift the ban at the pressure of common people by adopting a few regulations in 1767, when New Market Race was conducted. The betting was formalised to make the event more attractive. Till seventeenth century horse was the main source of draft power in England . So it helped in popularising the sports in that country. The famous Derby Race was organised in 1780. "It is by no means an over statement to say that the horse racing is the most popular sports in Great Britain ", as quoted in 1959 (Encylopedia of sports, Samson Low, Marston and Co. Ltd.).
Horse racing was popularised in various places of the world through the initiative and patronage of English people, same was the case with Jorhat Race. At the initial stage of development of the tea gardens. in Assam by the British people, horse was considered as a popular means of transport in moving around the difficult terrains. So they imported good breed horses to this region.
It is fresh in my mind about the panoramic view of the Gymkhana Club during horse racing in late forties, when I was a 11-12 years boy. I viewed from Gar Ali side. A large number of people encircled the race course to witness the fast galloping by th beautifully decorated horses in a festive atmosphere. Of course, on my returning home in the evening, I had a different experience. My father was annoyed, because he considered that horse racing should not be encouraged amongst young people for involvement in betting. It was the feelings of most of the families of the town.
Thereafter, I had opportunities to visit Gymkhana Club on a few occasions for playing cricket; but second visit to horse racing was in 1958, when I was a student of 3rd year class of the Assam Agricultural College . Taking advantage of cancellation of classes on post lunch session on last day of horse racing, we went to witness horse racing. We visited the ground through the club House side, where find a mini trade fair environment. There were stalls on Tea Machineries, House hold articles and even- a book stall along with a few fun fair programmes. It was a Mella type atmosphere. Of course, I could learn that there were high stakes in bettings also. Anyhow, I was engrossed in exhibition stalls and racing was over by the time when I moved towards the race site. So, my total experience of horse racing is remained incomplete; because I could not find next opportunity to visit horse racing at Gymkhana Club ground. Anyhow, I had opportunities to enjoy horse racings at Calcutta and Bangalore during early seventees. Even, I could get a glimpse of horse racing at Florida during November 2000.
It is very much encouraging to note that the Gymkhana Club authorities have been endeavouring not only to revive the lost glory of horse racing, but also to attract tourists during the week. In addition to foreign and internal tourists, the week can be developed as a meeting point for people of neighbouring States. It will require innovative ideas to introduce various programmes considering the interest of the cross sections of the society. I am confident, members of the club are capable of developing such an event, but tradition of horse racing should be properly maintained with improvement in the standard. Younger generation will be encouraged to participate Cycle/Motorcycle even car racings with spirit of adventurism during off days.
I sincerely wish "Jorhat Race" at the Gymkhana Club ground will be more glamorous and meaningful to enhance the status of the event for which all of us should work together.

(This is a report which was filed by the Jorhat-based Staff Correspondent of The Assam Tribune, 

and published in the edition dated 6th February, 2001 )

Riding  to fame on a saddle-less pony



ver cared to horse around on a saddle-less pony? More so, spurring it on to gallop at full speed ? Out of this world and dangerous though it may seem for most, it is but child's play for the hardy and skilful Missing jockeys in and around Jorhat, adept as they are at manoeuvring these 'biological running machines' as per their whims and fancies.

Trained to obey their masters' command through lightning-fast reflexes in the form of toe and heel twitches, which are but 'invisible' to normal onlookers, these 'local rodeos' can be seen performing at the annual Jorhat Races held at the Gymkhana Club field, popularly known as Khelmati, during a week-long extravaganza starting this year from February 5. While race days have been earmarked for February 6, 8 and 10, non-race days on February 5, 7 and 9 will include events like car rally, ladies football, cricket, cycle-polo, tennis and golf, which will be rounded off with musical evenings. As non-racing events are participated in by teams comprising of tea garden executives and their families, race days on the other hand witness Missing jockeys along with their ponies from Malowkhat, Banhphola, Jhanjimukh, Sengeliati and Kolbari, to name just a few places, displaying their equestrian skills.

As the Assam Governor Lt Gen (retd.) S K Sinha has consented to grace the occasion as patron and hand over the Governor's Cup to the champion jockey on the final day, i.e., on February 10, an average of eight to nine races will be organised per day on the specified dates. The winners will have for grabs both cash prizes and trophies, sponsored by tea companies and presented by the race committee. Incidentally, for the first time this year, Pepsi Foods Limited has chipped in by sponsoring a cup.

For the record, the circumference of the race track is one km long and has been evenly rollered, while fences on the sides have been freshly painted and braced up for the occasion. The mainly Mising community participants will be provided free fooding and lodging facilities by the club during their stay, according to the honorary race secretary since the past 18 years, Mr B C Mahanta, who has been slogging it out just to ensure that the annual event gets going smoothly sans any hitches. Two free cinema shows on the final day have also been arranged for the participating jockeys, he added.

"The proceeds of the races are spent on charity," Mr. Mahanta told The Assam Tribune. Assistance in the form of CIS bundles have in recent times been distributed among needy and deserving organisations of participating villages, namely Kopahtali Mising Gaon Namghar, Sarighoria Mising Gaon Hari Mandir and Namghar, Malowkhat ME Girls' School at the Kolbari area, Golapi Primary School at Kareng Gaon, Malowkhat Banhphola area, and Alengmora Mising Gaon Namghar, to name just a few of the beneficiaries. Further, financial help not below Rs. 5,000 has also been offered to the leprosy colony of the Christian Medical Centre situated beside the Jail Road here. Items of daily use such as desks, benches and other office paraphernalia have also been donated to Prerona Spastic Society of Cinnamara from the sale proceeds. However, plans are afoot from this year onwards to take up only one institution at a time and help see it through with its construction work by bearing the entire expenses, Mr. Mahanta said.

With the Jorhat Gymkhana Club established way back in 1876 by the then British planters as a recreation centre and a popular 'watering hole' with its well-stocked bar to wet their parched throats, especially on week-ends, this 'remnant of the Raj' comprises of a sprawling golf course, tennis court, facilities to play table tennis and billiards, besides enjoying cinema shows.

The races which were first started on 16 January, 1877 , was pioneered by an Englishman, Late CG Showers, who happened to be the first race committee secretary. The Prince's Cup was also instituted during those days. Though it was an all-White affair then, and included golf tourneys, polo and even rugby matches, however, the gala event today is ably managed by ten stewards, with noted planter-industrialist Hemendra Prasad Barooah as president, Abani Borgohain as vice­president and BC Mahanta as honorary secretary, besides others. "It is only after putting our heads together and meticulous planning thereafter, followed by consistent toil for roughly over two months, that the preparations can be deemed complete," Mr. Mahanta revealed.

During the'good old days', thoroughbreds of Arabian descent were imported-by the Englishmen, who also evinced a keen interest in breeding, them, though the post-1938 period saw horses and ponies being brought from Manipur, Assam Rifles, the Territorial Army and lately, even from the Assam Police Training Centre at Dergaon. Earlier, participants made a beeline to the races from as far off as Kolkata. However, as the race courses closed down at Tezpur, Dibrugarh and Shillong, the yearly extravaganza was confined only to Jorhat. Naturally, the annual event gained in prominence not only within Assam, but in the entire North East.

Recalling the past, Mr. Mahanta hastened to add that the first two Indians who were appointed stewards in 1946 were Late tea planter PK Barooah and Raisaheb Jitendra Kumar Doss, both hailing from Jorhat. Though the Jorhat Races still merit recognition as a significant crowd-puller, yet it seems to have lost a bit of its earlier sheen, devoid as it is of its share of throughbreds. The event even experienced a jolt when no races were held between 1991 and 1994. Had it not been kick­started once again in 1995 by 16 racing enthusiasts, the over 124-year-old traditional event would surely have met a premature death.

Expecting participation by local sports persons in the near future, Mr. Mahanta, however, expressed doubts whether the unique event which till date is peculiar to Jorhat alone, could ever be continued unhindered in the days ahead, as the race track and field in question have. been encroached upon by promoters of a proposed housing complex, and permission from the court has been necessitated since the past few years prior to holding the 'Rodeo of the East,' which has by now become a part of local folklore.

(This is what an overseas reader from the USA had to say about the report on saddle-less jockeys, in the 'Letters to the Editor' section of The Assam Tribune dated 16 February, 2001 .)

 I was thrilled to read about saddle-less jockeys written by Sanjay Barkataki in your edition dated February 6th 2001

I am a Mising living in the United States for 15 years, and very rarely do I get to read about my community. It is nice to read about traditional customs and ceremonies, while one has valid reason to fear that some day  in the not too distant future all may be lost to modernity. Misings and most North-Eastern tribals had their ancestors migrate from Mongolia thousands of years ago and mix with the Burmese community to form different tribes in the North East, and categorized as Tibeto-Burman

Mongolia is another country that is very famous for it's saddle-less jockeys . In fact Chengiz Khan of yore conquered a lot of countries with his saddle-less cavalry. Maybe some of our ancestors' blood still flows in the veins of Mising jockeys from Jorhat

Yours etc D.Doley Maryland USA


The Jorhat Gymkhana Club

Twenty Years Ago

H Ferguson

This is the centenary year of the Jorhat Gymkhana Club. Appropriate reminiscences and anecdotes must come from the distant past and from close association over a long period. As a raconteur I do not qualify on either count. I first set foot in India and in the Jorhat Club in 1955 in middle age after I had been conditioned to another way of life in another continent; and I was a member of the Club for only five years. My knowledge of the Club was thus never very profound, and I was not involved in any of the great epics of the Club's history.

Age and background could make acceptance and adjustment, by and to the club, difficult in an established club, and it was with some apprehension, that I paid my first visit to the Jorhat Gymkhana Club as a brand new member with none of the anticipation, excitement and thrill with which new assistants undoubtedly make their debut at the Club. I need have had no apprehensions: Long: established members, whatever their connections of interests went out of their way to make me feel at home and I became a member of the club, fully, comfortably and happily.

What was the Club like twenty years ago? The Building was much as it is now - would not be surprised to hear that it was the same a hundred years ago. The weekly routine was much as it is now, cinema on Sunday night, a midweek sports day and club night, 'bridge for those who preferred it to the cinema or to bar gossip and so on.

The seasonal highlights were also much as they are now - Race week, the Flower Show, seasonal balls and usually a performance by the local dramatic society. It was about that time that Race Week reached a lavish peak. The races were the raison d'etre for the occasion, but business and associated entertainment became the main feature and attraction of the week. The tea industry was prosperous at that time, and the facilities offered by the Club attracted the many firms who had something to sell to the industry. Entertainment and hospitality were considered good for business, and each firm tried to out-do the other in this respect; and for those who so wished, Race Week could be one continuous binge.

Then, as now, the club membership was constituted from tea estate management staff, employees of business and organisation associated with tea, and a certain number of local professionals and businessmen. At the time the Army and Air Force were building up their strength in Jorthat and their officers were welcome guests at the Club. The relationship between all members was always friendly and free and easy, whatever their background. Though there as a certain amount of orientation according to company loyalties, seniority in age and service, special interests etc. there was as there has been since then, complete harmony between members of different communities and races.

That was in 1955. Now, twenty years later. I stilloccasionally visit the Jorhat Club and I still feel at home there.In these twenty years the Club has both changed and stayed the same, physically the building has altered little though its internals have been operated on from time to time. When I saw it last it was having its centenary facelift, and looked very attractive. The spirit of friendliness is the same as ever, even more so, and I get the impression that there is little or no tendency to group according to company, seniority etc.

Jorhat has always been a planter's club, and in the last twenty years there has been a considerable turn­over of tea garden personnel. Twenty years ago the "old Kohais" of tea were predominantly British; now they are almost entirely Indian. In this respect there has been no "transition" as membership of the CLub was always open to suitably qualified persons of all communities, and there has always been complete harmony whatever the proportions of different communities. There has been some change in the pattern of the Club life and entertainment over the years. Alcohol has become too expensive to encourage the indulgence of heavy drinking and particularly among the ladies social traditions help to keep some on the wagon. So, there is less drinking at the bar, there is still as much gossip and cheery conversation. The cinema is still a firm favourite and there is still the problem of finding a four for bridge. Bingo is a popular innovation. I am not sure whether the Club shop still exists or not, Polo has gone, again because of expense, but tennis and golf continue as before. I get the impression that these are now played by a limited number of enthusiasts (who maintain a very high standard) rather than by the majority of Club members.

Being only a casual visitor for the last few years, I cannot comment on such highlights as Race week, the New Year's Ball, and so on. However I did participate in the Flower Show, and was-impressed by the high standard of the exhibits, and the enthusiasm of the exhibitors and members generally.

What of the Club's future? It is currently vigorous, hale and hearty, and I wish it continuing prosperity in its second century.

(Reproduced from the Jorhat Gymkhana Club Souvenir, 1976)



By Hemen Barooah

Chairman: B & A Ltd Kolkata

Long long ago, there was a Flower Show, "The Event of the Year" for the tea ladies. Mallis were alerted months before; seeds were collected from all places, Germany, Holland, Australia and even the US was not spared. Doting Managers and Assistants provided their wives with extra labourers and charged those to all possible heads in the Kamjari, extending to even weed control and pest control, when other heads were exhausted. The ultimate goal: the sparkling silver trophies on the mantelpiece. There was the spirit of fiery competion and there was the spirit of savage sabotage and for that of course, there were the activities of "The Night Before the Flowerer Show". These activities, rather, the expeditions, involved eliminating the possible prize-winning exhibits on the field itself-like the Israelis did to the Egyptian Air Force in the Seven- Day war. As a safeguard against this, extra night chowkidars were engaged as protection against such nefarious activities of dear friends!

My story is about Mrs. Hurst: tall, statuesque, beautifully groomed, elegant, she was the epitome of the Bura Memsahib of the British Raj. Mr Hust, stalky, good two inches shorter than her, was Superintendent of a group of Gardens. He was a loving and obliging husband; did everything to help his wife's mission to corner all the important prizes of the Flower Show and would not stop at anything in achieving the noble motto:Bura Memsahib must be superior in all aspects- must grab the majority- if not all the trophies of the Show.

If Mr. Hurst was here today, he would have said "Bura Memsahib is Mahan" (GREATEST). I always marveled at Mr. Hurst. Her complexion was smooth white as polished alabaster. She did her hair in a bun standing almost two inches higher then her head which made her look regal. The long dresses she always wore in Club Nights and other social functions made her look unapproachable and unauthoritative. She was the incarnation of Charles de Gaulle's famous words "Authority requires prestige and prestige require remoteness". She was indeed remote and indeed very authoritative. So much about Mrs Hurst.

In this particular Flower Show, the competitors of Mrs. Hurst were conspiring and were determined to see that the sparkling silver would be a remote affair for Mrs. Hurst. In a sweeping "Night before the Flower Show" expedition, the would be winners from Mrs. Hurst's garden  - Asters, Calendulas, Chrysanthemums, Dahlias, Roses, Zinnias and Salvias - all disappeared, under the lethal attack of her merciless competitors. The Capsicums, Lettuce, Carrots, Radishes and Tomatoes in the Malibari also met the same fate. This, they thought was sweet revenge after years and years of Mrs. Hurst's invincible record of being the winner.

But that was not to be. When the show opened there were Mrs. Hurst's prize winning dahlias, chrysanthemums, roses and zinnias. Her capsicums and lettuces also ran away with the top prizes.

Her ‘Friends" and competitor, flabbergasted, protested vehemently. How could she produce all the exhibits, when they knew, all these had vanished from the garden?

Mrs. Hurst protested back how did they know that these did exist and then had vanished? Of course she would not dream of buying or borrowing exhibits from anywhere. Her friends and competitor, by now, sworn enemies, however, managed to have her entries disqualified.

Mrs. Hurst went to court with the best lawyers available, including one from Calcutta. - No, all this did not happen at Jorhat. A quiet, gentle town like Jorhat would not dream of such unseemly happenings in its Flower Shows!

Pictures of Programme below.  Click on the small picture and it will enlarge it.  Click on the large picture and it will return you to the small pictures.