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  OBITUARY  

May 01 - 07 - 29, 2009

 

 Coastweek   Kenya


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YUSUF KARIM - SPORTSMAN

CURTAIN FALLS ON SPORTING LEGENd

HE FIRST WON THE MOMBASA RESIDENT TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS CROWN
AS A 16-YEAR-OLD SCHOOL BOY AND WENT ON TO WIN THE TITLE FOR 25
STRAIGHT YEARS - EARNING HIM THE NAME
‘KING OF MOMBASA COURTS’

Coastweek -- When the sun sets on a legend, it becomes incredibly difficult to find the exact words to describe the fallen hero.

The task is made more difficult when the icon is a versatile individual.

Yusuf Karim was a great tennis, cricket and volleyball player.

Although tennis became Karim's main focus, he did equally well in almost all the games he took part in.

There was debate whether Karim might not have even been a better cricketer than a tennis player had he concentrated on that game.

During the short time Karim played cricket, he played for Kenya in 1957 and captained the Mombasa Jaffery Sports Club for seven seasons and hit 18 first class centuries.

However, tennis remained his first choice and with business demanding more of his time, Karim left cricket and volleyball to concentrate on the courts.

He first won the Mombasa Resident Tennis Championships crown as a 16 year school boy and went on to win the title for 25 straight years, earning him the name "The King of Mombasa Courts."

Coastweek -- Sporting icon: Yusuf Karim was an out-
standing tennis, cricket and volleyball player.

At some point he ran out of opponents and found himself facing his own sixteen year old son, Aarif, the eldest son in 1977 to win his 25th year (silver jubilee) in one of the finals.

In 1961, Karim decide to try his skill in Nairobi on the unfamiliar murram courts at the Nairobi Open Tennis Championships.

He caused an immediate sensation when as an unseeded player he beat the holder and top seed, Ron Harris in the first round.

His progress in the tourney became the focus of all attention but unfortunately he lost in the semi-finals.

He realised that murram courts were alien to his style of play and henceforth pertained to the cement court with which he was familiar.

He played several exhibition matches against world class players like Huge Stewart, Donald Dell, Owen Williams and Billy Knight, giving all of them a run for their money.

Karim's continued victories in Mombasa soon became a favourite topic of speculation among the Coasts sports fans.

Every year people gathered at the Mvita Tennis Courts to see if Karim can do it again this year."

He did.

Then speculation turned to: "Can't any one stop Karim ?"

Nobody could although many tried. 

On the courts, Karim was always a deceptively easy-looking player, always calm and unruffled and despite his strong physique rarely employed power shots.

His most difficult opponents were players who employed the same style as himself - control and placing.

The fast hard hitting players were the easiest for him to handle.

Karim however regretted not having had proper coaching, having had to learn all about the game by himself.

Many believe that had Karim been properly coached, he would certainly have made a world mark and Kenya may well have had a Wimbledon champion in her sports honours list.  

Records available from a voluminous file indicate that Yusuf Karim lived at a different time from the latter day sportsman.

The letters, newspaper cuttings, receipts and invitation cards among other literature all attest to an individual who desired to keep records for posterity's sake.

From the newspaper clippings that recorded Karim's exploits, one might be forgiven for imagining that they are the same article.

For 25 years beginning 1951, the newspapers reported the same fixation: "Karim wins Kenya Coast Tennis Open."

His passion for letters was unprecedented.

Never the one to miss a chance to put his thoughts on paper, Karim would remember to put in writing his appreciations, reminders, requests and information on any varied topic he deemed was important.

In one such correspondence in 1952, Karim thanks the Railway Asian Institute for the kind hospitality and fine reception the latter accorded to their Mombasa-based club, The Ithna-Asheri Sports Club, during their visit to Nairobi for a sports encounter.

His belief in sportsmanship and fair play is captured in a prose he wrote in 1952 where he defines sportsmanship as "the right spirit in which a man should take part in any sport, or play the game.

Thus rather be a sportsman and make your name famous than, than be an 'unsportsman' and leaving a poor impression on the public mind."

Karim's conviction in fair played is attested by his words:

"... It goes without saying that a real sportsman will never dream of cheating in a game, or taking any unfair advantage over his opponent.

"He wants keen competition and fair play.

"And yet he will always be generous to his foe.

"He would rather give away a point than claim an advantage even though he may do so without breaking the rule of the game." 

Franklyn Pereira, a renowned sportsman himself and who is a director of Freight Forwarders, and had played with Karim in cricket and tennis evokes Yusuf Karim as an excellent sportsman who ruled the tennis circuit like the proverbial colossus.

"He was an excellent tennis player and a good cricket batsman; always smiling and advocated for players to shake hands after playing one another.

"He proved unbeatable as a tennis player for 25 straight years.

"A rare feat indeed!"

Yashvin Shretta, a Nairobi-based lawyer whose brother Nalin also battled it out with Karim on the courts during their tennis-playing days and who passed away almost at the same time as the tennis great, recalls a good hard court player and friend who was immensely hard to beat.

"Karim contributed a lot to tennis in the Coast and everybody looked up to him for direction in matters pertaining to tennis.

"He is the greatest hard court player the country has ever produced and he should be remembered so," says Yashvin Shretta who himself was one of the top tennis players in Kenya.

When he retired from tennis in 1977 aged 42, Karim looking every inch the remarkable athlete he had been; 195 pounds on a 5'11" frame, passed the baton to his son Aasif who went on to represent the national tennis team and went on to participate in the Davies Cup tournament in 1988.

Aasif also captained the national cricket team where he played in three World Cups; 1996, 1999 and 2003.

How many fathers and sons have played for their country's national tennis and cricket teams?

When as chairman of Aristocrats, he joined staff of Aristocrats Insurance Brokers a firm run by his son Aasif, for their 2008 Christmas party, little was it known that it would be the 'last supper' between the late Karim and personnel who loved him.

Though wheelchair-bound due to a debilitating ailment but nevertheless alert and active in business until his last day, running a sports shop for over 50 years, the positive effects resultant of his strong sporting background through his towering physical presence were there.

Coastweek -- Yusuf
Karim in later life.

And when he passed away on the morning of Wednesday March 18, 2009, all the country's leading dailies, like they reported his many triumphs during the years he was unassailable on the tennis court, carried the news. 

Jim Davies, the proprietor of Jim Davies Academy in Nairobi was Yusuf's tennis team manager during an international outing in Cairo in the 70's.

"I did not interact much with Yusuf after I managed him alongside Nalin Shretta amongst others, because he was based in Mombasa, but reports then indicated that he ruled the roost down at the Coast," reminisces the grand old man of tennis.    

Yusuf Karim emigrated to Kenya from Bombay in 1937 at the age of two.

Records indicate that he married Miss Nargisbai Mohamed Abdulla Khimji of Dar es Salaam on June 10, 1960 at the Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri Jamath in Dar es Salaam , Tanzania .

The unsung hero in the family's success from Yusuf to the children is the mother Nargis, who was married to Yusuf for 49 years (10/6/1960).

She played the background matriarchal role of supporter and backer of her family, and as said, behind any man's/ family success is the lady of the house.

When spoken to, Aasif, the second who has also been a sports icon in Kenya, regards his father also as his role model and says that:

"My personal glory and fame locally and internationally was mainly a 'beneficiary' to all that I achieved as the real benefactor for all the accolades internally was my father, who did not get the opportunity at international level amongst other things."

"He gave all of us all the opportunities in sports and opened the door for all three brothers to earn a degree in the USA and play tennis at the highest level in college. 

Jasmeer Singh, who played cricket with Karim during their youthful days remembers the late as a great sportsman and gentleman.

"I was privileged to have played cricket with Karim.

"He was an excellent cricket player and a great batsman.

"How I wished he plied his trade in Nairobi as well where he would have raised the standards of the game."

Harilal Shah, former captain of the East Africa cricket team who played against Yusuf in the 1950's, concedes that:

"Yusuf was a great tennis and cricket player in the 1950's, although his first choice was tennis."

It would be a befitting tribute if a road or stadium was named after Karim in Mombasa or a state accolade awarded in his honour to commemorate his contribution to sports in the country.

His dream was to see a sports academy established for the disadvantaged or those who wanted to go further with sports as their career.

He is survived by wife in Mombasa, three children and eight grandchildren.

Aarif lives in Uganda, Aasif lives in Nairobi, Kenya and Altaf lives in Orlando , Florida, USA.

With a humble beginning, the couple managed to get all their three children educated in the USA, taking the next generation to a new level where all the three sons have done proud to their parents' hard-earned living.

Mvita tennis club, where he won his 25 straight years of tournament, (probably a world record), will have a "celebration ceremony" on 1/5/09 at 7.30 pm.

All his well-wishers or those associated with him are welcome or send your correspondence to:

karim@aristocratskenya.com

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 Ramzanali Parvana wrote from Toronto, Canada. 

'The King of the Concrete Court' is no more ! 

For over a quarter century in the fifties and the sixties Yusuf Karim ruled the concrete tennis courts of Kenya as the undefeated singles champion.

Many dared him and all of them without an exception, failed to dethrone him.

He was the uncrowned King and remained so for almost a quarter of a generation. 

Yusuf Karim was a gentle giant.

He had the most captivating smile.

He was was not only a pretty face but had a physique to go with it.

The image of this great sports personality of Mombasa stalking his pray on the many playing surfaces in Mombasa in those good old days is seared in my eyes.

He was a great batsman and also a rock solid volleyball player in the traditional style. 

The fifties and sixties saw a series of very interesting and exciting cricket tournaments played at the Coast.

There was the tussle to win the big Sheerin Cup and also the huge Khataw Cup and there were some very tense and exciting moments during these games played between the giants of that era that included the Coast Gymkhana, The Agakhan Sports Club, The Hatim Karimjee Sports Club and of - course the Ithnashri Sports Club that was proudly captained and ably led - by none other than Yusuf Karim - to some great nail biting finishes.

Yusuf had a very special and somewhat endearing gait when walking which added to his personality in some mysterious way.

He had many centuries under his belt by the time he hung up his batting gloves.

I believe that at one point during the height of his cricket career, Yusuf was made an offer to play county cricket in the UK at that time, an offer that he obviously turned down with solid reasons.

Yusuf Karim was almost an automatic choice to play for Coast Asians against the Coast Europeans - an annual cricket festival in Mombasa and very popular one with both the whites and the browns.

It used to be played at the Mombasa Sports Club's cricket ground over a long weekend.

This single event was the highlight of the cricket calendar for the year as it paraded some of the best of the best in that sport at the Coast.

Yusuf almost literally stood head over shoulders above a good many players.

Yusuf was for a while an institution unto himself as far as tennis is concerned and he inspired many youngsters to emulate him ... and for him, charity began at home for almost all his sons took after him and carved a name for themselves in the world of cricket and tennis nationally as well as on the international front - Davis Cup included.

I recall seeing Yusuf in action at a number of tennis tournaments at The Mvita Tennis Club that I suspect was his favourite place.

I could not afford the entrance ticket to such events and so I had to be more "resourceful" to some degree and this is the reason why the Mvita Club will have probably spent some more money in repairing its fences after such tournaments. 

Today, the centre court at The Mvita Tennis Club is deserted.

The clapping and the cheering of the spectators that once spurred Yusuf to dozens of victories has suddenly given way to a deathly silence which will now reign that court where Yusuf once reigned as its supreme champion. 

For death with its icy hands has tamed that Champion.

The Lion sleeps tonight as death has proven once again that it can defeat anyone at any place at anytime.

Yusuf Karim the humble and a true son of the Kenyan Coast is no more. 

I wish to express my sincere condolences to the wife and sons of the Late Star and also to his surving brothers Hussein, Sultan and Pyarali.

My "polez" are also going out to Late Yusuf's many nephews and nieces and the many other members of the family where-ever they may be. 

It is a rather difficult time not only for them but for me as I had great admiration for Marhum Yusuf and he was also one of my role models.

May Allah SWT rest his soul in peace and give the strength to all the bereaved that they may bear this everlasting separation with courage because now the 'King' has left the court never to return. 

I humbly request those who knew marhum Yusuf to remember him in their own special ways with a small prayer.

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 Abdulhaq Sheikh wrote: 

Reading through the number of tributes to this great son of Mombasa, a sports person extra ordinary, I believe the befitting tribute is to name a street in Mombasa after Late Yusuf Karim.

I do hope the relevant authorities will do justice to our great son in doing so.

He was a great inspiration to all of us who had the opportunity to follow his success through the news media.

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