History Of Nairobi GymkhanaA 'Mustard Seed'
That grew into a great Institution
The Nairobi Gymkhana epitomizes a great and enduring Institute. The Club has neither exhibited sectarian nor parochial community interests. The Gymkhana has been open enough to accommodate the social and recreational needs and interests of all and sundry. The old and young, men and women have had a place in the Gymkhana and a chance to shape its history. The Gymkhana has no equal in promoting sports in Kenya. It has developed the best of sport and recreational facilities that equals anywhere else in the whole world. The Club started as Suleman Virjee Indian Gymkhana which later changed to Nairobi Gymkhana in 1972. This was keeping with the Kenyan Government's demand to do away with ethnic and racial names for Clubs and social groupings.
The Nairobi Gymkhana, like many other great Institutions, had humble origins. Its history began in 1925 on the land allocated to the Indian Association by the Colonial Government; this was a time when piped water and electricity at the site where the Club is located were but great luxuries. Laborers to keep the grounds well maintained were few and far between. Simply put, in its nascent years, the Nairobi Gymkhana was a simple shack with not only a few sport activities but also rudimentary recreation facilities. 'When the Gymkhana started, it had very little sporting activities, there was no bar, there were only two stores, one of them used as a bar and the other used to accommodate the Manager and Caretaker of the Club. The cricket ground of today was full of grass. The entrance to the club was from Forest road. There was a huge fig tree near the side of the entrance underneath which, there were water troughs. Members used to see cattle drinking water. The Club membership was confined to few who could afford membership fees and time to attend Club activities. At the time survival was the key that determined the actions of many among immigrant communities. Sport and leisure activities were accorded less attention than economic and business activities. There were very few members attending the Club. Only games were mostly played such as Bridge and Tennis. The Gymkhana rules and regulations were seldom obeyed leave alone submitting membership and annual contribution fee. Indeed, few women liked their husbands to patronize the Club in fear of family reputation and finances in those days. At some point in the 1940's the Government wanted to re-possess the Club's land because of the glaring lack of any activity going on there. The decision was rescinded thanks to the appeal raised by a few active members.
The humble beginning notwithstanding, Nairobi Gymkhana had its unique aspects. First, it was a direct product of the strong spirit of philanthropy and magnanimity that has been a trait of the Indian Community in Kenya over the years. The Club was named The Suleiman Virjee Indian Gymkhana after Suleiman Virjee who generously donated the funds that were used in the construction of the Club. Mr. Virjee was a prominent a wealthy businessman in Nairobi who had immigrated to Kenya in the 1870s. He was not only active in the politics of the East Africa Indian National Congress but also a renowned philanthropist.
Secondly, Nairobi Gymkhana attained its unique posture because of its cosmopolitan character from the beginning. Its doors were open to all members of the Asian Community as opposed to sectarian Clubs. The Club's sporting activities got a tremendous boost in the early 1950s following the closure by the Colonial Government of many sectarian Clubs. These included the Kathiawar Sports Club, Oshwal Sports Club and Caledonian Football Club whose grounds located near the present – day Serena Hotel was repossessed by the Government. Majority of the members from these Clubs moved to Nairobi Gymkhana. That mass movement increased the Club's membership and sports activities.
The Club's foundation stone was laid by Sir Edward Wright, Governor of Kenya on the 4th of April 1928. The opening ceremony of Gymkhana was performed by B.S.Varma, Deputy President of The East African Indian National Congress on Saturday 19th October 1929. Prominent people from political and economic circles have become the Club's patrons over the years regardless of their creed or political affiliation.