Remembering MJM Lafir on his 38th death anniversary | Daily News

Remembering MJM Lafir on his 38th death anniversary

The man who brought the first world title to the country in sports by winning the world billiards crown, M.J.M. Lafir, was remembered by the Kandy cue sports lovers at a special prayer service was to mark his 38th death anniversary. This great man, who put Sri Lanka sports on the world map, breathed his last on April 17, 1981, one month before his 51st birthday.

He was born on May 27, 1930, at St. Joseph’s Street, Grandpass to S.L.M. Junaid and Salaha Ummuna. He had two brothers Farad and Izzeth and a sister Hinaya. He came to know billiards when he was seven years old at the time his father won the snooker championship of Awwal Zavi Road Billiards Club beating his uncle A.M.A. Marzook. It was this success that made Lafir try out his skill in the cue game.

Lafir started his Billiards and Snooker first on a quarter-size table then on a half-size table. Later, he graduated to a full-size table at Hulftsdrop in a billiards parlour - which is popularly known as the “Handi-Kaday” owned by I.L.M. Shaul Hameed and “Crystal Place” by Naeem Nana. The former encouraged Lafir and often gave him the opportunity of paying the 30 cents for the half-hour game whenever he could, sometimes writing it off. He played in this parlour ever afraid that he may one day be discovered by his father. One day it happened and when his father chased him out, his father friends intervened and queried ‘why do you want to stop him. He is playing top-class billiards and has the makings of one day becoming a world champion’.

As his father’s friends predicted Lafir soon became a champion. Later when A.R.M. Mukthar took over the parlour and promoted regular Billiard and Snooker championships it was there that Lafir was able to win the title for three successive years, beating M.M. Faiz, M. Noordeen and M.M. Faiz again. Mukthar, noticing Lafir’s dominance told him that this was a club and everyone liked to win, and for him not to take part in the tournament again, so as to give others a chance to win.

His fame would have been lost in the “desert air” of Hulftsdorp but for two happenings. He joined the MICH (Moors Islamic Cultural Home) in 1947 and played for them in their regular friendly games with other clubs. The founding of the Ceylon Amateur Billiards Association in 1948, Lafir was much grateful for discovering, nurturing and grooming him for big time billiards and for providing him the opportunity to play against visiting champions and to go overseas for international competitions.

Though he was unafraid of facing the cue greats on the table he had one handicap and that was his lack of adequate knowledge of the English Language, which would have helped him to familiarize and mix with the other players in tournaments. He was progressing well as a standard 2 student at Hameediah Boys English School. But when a teacher slapped his elder brother Farad, his father in a rage, stopped both Farad and Lafir from attending school. But dedicated and determined Lafir overcame this handicap by learning to speak English with both his local opponents and abroad. He mastered the language so well that he soon began to joke and “rag” his opponents on the international field and won their hearts.

Boosting Sri Lanka’s image overseas was the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s cheque for Rs. 100 which started the fund to send Lafir overseas to train and play with world champions.

No other sportsman dominated the cue game so much as Lafir did. He reigned supreme for 24 years between 1949 to 1973, he annexed the National Billiards title of Sri Lanka 16 times and the National Snooker title on 15 separate occasions. Not satisfied, he went across to the Indian National Snooker title won on seven occasions from 1956 to 1976, defeating some of the best Indian stalwarts. Lafir’s achievement was commendable to Sri Lanka at that time. After his death before his 53rd birth anniversary on 17th April, the Colombo Municipal Council re-named Messenger Street, as M.J.M. Lafir Mawatha, as a tribute to him. Then during the presidency of Jagath Sumathipala in 1988 when the 5th MJM Lafir Asian snooker tournament was played in Colombo, with the backing of Minister M. H. Mohamed, a stamp to the value of Rs. 5.75 was issued.

The Asian snooker tournament was introduced in memory of M.J.M. Lafir, the tournament was also held in Sri Lanka on many occasions. Now the tournament is in operation but the cup and name of M.J.M Lafir are unfortunately missing. This tournament came into being because of late Maurice H Kerr of Thailand, the first president of the Asian Billiards and Snooker Association, and the late Frouse Saheed of Sri Lanka who was the vice president of the Asian B&SA and president of Sri Lanka cue sport. The M.J.M. Lafir memorial cup was made in Kandy. Now his club MICH organizes a grand snooker tournament in his name.

The maestro is no more but people in Sri Lanka will always remember him for his contribution to our soil.


 

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