It is with profound sadness that one has to record the untimely passing away, on May 29, 2012, of Sahibzada Yawar Rashid Khan, partner of the erstwhile Bhopal Stud. He had recently been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and was being treated in Bombay. His body has been taken back to Bhopal for burial at the family's stud farm.
A member of the royal Mirazi Khel dynasty that ruled the state of Bhopal for hundreds of years, Yawar Rashid was as fine a person as one can ever hope to meet. Indeed, it was a privilege to know him. Followers of horse racing are familiar with the concept of living up to pedigree and he provided a perfect human example. However, his jolly and ever-smiling mien belied his aristocratic ancestry.
Yawar represented a family rich in heritage descending from the founder of the house of Bhopal in 1723, Dost Muhammad Khan, who is believed to have travelled south from Tirah on the border of Afghanistan to join Emperor Aurangzeb. That, of course, was a long time ago – better known in recent times was Yawar's grandfather, Major-General Al-Haj Mohsin ul-Mulk, Nawab Hafiz Muhammad Obaidullah Khan Sahib Bahadur, after whom the Gen. Obaidullah Khan Gold Cup Hockey Tournament is named as also the suburban Bhopal locality and railway station, Obaidulla Ganj.
In the 'thirties, the general's second and third sons, Lieutenant-Colonel Fakhr ul-Mulk, Nawabzada Muhammad Said uz-Zafar Khan Bahadur and Colonel Yemin ul-Mulk, Imad ud-Daula, Nawabzada Muhammad Rashid uz-Zafar Khan Bahadur, respectively, were bitten by the racing bug. They invested in high class horseflesh, owning two of the finest runners in the country, Mas d'Antibes and Zuyder Zee, both sons of Zionist bred and owned by H.H. the Aga Khan, which won the most prestigious races of the times in 1935-36.
In 1939, Nawabzada Rashid uz-Zafar Khan established the Bhopal Stud Farm on a 60-acres plot, then on the outskirts of Bhopal, which was not yet the capital of Madhya Pradesh (in fact the state did not exist until 1950). Mas d'Antibes and Zuyder Zee were the foundation stallions of the stud. The splendid Chakori (by Zuyder Zee) was the outstanding runner of the 1945/46 season, and put the Bhopal Stud on the map with her facile Indian Derby victory. Unfortunately, the Nawabzada died at the relatively young age of 54, leaving his sons Nadir, then just 10, and Yawar, a mere 7 years old at the time, to carry on the family business.
Begum Yemin-ul-Mulk, Sorraya Rashid (who has had the misfortune of seeing two of her children Mah Bano and Yawar predecease her), carried on the horse breeding business until her sons were old enough to manage the stud farm. With the progeny of Mighty Sparrow, Simead and Zelenko, Nadir and Yawar were able to restore the farm to its former glory and amongst the top performers to hail from their farm during this period were the mighty Own Opinion, Au Panache, Mr. Mauritius, Maltese Prince and numerous others.
Around 1980, Nadir and Yawar established a yearling farm at Inderpura on the periphery of Bhopal where the youngstock were reared. In 1985 they imported Mulino (by Mill Reef) and at the Tattersalls December Sales of 1991, the brothers signed for Be Fresh (by Be My Guest), which was to be the final stallion acquisition of the Bhopal Stud Farm.
Realizing that the Indian Turf was subject to severe vicissitudes, Yawar joined his brother in diversifying into the hospitality industry. Together they renovated a historic family property, the Jehan Numa Palace, a stone's throw from their residence atop the Shamla Hills, into a heritage hotel which opened its doors in September 1983.
Gradually, their focus shifted away from horse breeding, and with the State Government taking away the land on which the main stud farm stood in 2005, the decision to close shop was not hard to come by.
All this while, Yawar was closely involved with the local community. He was on the board of a bank, associated with tourism development (for which he received an award), and also concerned with improving the lot of Bhopal's residents affected so deeply by one of the world's worst industrial disasters, the Union Carbide gas leak tragedy of December 1984.
Yawar leaves behind his charming wife, Aftab Banu Begum, and two sons, Faiz and Ali, who have followed him into the hospitality industry after training in Switzerland and Canada respectively. The thoughts of all are with them in this difficult hour.
This tribute would not be complete without an amusing anecdote, which demonstrates just how carefree and trusting Yawar was. It was on a bitterly cold evening in December 1982 that this writer and his wife, accompanied by Yawar and Banu Rashid, Rajendra Singh of Idar, his veterinarian Dr. K.M. Nair and the late Sonny Brar were dining at an Indian (actually Bangladeshi) restaurant in Newmarket. All of us were there for the auction sales.
The Rashids had rented a car as they and Sonny Brar were staying at Cambridge, 14 miles away. As we were leaving after dinner, we noticed the windscreen of the vehicle, parked at the corner of Black Bear Lane and the High Street, was frosted over. With none of us familiar with frozen windscreens, Sonny's suggestion of pouring warm water over it won universal acclaim so one of us dived back into the restaurant to obtain some. Without questioning this advice, or worrying about the consequences, Yawar poured the tepid liquid over the glass until full visibility was restored, then drove off back to the hotel.
It was only the next morning, when he came down after breakfast, that Yawar realized what had happened – unable to withstand the variations in temperature, the windscreen was cracked throughout in a spider's web pattern! Such a development might have fazed many – Yawar settled the damages with the car rental agency and carried on unbothered.
The long arm of the cycle of life may have taken Yawar from us, but his smile will remain etched in memory and his laugh will echo forever.