Former World Amateur Billiard champion took the best use of the limited opportunities that came his way
Sri Lankas first world sports title was in billiards. That was in 1973 when M.J.M. Lafir crowned himself as champion at the World Amateur Billiards Championship held in Bombay. Lafir literally goes down as Sri Lanka’s unsung hero although he was the first to win a world title. This achievement becomes even more significant because Lafir was the first to put Sri Lanka on the world map in sport. At that time cricket in the island was still in its infancy.
On his return to Sri Lanka, after winning the title of World Amateur Billiard Champion in India, Lafir was given a red-carpet welcome on Dec. 22, 1973. He was received and garlanded at the Airport by K.B. Ratnayake, Minister of Sports & Parliamentary Affairs, N.M. Perera, Minister of Finance, Badiudin Mahmud, Minister of Education, Leslie Gunawardena, Minister of Transport, I.A. Cader, Deputy Speaker, Sir Razik Fareed and officials of the MICH and Cue Sport Control Council.
M.J.M. Lafiir and his wife Misriya, were conducted in a long motorcade from the Airport through the streets of Colombo where large crowds gathered to welcome him home. He was given a rousing welcome at the MICH headquarters at Fort and conducted to the hall where many speeches were made to felicitate him. A felicitation dinner was also arranged by the MICH in his honour, at the Hotel Taprobane on Sunday Dec 23, 1973. Lafir and his wife were also accompanied by Badiudin Mahmud to pay courtesy calls on His Excellency William Gopallawa, the president and Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike the Prime Minister, both of whom received him with right royal cordiality. His three sons who are now involved in the game are Afzal, Riyaz and Fazal, the latter was only five years when his father died.
After his world title over here in Kandy, an exhibition billiards game was organized. The match was sponsored by “Ceylon Daily Mirror” through M.E. Marikar. The people who gave a hand to this event were late A.M.I.N. Marikar, Chandra Wijanayake, Simon Marawanagoda all from Kandy Garden Club and the table from this club was shifted for a day to the Trinity College hall. He played against M.S.U. Mohideen.
Lafir 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 into the scene to play billiards when he was just seven years old. He learned the game by using a broomstick as a cue. The home dining table served as the playing table. Marbles were used as balls. Cycle tubes provided the cushions. Sarongs were used as the cloth. It was this success that made M.J.M. Lafir to try out his skill.
He studied at Hameedia Boys English School, at New Moor Street Colombo 12. He was progressing well as a Grade 2 student at Hameedia, when a teacher slapped his elder brother Farad. His father in a rage stopped both Farad and Lafir from attending school. But, MJM’s dedication and determination overcame his handicap by learning to speak English from both his local and overseas opponents. He mastered the language so well that he soon began to joke and ‘rag’ his opponents on the international cue field and still won their hearts.
Pakistan and Wales offered him breaks but he turned down these lucrative offers. Pakistan offered Lafir a house and a car plus a good salary and wanted him to play for Pakistan in future championships. However he turned down this offer saying that he wanted to first bring a world title to his motherland.
M.J.M. Lafir played regularly at Hulftsdorp in a Billiards parlour – which as popularly known as the “Handi-Kaday” and “Crystal Place”. The owner of the former place encouraged Lafir and often gave him the concession of paying the 30 cents for a half hour game whenever he could, sometimes writing it off. He played in this parlour with fear-thinking his dad might find out. One unfortunate day it happened and when his father chased him out, one of his father’s friends intervened and asked, ‘why do you want to stop him? This friend had said, “He is playing quality billiards. One day he may become a champion.”
Then he joined the MICH (Moors Islamic Cultural Home) in 1947 and played for them in their regular friendly games. Lafir was much grateful to the MICH for discovering him, nurturing and grooming him for the long journey in billiards. He also owes a lot to the Ceylon Amateur Billiards Association for providing the opportunity to play against visiting champions and to go overseas for international competitions.
Lafir breathed his last on April 17th, 1981. He was 51years old at the time of his death.