Writing about one’s dad is not an easy topic when it is attached with nostalgic memories. I am proud to say that my dad was one in a million. Shahul Hameed Yoonoos was born on 8th August 1922 in Katugastota, Kandy. He was popularly known as S. H. Yoonoos in journalistic circles. Most of his [...]

Sunday Times 2

Sports Editor who challenged the Mighty King Kong

By Sharwar Hafeez Yoonoos

Veteran Sports Editor S.H. Yoonoos

Writing about one’s dad is not an easy topic when it is attached with nostalgic memories. I am proud to say that my dad was one in a million.

Shahul Hameed Yoonoos was born on 8th August 1922 in Katugastota, Kandy. He was popularly known as S. H. Yoonoos in journalistic circles. Most of his friends and relatives called him ‘Sam’.

My grandfather, M.C. Yoonoos, was a Senior Head Guard in the Ceylon Railways (CGR), while my grandmother, Sailath Umma, was a housewife. As my grandfather was stationed in many parts of Ceylon, my father’s initial education took a journey around the Island. He finally did his London Matriculation at Wesley College, Colombo. He was the third in a family of 10 brothers and sisters.

His youth

When I was growing up, my dad shared with me many of his mischievous episodes as a schoolboy, from teasing his siblings to the fights he encountered with his schoolmates. With a stature of not more than five foot three, he made his presence felt among his peers with his vocal and aggressive personality.

He reminisced how he opened the School 1st XI Cricket Team along with Prince Casinader, playing for Batticaloa Central College vs Saint Michael’s in their Annual Big Match and forced a draw.

He also participated in boxing and represented Wesley College in the inter-school Stubbs Shield and was judged the Best Loser.  His younger brother Zarook Yoonoos boxed with distinction and won the Stubbs Shield in his category representing Carey College.

My dad was also a member of the Wesley College Debating Team, which enabled him to rub shoulders with fellow students who later became prominent civil servants.

Listening to all his schoolboy exploits, what amused me was his fiery temper which got him into “hot water” with many scuffles at college carnivals and gatherings. Some of this information was confirmed by my uncles and dad’s friends. Meanwhile, I too experienced such situations, to my dismay.

I wish to recall an incident disclosed to me by my late uncle, Jeffry Yoonoos of “Aththa newspaper fame”. When my uncle had come down in his London Matriculation exam, my father beat the hell out of him, which prompted him to get through at the second attempt. I took an early cue from this narration not to cross my dad’s path and strived to be a good pupil.

With his flamboyant character and “never say die attitude” my dad was often the “Master of Ceremonies”. The experience during his young years made him a prominent figure when he started his career as a young journalist. His implacable vocabulary (mastered during his college debating days) and knowledge in English literature made him a force to be reckoned with in the media world.

King Kong: Yoonoos told him he could make or break him

Times of Lahore

After a few years of experience at Ceylon Daily News as a reporter, SHY decided to venture out to international journalism. He planned to connect with Times of Lahore through a friend in India and this took place a few years after the partition of India and Pakistan. He told me, that the appointment was confirmed but he didn’t have the means to travel overseas and was tied down with financial constraints.

His elder sister, Jezima Zavahir, whom he adored all his life, came to his rescue. She was just married then. For the wellbeing of her brother, she offered to sell her Thalif, a wedding chain which symbolised the marriage bond

He had told me his journey to Lahore took many days, from the time he set off from Talaimannar Port to South India. The train journey from Madras to Delhi was arduous and then reaching the disputed Wagah Border and crossing to enter Pakistan would have been a nightmare to young Sam Yoonoos.

I am sure that only his gritty self-confidence took him through this gruelling journey.

During the years in Pakistan, he fast acquired proficiency in Urdu to the amazement of his colleagues.

He shared with me the sentiments of interviewing great hockey stars such as Mothiullah Khan, Habib Ur Rehman and Noor Alam. They were world-class players with excellent dribbling skills and the game of hockey depended much on individual brilliance.

He shared pictures taken with great Pakistan cricketing all-rounder Fazal Mahmood and the run machine of yesteryear Hanif Mohammed. As a young lad, I listened to his great narrations with much enthusiasm and wanted to emulate my dad.

Encounter with King Kong

After a stint of four years, my dad came back to Ceylon and took up an assignment at Ceylon Daily News as Sports Editor. He held this designation till the latter part of his life even though he changed jobs.  It is said ‘pen is mightier than the sword’. My dad always believed in this saying and shaped his journalistic life accordingly. Some of his colleagues and juniors of his era were famous media personalities such as Ranjith Vethakan, Louis Benedict, Danstun Wickramaratne, T. M. Hannan and Latheef Farook, to name a few.

I recall an incident which took place when world-famous grapplers such as Dara Singh (India) and King Kong (Australia) were invited to Ceylon for a freestyle competition. My dad as the sports editor was asked to interview them. During the interview with King Kong, he had made a remark which disturbed my dad. To the astonishment of those present, he “uncloaked” King Kong showing his mighty pen and saying “I can make you or break you”. Which in return annoyed the champion and the whole interview turned into a frazzled affair and finally my father had to be ushered to safety and the rest is history.

Aththa cartoonist and SHY's brother Jeffrey Yoonoos

The mighty West Indies toured the country under Sir Garfield Sobers, when my dad was working as sports editor for Sun Newspapers under the most-respected and watchful eye of D.B. Dhanapala regarded as the doyen of journalism. The West Indies toured Ceylon for an unofficial four-day test and the ferocious fast bowler Charlie Griffith was in the armour of Sir Garfield Sobers.

My dad had spotted Charlie Griffith with a young Ceylonese beauty a day before the match. With the ferocious fast bowling attack of Wesley Hall & Charlie Griffith, the Ceylonese Team was back to the wall. My dad gave a humorous headline to his article the next day. It read: “Ceylonese batsmen are entangled while Charlie is entangled with a Ceylonese beauty”. Needless to say, the headline reached all corners of the cricketing world.

An angry six foot seven inch tall Charlie Griffith stormed into the Sun editorial office in search of SHY to demolish him. Once again, his colleagues came to his rescue while he was seated at his desk smoking his Capstan cigarette to his sheer delight, knowing well that Charlie Griffith did not know who SHY was.

1973 Arab-Israeli war

The war began when the Arab coalition launched a surprise attack on Israeli positions, on Yom Kippur, a widely observed day of rest, fasting, and prayer in Judaism. It also coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

My dad was chosen to cover the war as a special correspondent. The country’s Muslim community was against him as he was to cover the war from Israel’s perspective.

As we knew him, nothing distracted “the man with a brave heart” from going to Israel during this dangerous confrontation. He covered the war from his point of view, as per the direction given to him by the Sun newspaper. I remember my mum, with much excitement, reading the articles appearing in the Sun under the byline “war correspondent S.H. Yoonoos”.

I had that proud feeling even at that tender age not knowing the grave situation he was in but always thought my dad was a “Hero”.

Almost a year after returning from Israel, the Sun which had an initial circulation of 6,800 in 1970 and swelled to 32,247 by 1973, was closed down overnight.

Its publisher, the Independent Newspapers Limited, had become a staunch critic of the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government. Invoking emergency regulation, the Government sealed the company on April 19 1974.

My Dad, a key member of the Sun editorial, lost his job overnight, with the rest of his colleagues. This threw us in major disarray without any major income to survive.

Back to Pakistan

With no income, my dad decided to apply to Pakistan Times Lahore once again. For his good track record, he was given the nod and he took the same journey once again after 21 years, in 1975. We still remember saying goodbye to him at the Katunayake Airport on a rainy evening with much sadness.

With a never-say-die attitude, he reached Pakistan and worked until the end of 1978. He was able to interview the up and coming stars such as Imran Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Wasim Bari and Intiqab Alam. With the postal service improving, dad uses to send me the Pakistan sports magazines and pictures to my delight.

Press Secretary to Foreign Minister

By the end of 1978, my dad returned to the Island when J R Jayewardene won a landslide election victory in 1977.

A.C.S. Hameed, a good friend of my dad, on his return, offered him the press secretary post to handle his publicity work. He held this post for almost 10 years with a break in-between.

While the foreign minister travelled abroad frequently, my dad handled the correspondence work for the ministry, covering bilateral relations and the progress made.

I still recall a hilarious incident when the elder brother SHY was working with Foreign Minister, his younger brother the Late Jeffry Yoonoos did a cartoon for the Aththa Paper. Against the backdrop of the Bandaranaike International Airport, the cartoon showed Mr. Hameed asking Appuhamy which way the Harispattuwa electorate was. The inference was he was out of the country so often that he had forgotten how to get there.

The relationship between the brothers stood rock solid, with mutual respect to each other’s profession. They never failed to socialise whenever they met, with Capstan between the fingers of the senior while Uncle Jeffry smoked 3 Roses.

Tikiri Manikey Ambula Genalla

An unforgettable experience was going with my dad to the SLBC, with much excitement. It was to witness my dad’s good old friend Mohideen Beig’s live recording of “Tikiri Manikey Ambula Genalla”. The song stands to date as a super hit but surprisingly we are yet to know the lyricist/composer, as well as when it was first released. Mohideen Beig’s songs were popular among our cousins and uncles. Whenever we got together with my playing skills of the tambourine we always enjoyed singing.

Slowing down of the warrior

Over the years, with much wear and tear, I noticed my dad slowing down gently. By the end of 1990, he retired from active work but kept writing articles.

His colleagues were ever willing to publish whatever he sent. He happened to devote time to reading religious books and also spending time reading the Quran and praying. He was transforming himself gradually and he knew he had to slow down.

Whenever we visited him, he was much delighted to see me and his granddaughter Nabeelah. I always thought to myself the warrior, who could challenge any person regardless of the power he wielded, had been slowing down by the years.

Whenever I the face of obstacles and setbacks, I think of him and feel that I share his resilience, courage, determination. His motto had been to not let your fears stop you from being the best you could be. He advocated and practised a policy of passion and purpose. These were some of the wonderful traits of my beloved dad.

On March 14, 1999,  at the age of 77, almost 21 years ago, the great S. H. Yoonoos responded to the call of Almighty Allah and surrendered his soul to Him.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon (verily we belong to God, and verily unto Him
do we return).


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