Recently on the occasion of my daughter’s 6th birthday, she received a ‘Carrom Board’ as a gift from our neighbours. As we set about to initiate my daughter into the game, I realized that I was playing a Carrom game after almost two decades and there were so many precious teenage memories associated with the same.
Carrom is a popular indoor game in India and the board is likely to be found in most homes although it might not be in regular use in a lot of them. But the passion for Carrom runs high among the youth and long running rivalries are fondly recounted by old friends. We used to be ‘frenemies’ in our teenage days even when we did not know the word.
I was first introduced to the game when I made the required fourth player for my elder brother and couple of his friends – Deepak and Arun – wanted to play the game. This was in the late 80s and I was in my early teens. Being the weakest player I was paired with Deepak who was the strongest in out group. To add to the excitement we used to play with small wagers typically a treat of Bun Maska or Wada Pav for the entire gang. Along with the Irani chai that I used to pick up from the restaurant downstairs it used to be great fun.
Typically we used to play the game in the evenings and on Sundays. And if it ever happened to be a rainy day then this was again the most popular choice of recreation. In those days even Cable TV had not arrived on the scene and no one knew that a digital revolution called the Internet would change our lives forever.
Deepak was a classy player with a silky touch with the striker. Every time he played, he would pocket at least 2 coins and his strategy was to pocket the Queen early if possible, else keep the game tangled by preventing our opposition from getting the Queen. My job was to remove our coins that were stuck in the base and so relatively harder for Deepak to pocket.Eventually I picked up the game enough to pocket a few coins myself and so make a more useful contribution to the team effort. I used to run a deficit too at times when I used to ‘sink’ the striker itself and one of our coins would come again on the board as a penalty.
At times we had Ramu uncle join the game. He was from Chennai and used to be visiting his sister in Pune. His strength was his ability to remove coins from the base and he used to aggressively base the coins of his opponents. This made him a strong opponent is a ‘singles’ game was on since his rival ended up spending a lot of time digging out his coins from the base. But in a ‘doubles’ game, the advantage was marginal and quite often he used to end on the losing side. He used to get very angry when things did not go his way. He used to berate his partner a lot and the opposing team used to have much fun in needling him for his ‘lack of sportsmanship’.
But the game was truly addictive and each one of us prided ourselves when we did well. Funnily enough even the best player can run a bad patch. Deepak once lost his silky touch and found it very difficult to release the striker properly. And once he became self-conscious regarding this, his play worsened further. And it frustrated him no end to suddenly find himself to be struggling with the game.
Our passion for the game ran real high – still remember an incident when my parents were not amused to learn that on account of playing Carrom late into the night, we overslept and did not go to the railway station to receive them. My parents were returning to Pune after a stay of 2 years in Ahmedabad and had to struggle by themselves with extra luggage they were saddled with on account of the same. My mother was furious with us and dad had intervene to pacify her. He knew that we had been irresponsible but, in his mind, that was normal behaviour for the youngsters.
Indeed Bollywood too seems to share a romantic view of the game. In many movies like Ankush, Arjun we have the ‘unemployed hero’ play the game with their friends to forget the pain of joblessness and lack of opportunities. We also saw Munnabhai cure a ‘terminally ill’ patient by playing on his interest of pocketing the Queen. And recently they even made a full-fledged movie on the game – aptly it was called ‘Striker’ and dealt with the shady world of gambling associated with it.