Thursday, April 29, 2010

Striker : story of carrom in Chennai slums !!

 A couple of years ago, I. Izhavazhagi, the daughter of a fish cart vendor from the Slum Clearance Board tenement in Vyasarpadi, made it to Cannes, not to the red carpet, but to an event which saw the 22-year-old  being crowned world champion at the 5th World Carrom Championships. And later, after a Rs 10 lakh award from Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, Izhavazhagi, who is still the reigning champion, went on to become, quite literally, a slumdog millionaire.
Slums can be dreary places to grow up in, there’s little privacy, no civic amenities to speak of and an inbred criminality seeps in the ground. But in and around Chennai, these very places have spawned carrom champions like Izhavazhagi for decades. The phenomenon has found a Bombay echo in the new Bollywood release, Striker, the story of a carrom champion from a slum. But in Chennai’s own woebegone shanties—whether it’s Pulianthope, Periamet, Vyasarpadi, New Washermenpet or Tondiarpet—it’s no new story. They have produced over 40 carrom supermen in the last 40 years, starting with Lazer (Chintadripet) and S. Deli (Washermenpet) who won the national championship twice in the ’70s. Then came Arjuna awardee Maria Irudayam from Periamet, who has been  world champion, national champion and  SAARC champion to boot! Two other world champs, Anuraju and G. Revathy, were also from the slums. S. Anandan, secretary, Chennai District Carrom Association, a one-time footballer who switched to carrom after a knee injury, gets the scenario down pat, “Almost the first thing that lulls a baby to sleep in these slums is the sound of a striker hitting a pawn.”

Game on: The Olympic Recreation Club draws youngsters mostly from the poorer sections of society.
G. Vijayaraj, association general secretary, explains why carrom is so popular in the slums, even the women queueing up to fill their pots from the community taps pass the time by watching the board. “Playing cricket or any other sport in these narrow lanes is not an option,” he points out. Most players are affiliated to the clubs that mushroom in these slums, and they in turn become the cradles for budding talent.

“Almost the first thing that lulls a baby to sleep in these slums is the sound of a striker hitting a pawn....”
 “Girls are shy and tend to concentrate more on their studies,” says M. Parimaladevi of Choolaimedu, the current national junior as well as sub-junior girls champion. But someone like Revathy from Periamet, whose in-laws are sports enthusiasts, found no impediment when she wanted to go the gnr Carrom Training Centre in her slum to practise their moves. And since the inauguration, last  year,  of the 4,000 sq ft Hall of Carrom at the city’s Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, all carrom enthusiasts have a place to practice. The hall also holds coaching camps, tournaments and seminars where experts explain the finer techniques of the game.
Carrom’s popularity in these neighbourhoods (over, say, most contact sports) is also explained by the fact that it causes no fractures (fingers do take a lot of strain and players are advised to exercise them constantly using a soft rubber ball) and there is no formal fee structure involved. “Not a single pai,” emphasises Anandan. Clubs do charge players (Rs 5 per game) but that’s so they can buy boards, pawns and the quintessential boric powder (which helps the striker slither over the board).

Ex-world champs Revathy and Parimala Devi at a local game
Pulianthope club-owner Suresh, shouting over the din of pawns crashing the boards in his cramped “club”—basically a terrace with a thatched roof and some lamps—says, “I don’t run this club for money but in memory of my father.” His father’s picture hangs there alongside several of late actor-turned-neta M.G. Ramachandran. There’s no doubt where Suresh’s political allegiance lies, but it’s clear that his heart lies in carrom. “This place almost never shuts down because young boys keep coming after school, college and even after work to indulge their passion,” he says proudly. One hundred and thirty such clubs are members of the carrom association, and 20 of them conduct tournaments. It’s at these that carrom players earn their spurs before going on to district, state, national, federation and world championships.
“Carrom deserves more recognition for the primary reason that India has successively produced champions for over a decade, unlike in any other game,” says R. Christodas Gandhi, former Tamil Nadu sports secretary whose intervention led to Izhavazhagi getting the funds to go to Cannes. That said, she’s the first champion to get a cheque that should be a life-changer. Others have got piffling amounts and unless their employers sponsor them, few get the opportunity to travel for tournaments. B. Bangaru Babu , Executive president of the tamil nadu Carrom Association says . "Even Swiss and French players have landed in Chennai and come here to practice , just because they have heard so much about it !!! "

Revathi, a former world champ, is one of the lucky ones because both she and her husband, Dominic Raj, also a former champ, have jobs with Indian Bank which they got on the sports quota.

Most players have a grouse, though—the state government has put a freeze on job recruitments for carrom under the sports quota. So even world champion Izhavazhagi has been unemployed since March last year. National champion Radhakrishnan is, at 34, still jobless. E. Mahavinayagam, a former state champ, laments, “My parents tell me I’m wasting my life. How long will you depend on carrom, they ask?”
Anandan shows trophies lining a glass case in his office and says, “Even winning a national championship does not translate into prize money.” This is why many carrom champions end up playing in tournaments where ‘bet money’  is a factor. “What is there to hide when these players are not getting any financial aid?” he asks, unrepentant.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Anil Kumble: A tribute to the unsung hero of Indian cricket

Wide Angle By Anil KumbleThis entry is posted as a part of the Contest by

Rewind nine years, Pakistan chasing a mammoth 400-odd and were 100 for no loss with both Shahid Afridi and Saeed Anwar blasting the Indian attack to all corners of the park at the Kotla.
A loud roar greeted Anil Kumble to the bowling crease and magic began - magic which saw 10 wickets fall in a couple of sessions. Kumble, as he has done so many times, again showed why he the biggest match-winner India has ever produced. But this one was special since, in the history of Test cricket, only one more man had been able to achieve what our bespectacled engineer did.

forward to the present and Kumble has announced his retirement. The colossus who would have probably won us more games than the trio of the 70’s did, bowled his last few balls at the same ground, and Kotla was witness to a fascinating end to a journey that spanned 18 years.
For people like me who have not had the opportunity to meet him, he has been a source of inspiration. Whether it be the astounding courage which made him walk on to the ground with a broken jaw and dismiss Brian Lara, or his statement after the Sydney Test where he said: “Only one team played with the spirit of the game”, the amount of learning from this institution has been probably more than that which schools and colleges can teach you about conviction and confidence.
At the end of the day you need to have both of these traits to survive in a game where, at every minor wrong step you take, there are thousands ready to replace you. His weaknesses became his strengths, he knew he couldn’t spin the ball but still batsmen were flabbergasted on a regular basis.
As a kid when I did not understood what a top-spinner or a "quicker one" meant, I always used to ask people what made a bowler who does not do anything with the ball so special. Believe me, it was time and nothing else which answered me because every Test that Jumbo undertook, there was something new in his armoury.

The entire cricketing fraternity would also agree that there hasn’t been a bigger gentleman in the game. Dignity had been his hallmark on the cricket field - umpires rarely gave not out when Jumbo appealed for an lbw because, more often than not, they knew there had to be something otherwise the guy would not appeal.
It’s his dignity and persona which makes even a huge critic of him consider his words before speaking. But all this didn’t make him a weak fighter. He was always hungry for one more wicket, something that was pretty clear watching him bowl even the last over of his career. Had he got a wicket, Kumble would have gone for another one. This has been the story of his epic career where he has always looked for the next one and the opposition knew that if this man tastes blood early, then on Indian pitches it's doomsday for them.
For me personally, it has been a huge loss seeing him retire since loyal fans can never see their favourite sportsmen go out just as loyal customers hate their brands being killed by companies. But, as they say that age which is perhaps a sportsman's biggest enemy - especially in the Indian context today where men are no more the order of the day and the chants of youngsters have probably overtaken everything - this was the best decision he ever made. As I wrote in my last piece, it would be best for Indian cricket if the man who matters most would take the decision himself.
This marks the end of an era in Indian cricket and the end of the career of the fiercest competitor ever seen by Indian cricket fans. The man had skills which defied tradition and a heart of gold. For now, the best that can be done is to celebrate the farewell to the person who is credited with taking the highest number of wickets by any Indian bowler - and probably also credited of winning a billion hearts in the process.