It is heartening to see a young girl from Chennai, Ilayazhagi, braving poverty and official indifference to emerge as the world’s new carrom champion. Although she won the world title a couple of months ago, it went unnoticed here thanks to the intrigues in field hockey and the launch of the Twenty20 cricket tourney. This is a pity since triumphs like this could not only give carrom — a much-misunderstood game — a shot in the arm, but also inspire youngsters in other sports to overcome the odds and succeed.
Despite being dubbed an indoor ‘board game’, carrom is exclusive in that it requires players to hone both their physical and mental skills. In that sense, it is perhaps closer to air hockey than it is to other board games like, say, Monopoly. At the same time, carrom’s simplicity — lining up coins on the diagonals of the board and knocking them into pockets — also allows plenty of tactical play as in policy games like chess. carrom is played in many European countries, Australia, and the US where national federations organise tournaments.
No country, however, seems to take the sport as seriously as India does. No wonder that since the world championship was instituted in 1991, Indians have won all ten titles. Considering this is the kind of domination usually expected from the Chinese in table tennis, it may not be a bad idea to recognise carrom as a sport, rather than as a ‘parlour game’. This will give a leg-up to other board games as well, that have been somewhat supplanted technologically by video games and computer-based programmes.