Yogesh Pardeshi…The name may not ring any bells unless you are a carrom enthusiast. If you are, you’d know that he’s the reigning national and world champion. And his rags-to-not-yet-riches story has more grit and drama than Surya’s run-in with the underworld in the recently released movie, Striker.
Makes you wonder why writer-director Chandan Arora didn’t seek his muse in Yogesh. The observation draws a self-depreciating laugh, “You’re the first person to tell me that my story could make a movie.” It could! It was his elder brother, Rakesh, who sparked off Yogesh’s interest in the game. “I’d be sent to call dada home; but once at the club, I’d lose track of time.”
“Sometimes, daddy would have to come to drag us back. He’d enter from one door and we’d slip out from another before he spotted us,” he chuckles.
‘Daddy sold vada pav at the station’
His father sold vada pav at a stall, at the railway station. It was a struggle making ends meet. Eventually, Rakesh had to sacrifice his passion for the game to take up a job but he urged his brother to play on. The Rs 4 needed for a game at the Carrom House was a fortune to 15-year-old Yogesh. “Whatever daddy earned everyday went into two meals,” he points out. So he’d hang around and watch others till the owner agreed to let him play two board games in return for wiping out the carrom boards and washing the strikers everyday.
Then, to his delight, his father came home one day, after putting in 48 hours of overtime, with a miniature carrom board. It was on that day, that Rakesh taught Yogesh all the shots and moves he’d perfected.
‘I refereed matches for chai and cream roll coupons’
At 16, Yogesh went to play his first tournament. By selling his dad’s empty liquor bottles, he put together the entry fee of Rs 11. He walked eight kms to the stadium for two days. Once there, he not only played but also refereed four matches in return for coupons that got him two teas and two cream rolls a day.
“In the finals, I beat Pune’s best player to win my first trophy and a Rs 501 cash prize. That day, Rajan Zarekar brought me home in his autorickshaw and went on to become my coach,” narrates Yogesh.
After that win, he was urged to join a bigger club. This meant a Rs 1.75 paisa bus ride into the city every day. Yogesh opted to walk one way. He’d take a bus home or walk back depending on whether he won or lost. “If you lost, you had to pay Rs 8. I’d pray I didn’t lose. This went on for four years,” he reminisces.
‘I got a job with Indian Oil’
That was the beginning of a winning streak. In 2000, at the World Championship in Delhi, Yogesh was the team and doubles winner, and singles runners-up. World No 2 but still jobless! “After four months, thanks to JV Sangam of the Carrom Association, whom I’d given my bio-data to in Jalgoan, I landed a job with Indian Oil Corporation which sponsored my trip to the UK for the First Carrom World Cup,” he recalls. He lost in the semi-finals but on his return, was promoted to the post of officer.
More wins followed… Singles, doubles and team winner at the SARC Championship at Maldives… Team and doubles winner and singles runners-up at the US Open… Doubles winner at the 2006 World Cup… National and World Championship winner in 2008… Team and doubles winner at the Asian Championship in 2009…
“In 2008, I went directly to Cannes from Chennai after being crowned the national champion for the World Championship. Given my form, I was confident but having to use potato starch instead of boric acid powder created some problems for the team. But we prevailed and won. Yet, we didn’t get the kind of rapturous welcome our cricketers get when they return after a series win abroad,” Yogesh rues.
‘No, I haven’t seen Striker yet’
Has he seen Striker that also showcased the trials of a carrom player? “I went for the 3.30 pm show only to be told that the last show was at 12 noon. By the time I returned, the film was out of the theatres. I’ll have to catch it on VCD now,” he says.
Yogesh, who has graduated to a custom-made board that cost him Rs 4,000 (he has three of them that he uses in rotation), is practising hard in the ‘play room’ in his four-room-apartment in Pune for the Nationals in March and the World Cup in US in October. Keeping him company is wife Mangal, who has been his soulmate for years. “She sits across me during practice sessions and supports me through big tournaments,” he smiles.
Seven-year-old daughter Jahanvi is more into studies but his four-year-old son Yash already has his own striker. “The competition is hotting up. In Punjab, there were 3,500 applications for a school-level tournament. But if Yash develops good fingers, I’ll support him in the way my parents and brother
supported me,” he promises, adding with a smile, “Maybe one day, he too will win the queen.”