Carrom clubs rule Old Delhi’s pulsating nightlife
Even as the number of carrom clubs has dwindled over the years, Old Delhi still has many running from basements, shops and living rooms in localities such as Ballimaran, Lal Kuan and Matia Mahal. Most of these clubs stay open until 2am and are an essential part of Old Delhi’s pulsating nightlife.delhi Updated: Oct 08, 2017 08:15 IST
Mohammad Shoaib’s face is glowing in the orange light emitted by a bulb with a semi-circular metallic canopy, hanging by a wire over a wooden board, as he prepares for his next strike.
He has already used a brush shot, a fine glance, and has now declared his intent to use a bomb shot. As his fingers push the striker, three black coins go flying into the pockets. And, the tension in the crammed low-ceiling room, located in a blind alley near Jama Masjid, vanishes in the loud cheers.
Welcome to the exciting world of carrom clubs of Old Delhi.
A number of such clubs in the narrow backstreets of the Walled City come alive every night, filling the air with the crisp sound of coins darting across the board, infectious camaraderie and heady conversations. These are the places where men —businessmen, shop helps, mechanics and at times, state carrom champions — spend leisurely hours pursuing the most prized coin, the red queen.
Even as the number of carrom clubs has dwindled over the years, Old Delhi still has many running from basements, shops and living rooms in localities such as Ballimaran, Lal Kuan and Matia Mahal. Most of these clubs stay open until 2am and are an essential part of Old Delhi’s pulsating nightlife.
“This is a community sport. Carrom clubs are places not just for healthy entertainment but also for sharing life’s joys and woes. I set up this place 20 years ago. Many of our patrons started coming here as kids, and are now married men, but their passion for the game remains strong as ever,” says Mohammad Aftab, who runs the air-conditioned space that hosts the Friends Club.
Aftab charges Rs 20 for half an hour’s game. “I have kept youngsters away from vices,” says Aftab with the air of a man doing a social service.
His carrom club is a flourishing enterprise. It is 8.30pm and the club is already packed, many of its patrons are queuing outside for their turn. In their hands are strikers in transparent plastic cases. “Like every batsman, every carrom player has his favourite striker,” says Mohammad Danish, pulling out a bunch of strikers from his pocket, settling down for a game. “I have many more at home,” he says with pride.
Mohammad Imran, who has taken his place in front of a board, declares he is a professional player and has been a state champion. “Not everyone here plays for killing time, these clubs have produced many champions at the state and national level,” he says.
“I rank 3 in Delhi, and recently stood second in All India North Zone Carrom championship,” Imran says.
In the past decade, many of the clubs started by carrom enthusiasts affiliated themselves to Delhi Carrom Association, which helped them go professional. “More than 90 per cent of Delhi state champions are from the clubs of the Walled City. But, it is still largely a hobby here,” says Mohammad Shahid Farooq, secretary of Delhi Carrom Association. “Many of them got jobs as carrom players with public sector companies. So, now a lot of people feel carrom can ensure a better life.”
It is 10.30pm and in the nearby Mirza Club, 15 men are bent over wooden boards, watching with rapt attention, as the coins dance to the tune of their strikers. The club, located in a living room on the ground floor of a haveli, is run by Arshad Mirza.
Mirza seems more interested to talk about the location of his club than the sport.
“This house is known as the Bada Makan. It is the biggest house in the area. I have played carrom all my life, and I thought that I should start a club here to train children,” he says as Kumar Sanu-sung Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin, from the 1991 Aamir Khan starrer of the same name, plays on a dust-laden music player placed on a rickety wooden table.
By all accounts, Mirza club is a place for contentment, a place for spending just another day.
“We in Old Delhi believe that sometimes the business of life should be just about living it, not chasing it,” says Mohammad Owais, , expounding his life’s philosophy. He works at a jewellery shop and spends at least four hours daily at the club after dinner.
A paper pasted on the wall lists the names of the winners of recent tournament that Mirza had organized. In an almirah carved in the wall, there are several carrom board-shaped trophies with Mirza’s name on them.
“I have been adjudged the best player in many Delhi open carrom tournaments. My club is both a social space and a coaching centre,” says Mirza, as he sprinkles a pinch of boric powder on the board to smoothen the surface. A man sitting next to him is taking scores in a diary. As we talk to Mirza, another set of people sitting around a carrom board next to him break into claps—someone has hit a splendid stroke.
Talking of the enduring popularity of carrom, Mohammad Atiq, a social worker, who is a regular at the club, says that one of the reasons why carrom is so popular in the Walled City is that it’s very congested and there are hardly any open spaces for playing outdoor games.
But Farooq attributes it to the high unemployment rate in Old Delhi. “Until a couple of years ago, several Muslim families of Old Delhi did not educate their children and, therefore, many youth could not get jobs. For them, carrom was the cheapest way to pass time. But now, a lot of them are getting education and jobs. They do not have time for carrom any more,” he says.
No wonder, Aftab believes that carrom clubs will not last long. In fact, many famous clubs such as Cosmos, New Imperial, and Venus have closed down in the past few years. Their number has come down from 50 in the 1990s to about 15 in the past decade. Farooq, who also runs Nadeem Club, says that some of them had become places for drunken brawls and dens of betting which has brought infamy to the game.
However, he feels clubs that have gone professional will ensure that the culture survives and many champions will be born. “From just a game, carrom, in the Walled City, is becoming a game-changer,” says Aftab.