Meet Maria, Chennai’s ‘Carrom Man’ & A Two-Time World Champion
Cameraperson: Smitha TK
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
I walked through the bylanes of Periampet in North Chennai, which are dotted with mosques and churches. As I began my search for Maria – the ‘carrom man’ – I saw women making idlies and biryani. Two kids joined me in my quest, assuring me that everyone knew the ‘carrom man.’
In an unassuming alley, was a small sliding door with the words ‘Maria’s International Training Academy’ written on it. There stood at the door, a man in his early 60s, Maria Irudhayam, a champion who knows his blacks and whites like no other.
Maria, who hails from Chennai, is a two-time international champion and a nine-time national champion.
Story of the Striker Who Struck Gold
Back in the 80s, when he had entered the game, he was unbeatable. There are dozens of trophies and medals which are stacked in his house as a true testimony of his talent.
His list of honours include the victories at International Carrom Federation Cup in 1989 and 1997, World Carrom Championships in 1991, 1995 and 2000. He was also the champion at the SAARC Carrom Championship between 1997 and 1999, US Open International Carrom Tournament in 1996 and the French Open International Carrom Tournament in 1998.
Reminiscing about his first win, Maria said, “When I won the first championship,I felt very proud. I was the winner of the first international championship and also was proud that carrom was getting such recognition.”
How Maria’s Tryst with Carrom Began
If you walk through the bylanes of north Chennai, you will see the culture of gully-carrom thriving. That is how Maria’s tryst with the board began. Interestingly, Maria’s father had no idea about his son’s gift until he saw his photo in the newspaper.
Encouraged by friends, neighbours and his father, Maria pushed himself to compete against veterans, and soon impressed everyone by winning against them all.
“In a tournament, I saw the ballot. I had to play against Dilli, who was a two-time champion back then. I told my friend that this was a waste of money, and we shouldn’t do it. But my friend told me not be scared and instead just to give it a shot. I played against him in the second round and lost. I lost 17-18 times after that. Then one day, I finally won against him,” he said.
In 1996, he became the first carrom player to receive the Arjuna Award.
“When I would later go to national championships and lose, people around me would say, ‘why are you sad? You are an Arjuna awardee already!’” he quipped.
Carrom For Passion Or Carrom For Career?
Today, Maria runs an institute where top-ranked players come for training. He also teaches neighbourhood kids the tricks of the trade.
“Maria's Academy is really good to learn some skill. The gap between Indian and European players is too big. It's like an amateur against a professional. It's a challenge for me to play against a 13-year-old girl here. They are already so good,” said Peter, the World No. 5 who has spent a month training in this institute.
Maria believes that it was his skill, God’s grace and his wife’s love which allowed him to scale such heights in his career. Despite his love for the game, he discouraged his children from following in his footsteps.
Maria had to quit school at the age of 14. He wanted his three sons to receive formal education and get placed in reputed companies. His oldest son, Vinnoli wanted to pursue carrom as a career but Maria advised against that.
Today, Vinnoli is a software engineer and also manages the institute. Maria’s youngest son, Anthony, is an avid carrom player.
“I am the first graduate in the family and so, I was convinced (to not pursue carrom as a career). When I go out, many know me as Maria's son and that is a pressure in itself. When I go to play at a state level tournament, many come to watch ‘Maria's son’ and in that fear, I've lost many matches,” said Vinnoli.
Maria feels that the Indian government should offer sponsorships and job opportunities, otherwise they would lose authority of a game over which they’ve held a command for decades now.
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