Friday, March 28, 2008

#7: Carrom

Growing up most Indians played a game known as carrom. Some speculate the game has Indian origins while others say Chinese. Either way the edges of brown, ashy fingers from Albuquerque to Agra have hardened on the competitive terrain of the lacquered carrom board.

Analogous to billiards, carrom is distinguished by the use of one's fingers to guide chips into one of four corner pockets. Instead of a cue ball there is a striker; instead of the eight ball there is the queen.

Prior to beginning, the chips, or carrom men, are arranged in the shape of a flower at the center of the table, the queen protected in the middle. Carrom play is initiated with a break. Turns transfer between teams after a missed shot. The team to clear the table of its chips first and sink the queen wins.

The rules of carrom are one thing; the rituals surrounding it are another. Most likely carrom only took on an air of competitive importance during extended trips with one's family back to India. During these stays conversations with cousins, aunties, uncles, mammas, massis, attahs, and aitas rarely extended beyond, "What is the name of your best friend in America?" and "What is the power of your lenses?"

To fill the silence between responses of "John" and "-5 Left, -4.75 Right" you would turn to dubbed episodes of 10 year old English sitcoms, Uno, cricket in the backyard, or, if the hour was late enough, the fluorescent lights humming at the right frequency, the uncles sufficiently tipsy on Johnny Walker Black Label - a family game of carrom.

Following the selection of teams, the ritual of powder begins. Whether for damp feet, prickly heat or chafed skin, Indians believe in the power of powder. The carrom board is doused in talcum powder as players slide the striker across the lacquered wood surface, eyes level with the chips, searching for the evidence to refute Galileo's claim of the impossibility of frictionless motion.

Once the powder is applied and the carrom men perfectly patterned in the center, play begins. A game normally lasts a half hour to 45 minutes as your uncle quickly abandons any pretense of allowing you to win and succumbs to his innate desire to prove he is better than you, and by extension, probably good enough to have made it in America if he had really cared enough to try.

During the game passions will rise, tempers will flare and elderly family members will surround the table exhorting you to "ribbon off the wall, ribbon off the wall!"

"What?" you'll shout in return.

"Rebound it off the wall, stupid," your older sister will say, deigning to pause her NKOTB tape for a second to translate your grandmother's accent.

As you scour the floor on all fours for the chips that fall through holes in the side pocket netting, the game builds toward its inevitable climax: the sideways finger tap for the win. The queen sits exposed in the corner, completely vulnerable to a perfectly placed strike. Everything hangs in the balance. The tea and Haldiram snacks sit unattended on the dining table as family members gather around. Even the gecko crawling up the wall behind the window air-conditioning unit pauses to flick his forked tongue through the tension in the air. You line the shot up, squinting through your thick lenses. Index finger cocked beneath your pointer you release and tighten your shoulders at the sound of the collective intake of breath. Doonk. Tapped on the side by the striker, the queen snuggles up against the rail, coasts on a film of powder and slides gracefully in and out of the pocket.

The other team cleans up your mess. You lose. Your parents smile, but in their eyes you see what they're thinking. "I'd never miss that. Kids born in America are just too soft. Are those jeans from Old Navy? My God."

Nice game. We'll play again tomorrow, everyone seems to say. You smile, secretly dreading the rekindled embarrassment and waiting for the feeling to come back to your rosy fingers fluttering hardened, brown and ashy in the air.


pinestar said...

I loved this, considering that I am such a carrom freak myself. I did not know that it was a game that originated in India most probably. So, the post is pretty informative as well.
I loved the part where the gecko crawling up the wall sticks out its tongue, in consonance with the growing tension in the air! That is so true..and the most important thing about any Indian household... the family reptiles.

Subhash said...

The key position would be the side of the board facing the tv. This way, one could watch the a-team, small wonder, and boy meets world while your useless little cousin, soumya, takes 15 minutes lining up her ill-fated shots.

harry said...


mahotma, you've even mastered the linguistic art that is the gratuitous indian onomatopoeia. i was hoping for an all-out-brawl scene between winning and losing families that would be overpowered by "dooshum dooshum" punches thrown at unnaturally high decibel levels.

starksonit said...

Wow...this is rather beautiful, really.

Anonymous said...

haha, I love this one. Even though it used to be a "Dry" state with cold coffees substituting for Black Labels and elder cousins for uncles and me losing always.

But then again, I am not an ABCD...

dbals said...

Very well written. Sabash. I hate it, when the chip rebounds and the striker falls in the hole.

monica said...

London celebrates the Asian subcontinent during EAST 2010, yhe annual festival that celebrates London's creative and cultural dynamism.
Check it out:

adham said...

افضل شركة تنظيف خزانات ومنازل وشقق بالمدينة المنورة شركة غسيل خزانات ومكافحة حشرات بالمدينة المنورة ونقل عفش بالمدينة المنورة مؤسسة صفوة المدينة
شركة غسيل خزانات بالمدينة المنورة

adham said...

الشرق الاوسط من اهم شركات نقل العفش بالدمام متحصصه فى نقل عفش واثاث بالدمام ونقل العفش بالخبر كما انها توفر شركة نقل عفش بالجبيل والخبر وشركة نقل عفش بالقطيف والاحساء وجميع خدمات نقل العفش والاثاث بالمنطقة الشرقية بارخص اسعار نقل عفش بالدمام وتقدم ايضا شركة تخزين عفش بالدمام والخبر
شركة الشرق الاوسط
شركة نقل اثاث بالدمام
شركة نقل اثاث بالخبر
شركة نقل اثاث بالجبيل
شركة نقل عفش بالخبر
شركة نقل عفش بالقطيف
شركة نقل اثاث بالاحساء
شركة نقل عفش الجبيل
شركة نقل عفش بالدمام
شركة نقل اثاث بالجبيل
شركة نقل عفش بالخبر
شركات النقل البري بالدمام
شركات نقل العفش بالدمام
ارقام شركات نقل العفش بالدمام
ارخص شركة نقل اثاث بالدمام
شركة تخزين عفش بالدمام
شركة نقل اثاث بالخبر

adham said...

كما انها متخصصه فى النظافة وتنظيف المنازل ونظافة بالدمام والشقق والبيوت والفلل والكنب بالدمام
شركة غسيل كنب بالدمام
شركة تنظيف كنب بالدمام
شركة غسيل خزانات بالدمام
شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام
شركة نظافه عامه بالدمام
شركة تنظيف منازل بالدمام
شركة تسليك مجارى بالدمام
شركة غسيل فلل بالدمام
غسيل عمائر بالدمام
شركة نظافة بالدمام
شركة تنظيف موكيت بالدمام
شركة تنظيف سجاد بالدمام
شركة غسيل مكيفات بالدمام