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His fingers strike gold; Maria Irudayam-India’s first Carrom World Champion

A favourite pastime for many of us, Carrom is one of the few sports where India enjoys supremacy. Although its precise origin is unknown, it is widely believed that the game originated in the Indian subcontinent in the 18th century. Henceforth, this very original game has been carried forward by some masters who have embedded India’s name in this sport.

Anthony Maria Irudayam is one such player. Hailing from Chennai, Maria was a football player initially who represented his school in inter-school soccer tournaments. But a fracture in his left hand changed his course of life. During his recovery period he was attracted to playing Carrom. The game that was taken as a leisurely activity, stuck to him.

Maria Irudayam was immensely inspired by Kabir Das who took keen interest in his playing capability and brought coaches and players to his club for practice games. Maria regarded him as his mentor with whom he discussed about Carrom at length. It was Kabir Das who inspired him to participate in his first tournament in the late 1970s. He qualified for the finals but did not win it. This remains his only non-medalist tournament in his eventful long career.

It was after this tournament that Maria Irudayam made up his mind to pursue Carrom in his sporting career. Towards the beginning coach Rajabather was instrumental in coaching him. Former National champion V. Lazar, who was his uncle, also contributed in shaping him up. But it was B Bangaru Babu, the man considered as the ‘Father of Carrom’, who shaped Maria’s career.

Maria played Carrom at a time when the players had liberty to choose the tournaments in which they would like to participate. There were many patrons who organised multiple tournaments under All India Carrom Federation. It was easier to get into national competitions, the situation which was quite contrary to these days. Now-a-days, only three major all-India tournaments are being held.

By 1977, Maria earned a State rank and also the State title. It was at this time that his father, Antony Simon, came to know about his secret passion. Maria was the only son and was entirely brought up by his father after he lost his mother at the age of 3. It was difficult for him to play hide and seek with his father. But after the disclosure, it was not strenuous to persuade his father as he turned out to be his greatest encouragement.

Maria won his first national title in 1982 followed by seven more. In 1989, he won his first international title, Single Cup at Zurich. Simultaneously, he was a responsible family man. Married to Philomina, he had 4 sons and a daughter. He got employed at the Chennai Customs and served there until 1991. It was an important year for the champion as he won his first World Title that year. But it was also an agonising period due to the death of his only daughter. But the World Title came as a comeback to his sport after losing his daughter.

Maria resigned from his job in Chennai Customs due to lack of proper recognition in terms of promotion and remuneration. He took up a proposal from Indian Airlines and joined there as Traffic Assistant. But a passionate Carrom player, Maria did not want his sons to follow the sport. He was a usual father when he saw no proper recognition in the game. But his eldest son, Vinnoli, proved his DNA and played Carrom without his father’s support.

In 1995, Maria Irudayam won his second World Title and in 1996 came the prestigious Arjuna Award. Till date, he is the only Carrom player to be awarded the Arjuna. The recognition infused more zeal in him and he continued to win memorable tournaments like SAARC in 1998 & 1999 at Maldives, French Open in 1998 at Paris, Champions of Champion in 1998 at London and US Open in 1997.

At the family front, he was in a happy space then and became a bit lenient towards his sons playing the game. Vinnoli, started playing Carrom openly and won many inter-corporate tournaments and also placed himself many times in the State level tournaments. But it was Maria’s youngest son Anthony Austin, who was most benefitted by his decision. He was raised as a Carrom player from sub junior, and is currently ranked number 6 in junior level.  Austin also represented India at the Indo-Maldives test series (junior) in 2016.

Maria retired from his job in Indian Airlines in 2014 as a Senior Manager. But a strict disciplinarian, he still gets up at 4:30am to start his day with practice. He has substituted his employment time by serving as the Honorary General Secretary to the Chennai District Carrom Association. He is also the Co- Chairman & Advisor to the All India Carrom Federation – Adhoc Committee.

He turned his practice sessions to coaching after opening the Maria’s International Carrom Academy at Chennai. The Academy provides scientific coaching to upcoming Carrom players. Maria spends most of his time there with the sole intention to pass on the baton to the younger generation. The Academy is open for global audience and offers coaching for players and amateurs. It is also investing in nurturing young talents, inter-school tournaments, talent hunt, foundation courses, guided practice sessions and inter-corporate championship.

Maria Irudayam, the man who has broken the shackles that playing a lesser-known sport cannot give recognition, wants this game to evolve in its original place. He knows that the game has gained reach but the standard has come down. That is mainly because of the lack of national-level tournaments. So he urges the corporate giants to act as patrons and to take forward this game.

 

About Poulomi Kundu

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