“Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi announced a cash prize of Rs.1 million for World Carrom Champion Ilavazhagi.” This was a recent news item in March.
Huh, Ilavazhagi, who?
That would have been the reaction of many in a country obsessed with cricket and adulation of cricketers. Ilavazhagi is the winner of the women’s title in the fifth World Carrom Championship held at Palais Des Festivals, Cannes in February. She defeated P. Nirmala, also from India, in the finals.
Such is our preoccupation with cricket that even hockey, the (once national?) game at which India has been champs, has been sidelined. Except that a hue and cry was raised when the team failed to qualify for the Olympics this year. But the players were spared the ignominy of having their houses stoned, or worse, burnt down, to which our cricketers are subjected when they are perceived as having fared badly by their adoring fans. We have to grant that to our cricket lovers – they are scrupulously fair.
Never has Viswanath Anand, world chess champion, been feted the way the cricketers are, not even in his home town Chennai. Little wonder he prefers to live in Spain. So what would one know about this young woman, Ilavazhagi, World Champion in a lesser known game?
In fact, I was amazed to learn that the game was totally unknown in the USA, and that a carrom board could not be bought there. There are people who do play the game, but they are Indians, or of Indian origin.
In India, it is a game that holds the interest of one and all across villages and cities. And if there is a world championship being held in Europe, I assume there must be other countries where it is played.
Ilavazhagi is the daughter of Irudhayaraj, a fish-cart(three wheeler) driver who transports materials like PVC pipes to make a living for his family – a wife and three daughters. No mean player himself, he trained and taught Ilavazhagi to play carroms from childhood. And she played to win. Her victories included the Asia Cup and SAARC Cup.
The small one-room apartment they share in Vyasarpadi, Chennai, is barely enough to house the family. The carrom board has to be accommodated definitely, and after that it is a tight squeeze. The trophies she has won over the years are far too many, and her home is just not big enough to house them. Those that have been left over after filling up the space under the bed, have been given to neighbours and relatives for storage or display, as they see fit.
But for Ilavazhagi the need to get a job was greater than housing her trophies. Even while she played she has been looking for a suitable job.
Many Thamizh magazines (they were the first to pick up her story after her victory) publicised her difficulties in enlisting help to make the trip to France, and earlier, to other places where the tournaments were held. Financing the trips has always been a big hurdle, not easily overcome, though she has been playing for the state for almost 14 years. Her bitterness shows when she remarks upon the recent big-money talk in the auctioning of players in the Indian Premier League deals.
The award from the Chief Minister was some sort of recognition to this world champion. The notification said, “Ilavazhagi's victory has brought fame to the state. This cash gift is being given to encourage her to achieve other, bigger victories.”
The good news is that Ilavazhagi now has a job. Sri Ramanujar Engineering College at Vandalur, has appointed her as the Sports Secretary of the college.
Now perhaps, with the worry of getting a job out of the way, Ilavazhagi can concentrate on her next move – not on the carrom board, but on getting a regular sponsor.
Photo from Internet