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Carrom champion Maria Irudayam does NOT want his son to follow in his footsteps

A meeting with carrom champion Maria Irudayam

Anthony Maria Irudayam
Maria Irudayam in action

“We had to throw a lot of trophies out as we did not have space”, says M. Vinnoli as he looked at his father’s trophy cabinet. These words shocked us as we gazed at all the trophies in the huge cabinet in front of us.

Earlier, we made our way to Vepery to meet one of India’s greatest, but unsung sportsmen. We could hardly even believe it when we were in front of Anthony Maria Irudayam, two-time world champion, nine-time national champion and Arjuna Awardee. What made the Arjuna Award even more special was that he is the only awardee for his sport – Carrom.

Maria started playing Carrom when he was 17, at local clubs. He won his first tournament, a local one in 1977 and hasn’t looked back since. 38 years on, Maria has played at every possible level and won accolades at each one of them, either as an individual or as part of a team.

Maria wants more recognition from the Government

These days, Maria has taken a hiatus from playing competitive Carrom as age has taken its toll. He runs his own coaching club to hone and promote young talent. Chennai is currently the hotbed for Carrom in India, with the first ever Indian women’s world champion, Ilavazhagi, also coming from Chennai.

Maria said, “There is no sustenance in the sport. Although I had a job in the railways, I took a back seat in 1999 to support my family as we had nothing and I had four sons and a wife to feed.”

Maria, who lost his wife in an accident three years ago, rues the condition of the sport in India. “Here, cricket is everything and hardly anyone knows about Carrom.”

Looking at his modest surroundings, we could only agree with his statement. His youngest son, Anthony, also plays Carrom and is a superb all-round athlete as well. Maria hopes that his son will not follow in his footsteps and take a more lucrative career instead.

Maria’s fondest memories are that of his two world cup triumphs. “In 1991, it was held in India and I won my first. However, my most favourite triumph was in 1995, when we won the individual and team competition in France”, he says with a nostalgic look on his face.

He hopes that the government will support future Carrom players better. “Back when we won, we were hardly facilitated. There would a few officials who would be present to welcome us back. When Sri Lanka won the World Cup recently, their President Rajapakse announced a huge cash reward for each member of the team along with a Mercedes car”, he says ruefully.

Maria aiming for a tenth national title

Maria Irudayam
Maria Irudayam (R) posing with one of his many trophies

In the evening, Maria takes us to his coaching club, where we get to see his skills in action against current India No. 7, Dilip Kumar. Maria has lost none of his class, as the 58-year old treats us to some of his trick shots.

Dilip, who is on the receiving end of the masterclass, tells us of his admiration for Maria, “Having persons like him coach youngsters is of immense help. I personality learnt a lot from Maria sir when I was just learning how to play.”

Maria himself credits his regime, “I wake up at 4 every morning to practice. I love playing the sport and it is important to hone my skills.”

We spend some time looking at the facilities before we take our leave. As we are about to leave, I ask a very personal question to Maria, “What are your plans after this?” Maria, sharp as usual, replies with a twinkle in his eye, “Who knows?” and then goes on to grin, “Maybe a tenth National”.

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