In the nondescript, dingy alleys of the Ambedkar Road slums in Khar, a group of people are scurrying around to set up carrom boards along the narrow lane outside a tea shop. It’s 7 pm and the locals are gearing up to play their favourite board game after a hard day’s work. The excitement is palpable, as children and adults crowd around to play or watch.
In pockets across the city, carrom remains a community affair, out of the living room, on the streets, a tradition that several carrom clubs keep alive in Mumbai.
40-year-old Raju Ruke, a taxi driver, is a regular player in the chawls of Bandra and Khar. “I play for two hours every night. I play with my friends and neighbours – shopwalas, BMC workers, cooks, workshop walas etc. The game is addictive. It’s a habit for us. We call it a night only after we play a few rounds. We play with family also and it includes kids. It helps us reconnect and share our sorrows and happiness of the day while playing our favourite game.”
He added that in his neighbourhood, more than 200 people play the game, which include adults and children. Many of these chawls have mandaps, clubs or organisations that sponsor the carrom boards for the locals.
Shahas Ali (47), a regular player in Malwani, said: “While it’s a leisure activity in poor areas, there are carrom clubs in many parts of the slums where serious gaming and betting happens. Some of these clubs, especially in Dongri, Malwani and Parel, used to be hubs of the underworld and anti-social elements several years ago and they were run by dons and thugs.”
He added that betting still happens in a small scale in few of the clubs, which are nothing but makeshift rooms in the tiny bylanes crammed with a few tables and bare electric bulbs hanging from a cracked roof.
Kiran Jadhav who plays in Khar Danda said: “Sometimes, the game is serious and intense. We bet for a few thousands and nothing more. The clubs these days are not backed by anybody powerful or rich. They are just there for the passion of the game. In fact, many people prefer playing in open air just as a leisure activity. It’s a great way to bond and relax.”
For many locals, it’s the game that matters the most and not the surroundings.
Twenty-year-old Lokesh Jadhav who works as a peon in a private firm is not the one to miss a single game of carrom in his chawl at Shastri Nagar in Santacruz West.
“We just need a flat surface to play the game. If there is no table, we sit on carts and play. The game gets exciting and goes on till midnight as we have many takers for a board who queue up to play. Some of us are a pro and plan to be part of some carrom championship in the country,” he says.
Many everyday gamers say that while carrom has become old-school and traditional among some and is hardly played in households any more, these clubs are keeping the spirit of the game alive.