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Cueists in a closet

Snooker clubs are thriving in some of the city’s congested colonies

Written by Shikha Sharma |
June 16, 2013 3:24:53 am

Amidst the din and chaos of a busy market,in one of the many narrow alleys of Jaffrabad,a non-descript clothing store is an unlikely hangout. Hidden inside it from plain view by frayed curtains lies a small brick-and-mortar ‘snooker club’ where Fehzan and Sameer,both 12 years old,are locked in a fierce battle. Dozens of young men sit around the pool table talking and laughing,cheering the young boys on. As Fehzan cues the winning ball,the room comes alive with laughter.

However,in this club,there are no winners or losers. Young men like to come to the club and spend many a leisurely hour there refining their game,hanging out with friends or just recuperating from the fatigue of a hard day’s work. Most are electricians,tailors,lorry drivers and mechanics,but there are children too who study at the local school.

“I first played snooker about 15 years ago with a friend who used to manufacture pool tables,and I was hooked. So I made one for myself,and that’s how this place began,” says Roshan,who started the ‘pool club’ at the Mazdoor Janta Colony in Jaffrabad in 2000.

Many like Roshan,bitten by the snooker bug,seem to have started similar clubs in Baburpur,Maujpur,New Jaffrabad and Seelampur in the mid 2000s,sparking off a snooker frenzy.

“Earlier,young men used to play carrom. Now they prefer snooker since it is a ‘cooler’ game,but mostly because it’s easy to grasp if you know carrom,” says Nadeem Khan,who ran a carrom club for 20 years before switching to pool.

If the choice of the game has evolved,so has its form. The new game,called Saifi (after the caste of carpenters and blacksmiths),is faster,spunkier and with a definitive local flavour. A steel tumbler containing crown caps of soft drinks with colours and points of all balls selected discreetly at the last stage of the game changes snooker to Saifi.

But why snooker/saifi and not cricket or football? “You get to meet everyone at one place. It lightens us all up. Besides,where is the space for big,open playgrounds to play cricket or football?” says Sharikh Salmani,who has been playing the sport for a decade now.

Salmani has a point. Most of these colonies are congested and lack open spaces and playgrounds. The small parks don’t make good places to play either,according to 15-year-old Zilal. “Hanging out at those parks is the easiest way to acquire bad company,get into betting,drugs and alcohol. This place is safer,and definitely more fun,” he says.

But how economical is the game on the pocket? “Usually its Rs 20 a frame or Rs 60 for an hour. But most of us don’t run these clubs for money,so we don’t press people for it,” says Roshan who makes his living from selling garments. In fact,most table owners have a separate vocation to sustain themselves.

Such is the enthusiasm for the game that some can barely wait for their day’s work to get over to make a dash for the table. Sajjad,an auto driver,comes to the club late in the evening every day. Young Samrukh,an auto mechanic who toils for six days a week,plays 12 hours of snooker on his one weekly off.

Small tournaments,within the colonies and with neighboring localities have become quite popular too. Some even want to play at the national level,like 16-year-old Shoaib Khan,who played at the Delhi state level last year.

Girls have started playing too. “I learnt snooker from my brother,and love to play at the club when there are no men around,” says Sheeba (15),who has been playing the game since she was 13.

And why does she love to play snooker? “I just love the thud of a ball as it lands in a pocket. It always feels like the sound of victory to me” she says dreamily.

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