February 9, 2022
You hear carrom before you see it. The thwack as the gliding striker hits the coins carefully laid out in a hexagon at the center, the music as they disperse all over the square wooden board, is familiar to anyone who has spent time in India. Carrom boards are everywhere, as are people who congregate around them: under streetlights in villages and cities, university campuses, dorm rooms, local sports centers, apartment complexes.
Suffice to say, carrom might be one of the most popular indoor, and outdoor, games in India — perhaps precisely because it is so accessible. To play, you don’t need expensive club memberships or accessories. You come to the board with boric powder, coins, a striker, and a desire to have fun. The rules are simple. There are 19 coins: nine black, nine white, and one red. Competing players sit opposite each other (in doubles, partners face each other) and take turns. The objective is clear: you use the striker to pocket coins of your color. The winner is the one who pockets all their pieces first. The most important coin is the red one, the queen, which carries the most points.
For all its popularity, the game that brings families and friends together has not received its due on the international stage — even though it, like chess and billiards, is a professional sport. Now, India has its sights set on luring spectators to competitive events, so that carrom can make it to the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games, and perhaps even the Olympics.
“Almost every Indian has played carrom at some point in their lives. Almost every kid is gifted a carrom board at a young age, along with a cricket bat and ball,” said Arun Kedar, international coach and treasurer of the All India Carrom Federation. “And yet, people are surprised to hear that carrom is played professionally, that national and international championships are regularly held, that it can be a financially viable sport.”