Sunday, January 22, 2017

On Board

The striker hit all the four sides of the carrom board and it was a wild shot as it missed touching any of the four coins which were on the board.

The man opposite to Omkar cursed fluently as the striker came to the his baseline uselessly. The man's black eyes were looking furious as he passed on the striker to Omkar.

The anger of the other man did not bother Omkar – not one bit. Right now, all Omkar saw was the red queen – it was right next to his pocket and his was the black coin – the only black coin on board near the diagonally opposite pocket.

Omkar took the striker in his baseline as he was looking at the queen. Back shots were a specialty of his. Omkar somehow always knew the exact pressure to give to the striker and when he had executed the shot it almost seemed like the shot was willed right from the minute the striker left Omkar's hands. This time was no different.

Omkar's opponent was watching with slight anger and open amazement as the striker left Omkar's hands. The striker hit the opposite side and hit at an acute angle as it raced towards the queen. The striker gently nudged the queen towards the pocket. A clean shot.

The queen belonged to Omkar for this game.

His opponent did look like he was going to curse, but said nothing.

Besides even if his opponent was cursing, Omkar was not paying any attention to it. He was too busy covering for his queen. After all, one could get the queen, only when there was a follow – another coin from his own colour – that meant he had to hit a black coin, not a white one.

And Omkar was studying the black coin diagonally opposite. The only problem Omkar had was that the opponent's white coin was right in the middle of a straight shot.

Omkar did not mean to smile. But it was natural as he aimed at the white carrom coin and let go.

The striker hit the white coin which impelled itself forward hitting the black coin with just the right amount of force as the black coin sunk in the pocket like it always belonged there.

"The game is mine," those were the first words Omkar spoke as he looked up from the board. The only remaining coins in the board were the white ones. The queen was his and he had finished his coins on board. Just could not have asked for a straighter win.

His opponent said nothing as he walked away disgruntled.

Omkar was setting up the coins again and that was when he heard it.

"My dad can beat you."

The stubbornness of the voice caught Omkar's attention as he turned to see a little ten year old boy looking at him with slight anger. The front four teeth of the boy were missing and his unruly was sticking out everywhere. And right now the boy's black eyes looked furious at Omkar.

"What?" Omkar asked and slowly his surroundings made sense to him. Omkar was in his favourite eating place. That the place served the best food in the locality was one thing. The better deal was that the hotel had a place where the customers could also play indoor games as they ate. And carrom was one of the games which could be played there.

After coming to a new place from his native for his job, Omkar found that playing carrom was becoming too addictive. Not only was Omkar good at that, it brought back nostalgic memories of him and his mom playing the game when he was younger.

"My dad can beat you," The boy repeated as he looked at Omkar.

Omkar honestly did not know what he was supposed to say to something like that. But then the boy was not waiting for an answer. The boy turned and ran to his father – a short, slightly fat man who was eating his dinner.

"Dad..." It started with a shout, but the rest of the conversation was obscured from Omkar as the boy talked rapidly in the local language here.

The man was saying something to his son, presumably making his excuses. Prudently, Omkar turned his attention away from them, as he turned his attention to the board. He was not setting up the board again. He just placed the coin at the left of the pocket just diagonally opposite away from the pocket and was trying to aim for it.

That was when he heard movement behind him.

Turning Omkar was slightly shocked to see the fat man and his son standing before him.

"I am sorry," The fat man said in an apologetic tone. "My son..."

Omkar said nothing and presumed that the boy wanted to play with his father. Omkar got up making way for the two of them to play.

"My son wants me to play with you," the fat man said.

Omkar blinked as he saw the boy who was looking at Omkar very haughtily.

Omkar sighed and he had tried to wiggle out of that one. It was impossible because the boy was adamant. Extremely adamant.

Sighing again, Omkar chose white and sat down to play with the fat man. Omkar was hoping that he did not butcher the fat man in the game. Honestly, the fat man hardly looked like he could play the game – his thick pudgy fingers looked like it had never even held a striker, much less played the game.

Which just went on to prove that appearances were the most deceptive in the game of carrom.

Omkar won the toss, so he got to play first and he had nearly decimated four coins in his turn and handed over the striker to the fat man, after he missed the white coin on his fifth chance.

The fat man smiled at his boy who winked at the boy and started playing.

Omkar was truly and completely shocked. The fat man was brilliant. In a single turn, he pocketed five coins. The fat man's finger flew over the board, and Omkar suddenly saw the look in the man's eyes – the same one that he had sometimes seen in the mirror. In the sixth chance, the man missed a black coin by a whisker.

Omkar took the striker and this time there was genuine pride in Omkar's eyes. He was not playing with a man who played without understanding. Here was a man who played the game because he really enjoyed the game.

In such a game, the best thing, Omkar could do was pocket the queen. The queen red coin was worth five points and Omkar was more than sure that if he gave up this chance, then the fat man was going to take the queen in his next chance.

Omkar was unsuccessful in his attempt. He got the queen to the pocket. But unfortunately he had no follow on for the queen, which was why the queen went back to the board.

The fat man smiled as he realized what Omkar was doing.

Their game was fast as even the people around were watching the two of them.

In ten minutes, the game was reduced to the one equation which absolutely no carrom player liked. One queen and two carrom coins – one of each colour. And it was the fat man's chance. If he took the queen, the game went to him. The boy was sitting beside the father looking very proudly as he held all his father's coins in his little hands.

The fat man aimed a through pocket for the queen as the queen neatly slid into the pocket. The boy cheered as the man looked at the boy shaking his head as the boy immediately fell silent.

Omkar nearly laughed because he knew why the boy fell silent. In carrom, one thing that almost all the people missed was, how much the players concentrated on the game. Silence was the key to the game where the person who could concentrate best, pocketed the most number of coins. The boy apparently had realized that he was disturbing his father's concentration and kept quiet.

The fat man saw the black coin which was right next to his own pocket and studied the board and shot hard at Omkar's baseline. The striker rebounded and came so close to hitting the black coin and just missed.

Even the people around the board seemed glum. The boy looked like something in his eyes had been shut down as he looked unhappy. No one had any doubts that Omkar was going to pocket the queen and its follow in the game. Both were through to the pockets from Omkar's side.

Omkar took the striker and it really came as no surprise as the queen went inside the pocket.

Every single person in the hotel was watching them with baited breath as Omkar rolled the striker at his baseline, studying the follow, before taking the shot.

Omkar paused for a few seconds and then aimed at the follow and let the striker go.

It was unthinkable because Omkar's striker missed the follow by a whisker.

The boy shouted in happiness as Omkar looked glum and handed over the striker back to the fat man.

Everyone cheered as the fat man won in his chance and he capped it by taking the follow at a back shot.

The boy hugged his father and looked arrogantly at Omkar. "I told you my father would win!" he shouted.

The people in the hotel, dispersed slowly and most of them were still talking about the game.

It was almost half an hour later that Omkar remembered that he had to still eat his dinner, as all the other people in the hotel looked sorrowfully at him and wished him for better luck next time.

The fat man and his son were thronged by the others who were gushing at them and congratulating him. In between, the two players could just not meet or talk with each other.

After a delayed dinner, Omkar was slowly walking back home that night, still thinking about the game. And that was when he heard someone following him. Omkar turned and was slightly surprised to see the fat man. Omkar saw the boy inside a car at the back as Omkar nodded at the man.

"Congratulations! Good game," Omkar said watching the man.

"Don't be an idiot," the man said looking at Omkar with genuine respect in his eyes. "I came to thank you. I have played enough to know when another player loses a shot deliberately," The man said unable to stop smiling.

Omkar was about to deny it when the fat man shook his head. "It is ok. My son is inside the car. He can't hear you," The fat man said watching his son and smiling at the little boy who was waving at him and asking him to come back to the car.

Omkar smiled without meaning to as he turned to the fat man, "I am a son and I know what my dad means to me. And I definitely would never like it if my dad lost to some stranger on the road."

"Tell your father, he raised a good son," The fat man said walking away from the place, nodding at Omkar, walking back to the car, with a happy grin on his face.  

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