It won’t be any surprise to anyone if someone asks you about Maria Irudayam and you have no clue as to who that is. Leave that aside, it won’t be surprising to anyone if someone asks you that if you know anything about the World Carrom Championships and you have no answer. That’s it. If you don’t know that there happens World Championships for carrom then how are you supposed to know who Maria Irudayam is? This probably sums up the sorry state of carrom as a sport in India.
Maria Irudayam is no ordinary man. He is an Arjuna awardee to say the least. Yes, an Arjuna awardee for carrom or shall I say the ‘only’ Arjuna awardee for carrom? The achievements of Irudayam are numerous, but those are either largely unknown to common people or are largely undocumented.
Born in 1956, Irudayam came from a carrom hub in North Chennai. So, it was kind of a natural progression for him to play the sport. Starting to play the sport could have been natural, but what he went on to achieve after that was certainly not. Irudayam is aneight time national champion and a two time World Champion. Add to these various other international tournaments like SAARC Championships, French Open etc. and you would realise why Maria Irudayam is such a big deal.
Irudayam started off as a footballer and played at various inter-school football tournaments. An injury to his left hand meant that he couldn’t play football and he shifted his focus to carrom. Irudayam lost his mother when he was just three years old and was brought up by his father, Anthony Simon, on his own. Simon was his biggest supporter during his playing days. He started playing carrom in the 1970s and was hugely inspired by players like Dilli, Vincent, Saathalingam etc.
He was coached by Rajabather during his early days in the sport. His uncle, V. Lazar, who was a national champion, too played an important role in his career. But it was ‘the father of carrom’ – B. BagaraBabu who had the most influence on Irudayam’s career.
By the year 1977, Irudayam had started to make waves in the carrom circuit and had a state rank as well as a state title against his name. Five years later, in 1982, he bagged his first national title and later went on to win seven more. The Single Cup at Zurich in 1989 gave him his first ever international title. The first World Championship title came two years later in 1991 while the second followed in 1995. Winning two consecutive world titles propelled him to the Arjuna award in 1996. This was followed by the US Open in 1997, SAARC Carrom Championships in 1998 and 1999, French Open and Champions of Champion in 1998.
Having experienced the struggles of playing the sport first-hand without any recognition, Irudayam was not a big fan of his children taking up the sport. But his two sons, Vinnoli and Austin, anyways took up the sport and have turned out to be excellent players. Irudayam started his own carrom academy called, Maria’s International Carrom Academy in mid 2010s.
The academy located in Chennai provides carrom trainings to both professionals and amateurs alike. It provides a platform for youngsters to showcase their skills by investing in young talents, organising inter-school tournaments and talent hunts, providing foundation courses and guided practice sessions. Off late, Irudayam spends most of his time at his academy trying to revive and popularise the sport he holds dearly.