As the bride-to-be settles down, ready for Jolly Chanda’s measured brushstrokes, the make-up artist and her client present a snapshot moment of concentration. At her beauty salon in Kolkata’s Salt Lake, Chanda personally attends to the woman once her employees have completed the preliminary grooming.
The same eye for perfection, a zesty spirit and the ability to dig in her heels have stood Chanda in good stead in a game she has grown to love: darts. Says the current national women’s darts champion, “I play to win even practice games.”
Small wonder then that she has set a record, winning the women’s national darts championship thrice over the last four years. “I can’t help but be involved in whatever I’m doing,” says the 37-year-old.
For Chanda, darts is an extension of her fascination for sports, which she has nurtured since her school days. Cycling, long jump, high jump, running and in recent times, badminton—all these make her a “great one for the outdoors”. “After having played all these games at various levels, I consider myself as an athlete and not just a single-sports person.” For those who might consider darts a tame indoor game in comparison, she offers the kind of attitude that has earned her laurels as a woman entrepreneur. “Everything has to be executed well,” she says.
What makes her feat even more commendable is the fact that she has been playing the game no more than five years, since she became a member of the International Club in Kolkata and found a ready set-up of boards, darts and players willing to coach her. Within months, she was beating her mentors, in less than a year she had won the West Bengal State Darts Championship, and in just under five years, Chanda is being considered India’s brightest hope in the international arena. “Her rise is more an exception than the rule,” says Prasanta Saha, secretary general of the Kolkata-based All India Darts Association (Aida), the game’s parent body in India. “If she continues to be as serious in her practice, she will soon be competing with the world’s best.”
Sharp shooter: The darts culture in British-era Kolkata clubs has benefited Chanda. Goutam Roy
That the game of darts in India is nowhere close to achieving international benchmarks is something Saha realizes—the country, after all, is yet to present a strong case for itself even in the Asian circuit. Aida’s application to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to officially recognize the game, which will allow it to get government support, has continued to languish since 2006.
The stereotype of darts being a pub game that needs more beery machismo than real skill continues to fester in India. “Earlier, our knowledge of darts was limited to the television advertisement that showed the hero in a bar flamboyantly hitting the bullseye,” laughs Chanda’s husband and fellow player Biswajit Chanda. “It is only after we started playing that we realized hitting a 20 triple gets a player more points than the bull’s eye. It is among the common misconceptions about darts in India.”
On most days, Chanda spends 3-4 hours practising darts, and makes it a point to be at the club and practise in the late evenings. At their Salt Lake home, the game is a constant presence. A board hangs in Biswajit’s terrace office, another lies in a corner, oche (the line behind which a player should stand) marks the office floor, awards and citations are displayed on a table, and often, and especially before tournaments, dinner-time talk is all about the game. As Chanda attends to a steady flow of wedding-season clients in her ground-floor salon, her husband displays an impressive array of imported darts and other gear the couple have collected over the years.
The tag line of one brand of darts reads “the dart side of life”: a summation, it would seem, of the couple’s life beyond office hours. “There are days when we can’t think beyond darts,” Biswajit says as he checks the Facebook address of the Indian darts fraternity.
According to Saha, the maximum number of dart players come from West Bengal, followed by states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
Since Aida’s inception, says Saha, 16 states have been affiliated. The association has gained affiliation from the global body World Darts Federation, and an estimated 10,000 adult amateurs now play the game—up from the 300-odd who used to play in 2001 when Aida was registered.
Chanda says she has benefited from the tradition of darts in Kolkata’s clubs, many of which date back to the British era. Like the International Club of which she is a member, others—such as the Saturday Club, Lake Club, Indian Life Saving Society, Calcutta Cricket and Football Club, Bengal Rowing Club, Outram Club, Calcutta Swimming Club and Dalhousie Institute—are among the prominent venues for the game. Each club takes turns to host both inter- and intra-club championships, crowding a serious player’s calendar.
The recently instituted Kolkata Darts League, which has a title sponsor and is played over two months, is becoming increasingly popular.
Under the patronage of the West Bengal Darts Association, the game is also being popularized in schools, with as many as 32 schools participating in a recent inter-school tournament.
“Darts requires strong eye-to-hand coordination, helps one concentrate and also requires analytical skills as one has to continuously calculate before hitting,” says Chanda. “It’s a game that requires precision and perfection.”