Name: RM Shankara

Occupation: Senior Traffic Assistant, Air India

Father’s Name: Manicyam

Father’s Occupation: Bamboo basket maker

R.M. Shankara quit school when he was in class VIII mostly because he couldn’t get his mind off carom, a game he had learnt while accompanying his older brother to local clubs. “I was addicted, plus I wasn’t really good at academics," says the 35-year-old, now a two-time world carom champion. He played every day, but only after he finished the day’s work with his father Manicyam, who made bamboo baskets and sold them. Shankara grew up in Kalasipalyam, in central Bangalore, a thickly populated, congested area known for its wholesale traders. “I played off the streets, I played at carom centres whenever I could afford it, and I just played," he says. He pauses to recall the first time he went competitive at age 19 at the Karnataka state sub-junior championship in 1989.

RM Shankara. A Chowdhury/Mint

So every evening, after wrapping up work at the basket store, he would rush to practise. Shankara went on to win the world championships in 2000 and 2004, apart from winning several state and national titles over the years. The 2000 win also got him a job in Air India under the sports quota.

“Can you imagine that a person who has not even finished school getting a government job?" he asks. The over Rs20,000 he earns a month, Shankara says, is enough to support the family.

To pay back his debt to the sport, Shankara has opened a carom centre with the aim of training young aspirants. “I have around 30 students," says Shankara, who finishes his morning shift at Air India as a senior traffic assistant by 1pm and then heads to the centre to spend the rest of the day with carom.

“One of my students, Zahid Pasha, played the World Cup in the US recently. When he tells people that he has been trained by Shankara, that will make it worthwhile," he says, adding that the money he gets from students for the centre gets used for electricity and equipment.

Shankara says even if he does move into a better residential area, he will always spend his time playing carom in Kalasipalyam. “In the movie Munnabhai MBBS, that old man can barely stand but the sound of the striker make his ears perk up. It’s like that for me: the sound of a striker makes my day. It’s both an addiction and my life," says Shankara.

Pavitra Jayaraman

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