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A table for cue

The inaugural Billiards Premier League, which began yesterday, has ‘Raja’ playing for the Rakish Kings team. Sans vision in one eye, this polio-afflicted player, who also suffered a heart attack two years ago, says his passion for the game overrides all adversities

The League fever has caught on and cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) has spawned a host of imitations. Kabbadi recently got its own league and now, even the cue sport, billiards — which has given India many world titles — has a league of its own called the Billiards League. The tournament, which started yesterday, will continue till August 24 at various venues across the city, including the Bombay Gymkhana, Cricket Club of India, National Sports Club of India, Matunga Gymkhana, PJ Hindu Gymkhana and Shivaji Park Gymkhana.

Raja S
One with my guide: Raja S, is at the top of the table. Pic/Emmanual Karbhari

Fighting against all odds
Venkateswaran Subramanian, also known as ‘Raja’, is playing in the league for the team Rakish Kings. He lost vision in his right eye, after he met with an accident when he was six. A day before the League, we meet him at the Matunga Gymkhana during practice. Narrating how he met with the accident, he says, “I was standing beside the closet when the clothes hanger recoiled and hit me in the right eye. I lost my vision in that eye.”

The vision loss compounded problems as Raja was also afflicted with polio when he was two years old. “I got polio due to a failed polio vaccine,” says the Five Gardens resident.

It is evident that he does not let his disability bog him down — he takes the stairs to the billiards room at the gymkhana, two at a time, even with a polio-afflicted leg. He laughs as he says, “I took the lift but that was not because of my leg — I simply couldn’t move around much. In 2011, I got a heart attack. Let me say, it was a blessing in disguise. I whittled down from 108 kg to 82 kg, a loss of 27 kg,” laughs Raja.

“I would say that is the real achievement,” he adds with a chuckle. Today, he walks at least 8 km everyday.
“I also walk in the swimming pool,” says the cueist who counts the late great Wilson Jones as one of his mentors, besides a host of other top cueists. “I have also cut down on rice and roti. I eat a little meat and drink more soup,” he says.

When TT paved the way for billiards
However, it was Raja’s love for table tennis that ignited his interest and passion for billiards. “When I was younger, I represented the State in the junior team in table tennis. Today, I wonder how I did this on one leg. A lot of big names in table tennis, including Kamlesh Mehta, used to play at Matunga Gymkhana, which was truly inspirational. After a practice session, we would move into the adjacent room (which was the billiards room) to rest as it was cooler. I would watch others play the game and that ignited a n interest in billiards.”

Raja, who conducts Accounts tuitions for students, says that when journalists ask him how he overcame his disability, they expect that he will spout ‘dedication’. But he clarifies, “I would not term it as dedication. It is simply my passion and obsession with the game. I love cue sports, especially billiards. Table tennis gave me a sense of the movement of the ball.”

The 42-year-old explains that the league is a good training ground for all players. “It will help us prepare well for the forthcoming October World Championships in Leeds (UK). Also, we have very few billiards tourneys overall. The more you play, the sharper you become,” he says.

The rock music fan, who has many sporting achievements to his credit, says table tennis and billiards have made him confident. “I was an introvert in school, maybe I had a complex as I was differently-abled but I didn’t know it then. Sports made me come out of my shell,” he elaborates. The ace cueist’s vision may be compromised but his passion for the game certainly is not.

Glory at Glasgow
India’s billiards aces gave the country an Independence Day gift as they won the gold and silver in the inaugural World Billiards Team Championship in Glasgow (Scotland)

The Billiards Premier League
The Videocon Billiards Premier League’s inaugural season is scheduled from August 16 to 24. There are 10 teams, purchased at a cost of R1.25 lakh each for two seasons. ‘Raja’ Subramanian is a Grade ‘A’ player in the League

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