Friday, March 25, 2005

Which came first, Carroms or Pool ?

The similarities between the games of Carrom and Pool (8-ball billiards) are obvious. Both involve using a striker/ball to knock one of two sets of other discs/balls into pockets.

The primitiveness of carrom equipment compared to billiards equipment would suggest, to me atleast, that the latter was derived from the former. Perhaps even that European colonists, inspired by watching carroms in South Asia, invented billiards ? But Wikipedia and both say that, despite its present-day prevalence in South Asia, the origins of the game are obscure. According to :

Some say it was the invention of the Maharajahs of India, while many in India believe it may have been introduced by the British. Some books on international games include Burma, Egypt and Ethiopia as possible sources, all of which leads us to conclude that, at this time, no-one knows where carrom originated.
And all Wikipedia says about the history of billiards is that the cue was invented in 1735. But Wikipedia does say this about the variant of Billiards known as Carom or Carambole :
Carambole billiards (or carom) is a billiards game developed in the 18th century in France. The game consisted of two white cue balls and a red object ball. The red ball was called carambola after a red fruit.
What ? So the name is of European origin ? Maybe the derivation was in the other direction then ? And then I find this page about the fruit, which says :
This minor crop was introduced to Africa and South America by Portuguese traders but it is believed to have originated in Sri Lanka and the Moluccas.
And this about the origin of its name :
Carambola was originally a Portuguese name, and goes back to the Sanskrit "karmara", which means 'food appetizer'.
The story of cross-cultural fertilization includes this:
To the English living in southern Asia, the carambola was known as the Coromandel gooseberry.
Trust the Brits to totally screw-up a name in its anglicization.

The mystery of the origins of the games remains...


Friday, March 04, 2005

Televised Revolution

At the risk of sounding like an inveterate watcher of left-leaning documentaries, I have another one to recommend. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is an irish-made film on the attempted coup on the government of Hugo Chavez in April 2002. The film-makers picked a fortuitous time to be in Caracas making a film on Chavez -- just when some people tried to overthrow his government, and managed to get some jaw-dropping footage of it all from within the presidential palace. Whatever your political point of view, I'd recommend watching this film to simply get a chance to see a coup taking place from close-up.

In brief: Venezuela is a land of great oil wealth (third largest producer of oil in the world?), but also a land of great inequality. Chavez, an outsider to the ruling class, is democratically elected in 1998, replacing the two parties that have dominated Venezuelan politics until that point. [The film does say that Chavez had previously attempted his own coup in the early 90's (and failed) and served time in jail as a consequence]. I'm not surprised that the ruling elite does not like him -- what with his talk of redistributing wealth (especially oil wealth) and all. But Chavez has devoted supporters, especially among Venezuela's working class. On April 12th 2002, the old guard manage to take control of the palace and hold Chavez prisoner. Chavez's supporters pour out onto the streets and surround the presidential palace, and this inspires some palace guards to retake control of it and hand it back to Chavez (within a couple of days).

One of the more fascinating aspects of the film is the manipulation of media. All the private TV-channels,owned by the old guard, are rabidly anti-chavez, while the president gets to use the state-owned channel as his mouthpiece. A lot of the action during the attempted coup is the tussle for control of that state channel. There is an interview with a journalist, who used to work with a private news channel, who quit when asked to edit footage to make it look like it was Chavez's supporters that were the cause of the violence. The reaction of the US government (via Ari Fleischer) to the overthrow of a democratically elected president is something like "he had it coming". The NY times had a similar take on it in their editorial the next day.

I make no claims for the objectivity of the film-makers, but Chavez does come through as a very sympathetic figure. I'd highly recommend watching the movie from start to finish (though I was deprived of the last ten minutes because of a faulty video cassette), but if you can't wait to watch the whole thing you can see an excerpt here.