by Sujoy Dhar
Jun 18: Remember late maestro Satyajit Ray's 1977 period film Shatranj Ke Khilari based on a short story by Munshi Premchand? The celluloid gem , subtitled The Chess Players in English, is etched in the memory of film aficionados owing to the two happy-go-lucky chess players essayed by Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffrey. The story is told in the backdrop of British expansion in India around 1856 and the fall of Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of the princely kingdom of Oudh known for his patronage of dance and music and often referred to as a debauch.
In the Ray movie, two noblemen of Lucknow are engaged in their endless pursuit of the game of chess remaining indifferent to the political developments around and the occupation of India by the foreign power. So much so that their neglected wives were looking out for other men.
Cut from the celluloid world of a period drama to the bustling Gariahat traffic intersection in south Kolkata, known for its roadside garment kiosks and well-known shops and establishments.
Here in the sweltering heat of one of the hottest summer days in June, men of all ages can be seen engaged in an absorbing game of chess. With furrowed foreheads, eyes trained on the black and white chessboard and minds planning the next move, the brooding men of Gariahat immersed in the game are indifferent to the honking of cars and the clamour of the city all around.
When the news of Vishwanathan Anand’s fifth hard fought world title victory over his Israeli challenger Boris Gelfand broke on May 30, some men were busy playing chess at the Gariahat boulevard.
The informal gathering of men has given birth to a club that is now called Gariahat Chess Club (GCC).
Tarai Chakraborty, a 26-year-old M.Tech student of Jadavpur University is one of the visitors to the Gariahat Boulevard for a game of chess now and then.
"I am a student of computer science and I think what I learn in university classes has a practical extension here in Gariahat when I play chess. Both computer science and chess, after all , revolve round artificial intelligence," says Chakraborty .
"It is not that I can come every day, but whenever I can, I come here to play," he adds.
While he is a student of an ivy league Kolkata varsity, 40-year-old Sanjiv Burman of Lansdowne, about three kilometer away from Gariahat, is a small time trader who rushes to the boulevard every evening for his daily high from a game of chess.
"Yes, I come here every day and have played several tournaments too. It’s a kind of addiction for me. I find real happiness here after a game of chess," confesses Burman.
Abhijit Saha, Secretary of GCC, says the club has today more than a hundred avid chess players who come and play under the flyover round the day and till 10 pm at night.
"We have kept a small monthly membership fee of Rs 10 so that all sections of people can play here," says Saha.
"Gariahat is traditionally known for its hawkers who run the pavement kiosks selling everything from garments to jewellery. Many of our young players are actually sons of the hawkers," informs Saha.
As the crowd of chess lovers grew in Gariahat, so did the number of chess players who also frequent the local chess tournaments and even spur at the state level competitions, reveal officials of the club.
“The notable chess players of south Kolkata like Kunal Chatterjee, Dyutimoy Mukherjee, Sarbajit Adhikary, Himadri Biswas, Sanjib Burman, Subir Ghosh and others also began to frequent the venue and sometimes spurred each other in a rapid round of chess,” says Debashis Basu, president of GCC.
“We rejoice whenever our regulars take part in competitions or win prizes. Inspired by the success of a few from here, others also venture into competitions,” says Basu.
The informal gathering of chess lovers in the area since the late 1980s took shape as a chess club in November, 2006.
The presence of Grand Master Dibyendu Barua and West Bengal Chess Association (WBCA) secretary Udayan Ghosh also helped to popularise the chess fraternity of Gariahat further.
The objective of GCC is simple, says Basu.
“We are keen to bring this game of skill which needs very little money to the grassroots level and popularise it specially among school going children. We are trying to make some useful contribution to the cause of the cerebral game,” he says.
With the latest world title garnered by Anand, the enthusiasm has only grown in the Gariahat boulevard.
As 35-year-old Basudev Haldar, who plays under the flyover till 10 pm every night, sums up: “We are proud of Vishwanathan Anand and our love for the game has grown with each of his achievements. Perhaps one day a future Vishy will emerge from here.”