Walter Tevis, on chess
Life can often overwhelm us with its unpredictability and we often become victims of unforeseen circumstances. But a brilliant game like chess is a grand reminder that everything is in our control and life is what we make of it. I have completely related to this quote ever since I first heard it on the renowned television series The Queen’s Gambit because as a child, when life would get too chaotic, I also found solace within the 64-square Apollonian world of chess. The story we are exploring today is along similar lines.
The beautiful game of chess brought a semblance of order, nurtured creativity and vastly improved the quality of life of the residents of the small village of Marottichal in the verdant landscape of Kerala. The chess revolution in Marottichal has its roots in the early 1960s when the village was grappling with severe alcoholism issues, causing profound social problems. The situation seemed dire, but hope arrived in the form of a local tea shop owner named C. Unnikrishnan, affectionately known as "Unni sir". Recognizing the need for a healthier and more constructive alternative, Unni sir decided to introduce chess, a game he had learned himself, to the villagers.
With limited resources and an abundance of determination, Unni sir began teaching chess to the people of Marottichal. His belief that this intellectually stimulating game could divert their focus from alcoholism to a more meaningful pursuit became the catalyst for change. As the villagers of Marottichal embraced chess, a profound transformation began to take shape. Instead of following the path of addiction, they now found meaning and a sense of purpose on the 64-square chessboard.
Chess quickly became more than just a game; it became a symbol of hope and aspiration. The impact of chess in Marottichal transcended mere victories on the board. The game acted as a catalyst for social change, turning the village into a model of sobriety and intellect. Families that were once torn apart by addiction now gathered to play chess together, forging stronger bonds and embracing healthier lifestyles.
The story of Marottichal's metamorphosis is a testament to the power of chess. This age-old game believed to have originated in India in the 6th century, not only replaced alcoholism but also ingrained itself into the village's identity. Today, Unni sir estimates that one person in every Marottichal household knows how to play chess. But Marottichal's journey didn't stop there. The positive impact of chess extended beyond its borders, attracting visitors from far-flung places like Germany and the United States. The village's commitment to chess and its wholesome lifestyle has even led to a growing population, despite relatively high land prices, as people seek to be a part of this unique community.
In a rapidly changing world where traditional values often face the onslaught of modernization, Marottichal's story offers a ray of hope. This community centered around an ancient board game has proven resilient in the face of digital distractions. Even as smartphones and technology creep into every corner of society, the people of Marottichal continue to gather and play chess in person, while exchanging meaningful conversations.
The Chess Village of India is a testament to the enduring beauty of chess —a game that not only entertains but also elevates the human spirit. Chess not only sharpens the mind but builds character. The rise of chess legends like Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh D., Arjun Erigaisi and more such stellar young minds in present-day India cements the immense power of the game and the positive impact that it yields. It serves as a reminder that a simple set of pieces on a board can transform lives, heal communities, and create lasting bonds. Marottichal's love affair with chess is a beacon of hope, showing that sometimes, all it takes is a game to change the world.
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