This man has built a chess arena inside a park in Meghalaya- IAS Swapnil Tembe
He is an IAS officer and is the current Director of School Education in Meghalaya. Meet Swapnil Tembe, who found chess to be an ideal tool to inculcate in school kids the virtues of concentration, patience, analytical thinking, and decision-making. This is the reason why he decided to build a chess arena in a park in Tura, West Garo Hills. Sagar Shah had an interview with Swapnil. Read the article to learn more about how Swapnil made it possible.
If you go to Tura, in West Garo Hills, Meghalaya, you will witness something that is not easy to find in India: a whole arena dedicated to chess, situated in a park. Yes, we are talking about the spectacular sight at the DC park, where people of all age groups, but especially kids, come to play chess every Sunday at 3 p.m. The park has a whole place dedicated to chess, where one can find chess-themed benches, "I love chess" signboards, and boards on which quotes from famous chess players are written. All this has been made possible because of the vision of one man, IAS Swapnil Tembe, who started taking an interest in chess after the recent chess boom in India in COVID. How did it all begin, what inspired him, and what steps has he been taking in the last year? Get to know all of that in this article.
Swapnil Tembe: A man with vision and power
A popular quote from Spider-Man says, "With great power comes great responsibility", and this highly influential man proved that if one uses their power to the best of their ability, great things can happen. Swapnil is a 2015 batch IAS officer who graduated from IIT Kharagpur. Originally from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, Swapnil is the director of school education in Meghalaya. Just like many other Indians, Swapnil started following chess during the lockdown when Sagar and other comedians started streaming it. The streams were entertaining and educational, and they motivated him to inculcate the game in his life.
Last year, Swapnil was posted as a district collector in East Garo Hills, Meghalaya, where he got in touch with the people of the local chess association, Garo Hills Chess Association (GHCA). Education has always been one of the areas that have been close to Swapnil’s heart, and as a responsible person with power, he always aims to improve the status of education among children. Research has shown that playing chess can improve the decision-making skills of people and help with their cognitive development. Allying with that belief, Swapnil believes that if chess is introduced to kids at an early age, it can help them grow quite well. All the skills that one should have in their life can be learned from playing chess, and if nothing else, it is better than sitting and playing video games.
With the aim of introducing chess to smaller age groups, Swapnil got in touch with the people at the chess association in order to plan to conduct some workshops and maybe some regular tournaments for different age categories. This will not only ignite a competitive spirit in them but also motivate more and more people to take up the sport. Soon, he was transferred to West Garo Hills as deputy collector, and there he had a park under his supervision named DC Park. By reading a few books, watching chess videos, and watching the Netflix show Queen’s Gambit, he came to know more about the chess culture in Russia, where people sit in a park and play chess with random strangers. That idea seemed tempting to him, and he wanted to bring it to his own district.
Initially, the start was small, but soon, with the help of the government, they managed to create a beautiful arena. People of the association and others gather at the park every Sunday at 3 p.m. Slowly, many individuals started showing interest, and thus, they decided to make things more attractive. All things were made into a chess theme.
The current DC of the area is also interested in taking Swapnil’s idea further and is doing his best to continue it. Fulfilling his duty, Swapnil wrote to all the schools in Meghalaya to start chess clubs in their schools. The idea is to provide every kid with the opportunity to become familiar with these amazing sports. Going further, he aims to have inter-school championships and has also requested that the state government make a similar chess arena in every 12 districts of Meghalaya. The government is really supportive, and the process has already started in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. When asked what his goal is, Swapnil says that his current dream is to have a chess arena in every district of the state, and it may result in strong chess players coming out of Meghalaya in 10–20 years.
People can come to the park at any time and play. However, on Sunday, the people of the association are physically present there to play and teach the kids. Swapnil’s father was a very good chess player, but he never took an interest in the game before, which he thinks he should have. Today, he plays with his mother (70 years old) every day in the evening—at least one game.
The Impact Playing Chess Has on Kids
For the last few months, Sagar has been going to children's homes and teaching them chess. He says that, from his own experience, he has noticed that the children have become clearer and calmer. When he asked Swapnil if he also saw those changes, Swapnil said that this was one of the reasons he was so interested in promoting the game; the game helps them concentrate better while honing them in different areas. Today, almost 60–80 people come to the park regularly to play, learn, and grow together. Even parents accompany their children to the park, and many new adults have started taking a liking to the game and playing it themselves. What is better is that the government is supporting them; the entire thing is funded by them.
Swapnil tells us that when he is on the field, he sees kids picking up on the game quite quickly. One girl even went on to win the first prize in a tournament. Children adapt and learn things quickly, and it is better to train them well at an early age. If provided with the right chance and platform, magical things can happen. While Swapnil himself might not be a strong chess player, he is helping to create new talents in his area. He even met with Bharat Singh Chauhan, the director of AICF, when he visited the chess arena last year. Bharat found the idea very interesting and unique. They both had good discussions about taking this to a new level, and that resulted in the announcement that soon the first-ever FIDE-rated tournament will take place in West Garo Hills. Shillong is going to have the 1st Meghalaya International Open GM Chess Tournament in 2023. Swapnil is mixing educational tools with a feeling of competitiveness because he thinks that can make things go faster. The whole set-up of this chess arena usually takes up to 10 lakhs and can easily be collected if the government supports it or even with the collective efforts of the people.
Know More About Swapnil
Swapnil Tembe belongs to the 2015 batch of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). He is from the Assam-Meghalaya Cadre and has been posted in Meghalaya since 2017. Before joining IAS, Swapnil worked in IRS as Assistant Commissioner, ITBP as Assistant Commandant and in Deloitte Consulting. A graduate of IIT Kharagpur, he is originally from Jabalpur, MP. When he was posted in DC West Garo Hills, they organized the first-ever FIDE-rated tournament also. Speech from that event is shared below.
Swapnil has his own YouTube channel where he posts educative content. Apart from that, he has also posted a video reviewing a chess book. The link to both has been given below:
The scene at the DC park has been documented and uploaded on YouTube. You can have a look at it, to get a better view.
Click below to watch the full interview.