The beginning of a chess revolution in Punjab!
Punjab is well known for excelling at physical sports. When it comes to chess, the state is lagging behind in a big way. Until the present day, the state of Punjab has had no International Masters or Grandmasters. Just three FMs. In a state where there is no chess culture, where people do not understand the game of 64 squares, how do you make the game of chess popular? Add to this the problem of drug abuse among children in the state. All of this seems like an insurmountable problem. But there exists an organization with a vision - a vision to change the overall scene in the state with the help of chess. Here's an inspiring story of how Punjab Kesari is making chess the most popular sport in Punjab.
An article on BBC about the situation in Punjab starts like this, "The northern Indian state of Punjab votes on Saturday for a new government. But the biggest issue confronting voters is not jobs or corruption, but a drugs epidemic that is sweeping the state."
The biggest problem in the state is how to stop the drugs epidemic. The school students are the worst affected. They take to drugs just as a pastime and before they know it they are addicted to it. Suicide and crime rates are rising because of the drugs issue. The parents are worried and the authorities have no clue of what is to be done. How do you solve such a problem?
The Hind Samachar newspaper was started in the year 1948 by Abhijay Chopra's great grandfather Lala Jagat Narain. The Punjab Kesari newspaper began in 1964. Since the start, Punjab Kesari has believed in ethical journalism as compared to running after TRP. In the 80s Jagat Narain and his elder son Romesh Chander had been assassinated for speaking out against terrorism. The family believes that through journalism they have the power to bring about a positive change in the society and these principles of Lala Jagat Narain have been carried over to his next generations as well, the latest one being his grandson Abhijay Chopra.
Speaking to ChessBase India, Abhijay said, "The state of Punjab has faced the problem of drug abuse among youngsters since a long time. School going kids are addicted to drugs and this is a problem that needs a solution. Young kids come back from school and find that they have a lot of time on hand. As they are getting bored all of them meet together and indulge in something known as "Gedi" which essentially means encircling an area in a car with loud music playing. When these kids get bored of Gedi, they need something more exciting! That's where drugs come into the picture. This is the way in which the drugs culture is growing in the state of Punjab. The right way to fight this menace is to make kids make the best use of their time once they come back from school. And in this aspect there is no better sport than chess. Once hooked onto it, chess has the power to get the kids addicted to the game and make them disinterested in vices like Gedi and drugs."
Says Abhijay, "When Dushyant returned from winning the below 2000 section at the Millionaire Open which was held in Las Vegas, USA, I asked him - What did you do in Vegas? He said I practised chess and played the tournament and came back. I asked him, there are malls, casinos, clubs, didn't you visit any of them? Dushyant had absolutely no clue about what I was talking. He went to Vegas, booked into his hotel, opened his chess set and laptop, practiced for hours, played the tournament, won the first prize and came back! That was one of the incidents which convinced me about the power of chess. If a boy could go to Las Vegas and not get distracted, that means chess is truly addictive!"
Abhijay shares another incident, "I visited a chess tournament once and it was a break between the rounds. I was expecting the kids to be running around or playing cricket and football. But they were actually playing friendly games against each other. There was pool table in the premises, but the kids had opened their chess boards on the table and were playing the game! I was simply amazed. There was nothing that could distract them!" That's when Abhijay was sure that he had found his weapon to fight against the problem of drugs in the state.
The first tournament was organized in Jalandhar and around 50 kids attended the tournament. That wasn't a great turnout, but it was a start. Instead of making it as a one-time initiative, Abhijay decided to go all the way. He formed a team from his own company who would look into the organization of these chess events. In consultation with FM Ashwani Tiwari, the idea was that the tournaments had to be done once every two months. The important thing was consistency. After every event, a half page of the newspaper would be dedicated to the news of the tournament.
The parents would read chess news, see the names of winners highlighted and get attracted to the chess events. Even my son/daughter should play the sport that is being prominently shown in the Punjab Kesari newspaper would be their thought! The entries began to steadily grow. The eleventh event of Punjab Kesari was held a week ago and 350 players participated. This was because they had restricted the entries! With the regular organization of events, the number of chess players just in the city of Jalandhar has reached 1000!
The cost of organizing one Punjab Kesari tournament goes to around 3.5-4 lakh rupees. The total amount that they have spent to boost chess in Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Amritsar and a few more adjoining areas is more than 50 lakh rupees!
My personal experience:
Well what can I say! Amruta and I were just bowled over by the work that Punjab Kesari was doing. Their resolute actions, their belief in their plans and the conviction that a change is possible by means of our beloved sport. A grave problem like drug abuse is being solved using chess. This in itself is a big tribute to the game of chess.
I have travelled to different parts of India, but never seen social work done in chess on such a big scale and on such a consistent basis. I have the deepest of respect for Mr. Abhijay Chopra, Ashwani Tiwari and his team at Punjab Kesari for the work that they are doing.
The Punjab Kesari Centre of Chess Excellence (PKCCE) is the umbrella under which all of these activities are being done. In future PKCCE aims to start a training centre in Punjab where some of the best talents are trained and nurtred to achieve something special in chess.