Knight exemplar: chess saves people from alcohol in a village in Kerala


Kings, queens and knights are on the move in Marottichal, a village nestled in the hills in Thrissur district of Kerala. For its denizens, chess is a cerebral addiction that has saved them from alcohol dependence. Now, every home has at least one player and everyone between the ages of 10 and 50 in the village is a player. Back in the old days, they were just pawns in the bootlegging business.

In the 1970s and 1980s, illicit brewing was rampant in the village. The villagers picked up the pieces after cheap brew threatened to destroy their lives. For them, C. Unnikrishnan, 59, is the knight, the man who introduced them to the guile and gallantry with 64 squares. While in the 10th standard, he decided to learn chess. Inspired by a news report about American legend Bobby Fischer, a grandmaster at 16, he travelled to a nearby village to attend chess classes. Gaining some mastery, he persuaded fellow villagers to learn the game. After that, liquor never checkmated Marottichal.

Of the more than 600 people Mr. Unnikrishnan has coached, some have won accolades in State-wide tournaments. He is maaman (uncle in Malayalam) to the villagers. They just drop in for a game at his small restaurant. Or they go to a makeshift shed beside his house where chess enthusiasts between the ages of eight and 80 match skills. Needless to say, liquor is the last thing on their minds. A survey conducted by chess enthusiasts a few months ago revealed that there was at least one chess player in every house. In January 2016, the 700-member Chess Association of Marottichal was set up, and the villagers created an Asian record with more than a thousand of them playing the game simultaneously.

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