22 Apr 2016
7 min read
The owner of the tea shop at the Sanyasi Akhada temple premises has devoted his life to nurturing the group of chess players who show up in his courtyard
In the far corner of the yard, sitting on newspapers spread over the grass, are a statue-maker and a shopkeeper playing a small-stakes game: The winner will earn a cup of tea. When the game concludes, the duo amble over to the tea shop. The shop is barely larger than a walk-in closet, and is crammed with a stove, a few pots and pans, some tea cups, bottles filled with sugar and tea leaves, and a tiny stool where Bharat dai sits. As Bharat dai pours the players some tea, he discusses the strategies the two players employed.The duo then walk over to the row of tables right in front of the shop, and join the other spectators who hover over the players making their moves. The regulars at these tables come from all walks of life—doctors, engineers, professors and even national chess champions, such as Badri Nepali and Manish Hamal, frequent the place. When a speed-game begins at a table, the spectators, mostly made up of novice players, flock over to the game. Every now and then a spectator will break away from the pack and come fetch a cup of tea or a packet of biscuit from Bharat dai—for the players. Tea and biscuit are all that Bharat dai sells at his shop, and the occasional chana chiura. Perhaps Bharat dai would have sold more things if anyone there had the time to eat.
“Everyone just plays all day without thinking of food or drink,” says Bharat dai. “They don’t even touch the tea they have ordered without having finished the game.” For these players, who are obsessed with chess, Bharat dai’s courtyard is their sanctuary. As soon as they descend the steps that lead into the courtyard, the outside world—the rumble of vehicles that wheeze by, the sound of the Bagmati river’s interrupted flow, the people and their troubles, everything—just dissolves. The games, believes Bharat dai, provide the players the much-needed solace from the reality that awaits outside the gates.
“That, or they are just a lazy bunch,” he says. “For example, if they drop a chess piece on the ground, they will rather get one from the adjacent board than bend and pick it up.” He also allows for one more possibility: addiction to the game. Bharat dai has lived what they are living; there was once a time when chess overshadowed every other thing he was engaged in. Even as he worked as an electrician, and later, as a stove repairman, he would find himself constantly thinking about chess strategies. “I couldn’t concentrate on anything else,” he says.
But the passion for the game, believes Bharat dai, is a healthy one. He hopes the novice players, who are mostly young, will absorb as much of the game as they can from the seasoned players and from the retired national chess champions who frequent his shop.
With the help of the champions, Bharat dai hopes to soon formally register the group as a club, ‘Thapathali Chess Park’, of which he will be the vice-chairman. He has big dreams for them. “We need to create an environment for them where they can learn enough to compete at national and international events,” he says.
Bharat dai has participated in plenty of such competitions, in places such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Visakhapatnam and Orissa, among others, and he has seen the level of training the players in India have received. “I have played against them and lost numerous times,” he says. “But I have also done well in some places.” The third time Bharat dai went to Delhi, he finished sixth in a tournament.
“I always wanted to be a champion, right from my younger days back in Morang. I don’t think that dream will come true,” he says. “But when I look at these kids, I believe that they will live the dream that I wanted to.”