Grandmaster Muniyandi – 1

Vishy Anand won the World Junior Chess Championship and the small Chess community in Chittoor celebrated. They met at the NGO home, next to to the sub-jail, like every evening; the Chess association secretary distributed sweets. It was business as usual after that in the NGO Home. Some men played ‘Ring’ in the front lawn. The chess club members huddled over Chess boards, under ancient filament lamps with monstrous glass domes. Right beside the huge teakwood table that hosted Chess, people played Carrom board, which had a filament lamp hovering over it… it made the Carrom players look hideous, as the Carrom board reflected light and lit their faces partially. There was no other lighting in the Home’s hall. It was always dark, damp, and smelt like an old book.

Muniyandi lit his 240th beedi of the day, adjusted his glass eye, and tried to focus on the chessmen with his good eye. Muniyandi always complained that he could see only half of the Chess board, a ridiculous idea all right but people indulged Muni. Muni also claimed that there were thirty criminal cases on him (including attempt to murder) but the cops would not dare apprehend him. “Othha they know how I lost my eye now, don’t they?” Muni would snarl. If any unsuspecting person did inquire about the lost eye, Muni would seize that opportunity to take the inquirer to the tea stall outside the NGO Home, sit him down, and start his unbelievable story. It was all fiction. We knew. But that’s what Muni did to get sponsors for his tea, snacks, and smokes. The general concept of his ‘how I lost my eye’ story hovered around Muni’s valor: how he fought 45 (or 150 sometimes) rowdies single handedly, before losing his eye in hand-to-hand combat. There were a few at the Home who believed that Muni’s wife must have popped his eye off. It seemed quite plausible, for Muni was an incorrigible drunk and he stole money from his wife when he ran out of cash.

So how did a big-mouth, 4-anna hustler develop a passion for Chess? No one knew. It was one of those flamboyant aberrations of life. Muniyandi, however, claimed he was always in love with the game. He was a good player. His tactics on the board were nothing short of brilliant. But he lacked the much needed strategic perspective to move up and become a rated player. Also, he could not afford Chess books, the best resource for learning the art. Not that it would have made a difference, for he couldn’t read or write. There were a couple of ‘rated’ players in the club: Ravi, the second year B.Sc student from the Arts college, was one of them. Muniyandi revered him.

Muni accompanied Ravi to all tournaments in and around Chittoor. The year before Muniyandi had even participated in a tournament in Penumur. Ravi got the first spot and Muni actually got the third place! For reasons best known to them, the organizers chose to call the third place winner as ‘Man of the match’.

Muniyandi collected the prize money, a princely sum of 75 Rupees, slipped out, got drunk, and came back to extract revenge on the organizers that had played a cruel joke by calling him ‘Man of the match’. It was his maiden win in a tournament! According to Ravi, Muni pulled a switch knife and waved it at the terrified organizers and said “Nee amma! Man of the match! This is fucking chess, thoo nee amma!”

Only Ravi knew that Muni was harmless. The people of Penumur actually fell for Muni’s antics and believed that they were in the presence of a fearless outlaw. Ravi whisked away Muni before the shit hit the fan and jumped on the first bus back to Chittoor.

From then on Muni became the self-proclaimed bodyguard of Ravi. It was irritating for young Ravi but his sense of humor prevailed and he generally did not mind Muni and his antics.
NGO Home’s only hope, its rising star was Ravi. He won the district championships, and went on to win the State championship. The modest chess club from Chittoor produced a champion! The Chess club presented Ravi with a cheque of four thousand Rupees. Ravi used up the cash to buy a good Chess clock and books on Chess openings. Muni found a lot of pride in being Ravi’s assistant cum bodyguard. All the retired, older men did not quite like it but they didn’t want to argue with Muni, understandably so.

Himabindu, a stunningly pretty girl moved to Chittoor from Kurnool. She became Ravi’s classmate too, in the Arts College. She was also the state number two in women’s chess. Himabindu attracted a lot of attention. She was probably the first girl in Chittoor that wore Jeans to college. If that wasn’t revolutionary enough, she wore a t-shirt, which said ‘Little Bo Peep did it for insurance.’ Not one guy in college understood what that meant but they did stare at the location of that text for prolonged periods, making guttural noises. Himabindu ignored the naughty boys in college that passed comments when she passed by. She refused to accept any love letter from anyone. She broke quite a few hearts. But no one tried to mess with her. Her dad was a high ranking official in the Zilla Parishad. Her uncle was a top cop in Tirupathi. So none of the boys tried getting cute with Bindu.

Amid all this love blossomed. At least in Ravi’s heart. To him Bindu was the dream girl. She played chess! Was a champ! Looked like a goddess… he dreamed of discussing chess with her, going on long walks behind the Z.P quarters right behind the college. He also dreamed of Bindu embracing ‘Indian’ clothes, just like those once-arrogant heroines in Telugu movies that saw the wisdom behind the villager hero’s words and ended up wearing Kanchi silk saris even to bed. However there was a small problem. Bindu made no attempt to make friends in college. She was always spotted reading some book or the other, all by herself. When some girls did try to make conversation they were met with a luke-warm response. However, there was hope. He was the state champ and she had to come around. She did.

That year the Chess club at the NGO Home hosted the university chess championships and Ravi swore to himself that he would produce a spectacular performance. Muniyandi never left the table where Ravi played. He was more nervous than Ravi himself. During a game in which Ravi played black, things got tricky. Ravi played the French defense and his opponent launched an all out king-side attack. It looked bleak but Ravi knew that it was only a matter of time before he wrested the initiative. But Muniyandi could not see as far. When Ravi stepped out after finishing his 40th move, Muni ran behind him and very seriously suggested “If it looks like we are losing, I can arrange for a win. I just need to have a word with your opponent.” A horrified Ravi explained to Muni that it was not needed.

On the girl’s side, Bindu was cruising to the first spot. It was the penultimate round that swung Ravi’s fortunes. Ravi sacrificed his queen, the most powerful piece. It may seem spectacular but Ravi knew exactly what he was doing. But the spectators gasped as he played that move and before long, there was a small crowd huddled over Ravi’s board. Bindu was there too. As Ravi wrapped up the match in style, the crowd applauded. Bindu shook his hand. As the crowd dispersed that evening and Ravi packed his bags to go home, he spotted her walking towards him. His heart rammed against his ribs and his knees started shaking.
“You were brilliant… It is a privilege, meeting you.” She said. She had large, expressive eyes, which were accentuated by Kajal. Ravi wanted to reach out and touch her face but he thought the better of it.
“Oona ulkah hrooo?” he said. He wanted to say “You are a champ too”
She shifted on her feet and raised her eyebrow as if asking ‘What the fuck did you say sir?’
Ravi cleared his throat, took a deep breath, coughed and said “Pleased to meet you. It is a privilege to meet you.” He found it difficult to not stare at the wonderful contours her t-shirt made. Just when he was about to thank god, Muniyandi appeared on the scene from no where and said “Hello madam, come tomorrow for autographs, sir is tired now.” (concluding part in the next installment)

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