THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Sitting on the porch of his house at Kanjiramattom with white and black pieces on a checkered board was enough proof that his enthusiasm for the strategy board game has not faded a bit. For chess historian P V N Namboodiripad, who will turn 80 on January 29, the clock seems to be turning back when it comes to his love affair with the game of chess.
“I was fond of sports since my childhood days, but it was in chess that I found my true passion,” Nampoodiripad says. A Malayalam teacher by profession who bagged prizes for his poetic works, he has never been a leading player despite winning a few state level tournaments in 1970s.
He, however, has etched his name into the annals of the sport after quitting professional chess in 1977. He has been relentless in his effort to promote the game through write ups in periodicals, publishing books, organising tournaments, radio talks and coaching young players.
His tryst with the game dates back to mid 1950s when he joined Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur for higher studies. “I fell ill after joining the college and had to take rest for several days. I went to my uncle’s house at Wadakkanchery. It was there that I learned the nuances of the ancient game of ‘chathurangam,” he recollects. But it was in 1959 during the time of Liberation Struggle that Nampoodiripad moved from ‘chathurangam’ to chess.
“I joined Brahmamangalam high school as a teacher, but during those days classes were minimal due to the Liberation Struggle. Although no students came, the teachers had to come to school. On one such day, I saw two of my colleagues playing something very similar to ‘chathurangam’. They were playing chess and I began playing with them after understanding the rules of the game,” he says.
His playing career, however, did not last long as he had a tough time clubbing chess and teaching after moving to S R V High School in Ernakulam. “I decided to stop competing. Now I play for fun,” he says. After quitting the professional scene, he launched his writing career.
“Chess became a popular sport in 1970’s after US grandmaster Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky of Soviet Union in the world chess championship held at Reykjavikk, Iceland in 1972. But there were hardly any literature on chess in Malayalam. I built up a strong theoretical base and started writing in magazines and periodicals.
I was helped by my brother-in-law who used to send me a lot books from USA,” the veteran remembers.
He has already penned three books in Malayalam. His first book, ‘Chessinde Lokam’ was published in 1989. ‘Chess Enna Bhudhi Vinodham’ (1998) and ‘Chessinoru Padapusthakam’ (2015) are his other major works. The later work is a comprehensive book explaining the chess theory in Malayalam.
Today, he is credited with having one of the best chess libraries in the state. Despite his age, Namboodiripad continues to follow world chess very closely. He rates Norwegian chess grandmaster and the current World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen very highly.
“Carlsen is an exceptional talent and I rate him above everyone. He became a chess grandmaster at a very young age and is likely to rule the chessboards for several more years.” The chess historian also has some advice for former world champion and Indian chess sensation Viswanathan Anand.
“Age is not on his side. I think he should quit playing in major tournaments.”