Bootleggers' Checkmate

People of a Kerala village fought alcoholism by playing chess and now all its residents are addicted to the game

Published: 18th April 2015 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 18th April 2015 11:40 AM   |  A+A-

Bootlegg ers

In the 60s and the 7os, the heady aroma of locally made liquor wafted through the air from this tiny Kerala village. The inhabitants of this sleepy hamlet of Marottichal in the state’s Thrissur district in Puthur Gram brewed liquor to make a living and were addicted to it. Later, stung by the fallout of their addiction, some of them persuaded excise officials to raid the village and put an end to the heady high. During the month-long midnight raids, the good Samaritans started playing chess to while away the long wait before the raids.

The checkered game caught on. Today, everyone in the village—from children to the aged—plays the game of kings and queens, knights and rooks, pawns and bishops. After check-mating their addiction to alcohol by their own free will, veteran tipplers replaced their addiction to bottles with the much ‘lighter and dry’ chess pieces.

Today, Marottichal is known as the “chess village” due to its hundred per cent chess literacy, where every inhabitant plays the black and white game. In its own unique way, the village is a silent reminder of Chess Fever, a short, quirky and fun-filled Russian comedy released in 1925.

Puthur Gram Panchayat president Sreenivasan says, “Around 90 per cent of the villagers are chess players. The panchayat has undertaken a mission with an objective of announcing that the village is the first comprehensive chess literate village in the country. The village will be formally announced as the first chess village in August.”

As part of the project, children, illiterate elders and migrants were introduced to the game with cooperation from government institutions, worship places, social organisations  and NGOs.

The villagers’ obsession for chess has even found a place on the silver screen. Ananthapadmanabhan, son of Malayalam  filmmaker Padmarajan, scripted a story based on the lives of these villagers. The movie, August Club, directed by K B Venu, hit the theatres in 2013.

Legislator from Ollur constituency in Thrissur, M P Vincent says, “After Marottichal’s status as a model village in the country, we have urged the state government, the Centre and other sports bodies to avail special grants and benefits to promote the game as much as possible in other villages in the Ollur constituency.”

Unnikrishnan, who trains debutants under the aegis of a chess academy set up by the villagers, says, “What makes this village different is that the quest to rescript our destiny has shaped this once-notorious hamlet into a chess players’ village. Five-time chess world champion Viswanathan Anand has congratulated the villagers’ effort to create a rare distinction in the field of chess.”

Black and White

●  Villagers brewed liquor to make a living and were addicted to it

●  Some of them persuaded excise officials to raid the village and put an end to the heady high

●  While waiting for the raids to be executed, the informers started playing chess

●  Children, illiterate elders and migrants were introduced to the game with help from government institutions, worship places and NGOs

●  A movie, August Club has been made on the villagers’ obsession for chess

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