By Hugh Finlay
In the past, Marottichal was a village like many other in India, riddled with addictive behavior such as gambling, alcoholism and addictive watching of TV. Now this is gone, replaced by a craze for chess. Everywhere people are playing chess in their spare time, totally engrossed.
This all began when a chess enthusiast Mr. Unnikrishnan, who had learned to how play chess in a nearby town, decided to move back to his home village of Marottichal, and open a tea shop. Perhaps to boost the popularity of his tea shop, he started teaching his customers how to play chess. Miraculously Marottichal changed, as chess frenzy seized the village.
The avid watching of TV and noisy, frantic traffic jams, which are a feature of other parts of India, is largely absent from Marottichal, which is strangely quiet, with lots of people, young and old, are engrossed in watching, or playing, chess. About 5,000 people in Marottichal, an average of one person per household, now knows how to play chess.
When Mr.Unnikrishnan first brought chess to the village almost no one knew how to play. Now Marottichal has become famous in the chess world, with people coming from around the world to practice their chess skills against the chess enthusiasts of Marottichal.
Chess has also made it into the village school. Since it was introduced to the school, the children have quickly learned it and play it. compulsively. Now chess is part of the official syllabus of the school. The head of the Marottichal Chess Association, Baby John, is pleased, saying "Only then can we truly call ourselves a chess village." Baby John is full of admiration for Mr.Unnikrishnan, for bringing chess to the village.
The population of the village is growing as people are attracted by the wholesome atmosphere created by all this chess playing.
Interestingly, Marottichal is located in a remote part of India in the north of Kerala, showing us that even small rural communities, in India, and throughout the world, can be afflicted with stress and addictive behavior. India is rapidly undergoing digitalisation with the growing popularity of cell phones and computers. This is leading to a widespread fear among the older generation that it is creating stress in the youth, and dislocating them from their ancient traditions.
When asked why the game has become so popular in the village, Mr. Unnikrishnan said "Chess helps us overcome difficulties and sufferings. On a chess board you are fighting, as we are fighting the hardships in our daily life."
Baby John, said "Luckily for us chess is more addictive than alcohol. Chess improves concentration, builds character and creates community. We don't watch television here; we play chess and talk to each other."