A visit to God's Own Country
Earlier this year from the 30th of March to 4th of April 2023, the Capablanca Chess Festival was held in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. While we covered the event extensively and had several videos posted on our YouTube channel and Facebook page, there was something that Aditya Sur Roy wanted to share. It was his experience of visiting the God's own country and the various experiences he had while covering the event. Check out the heartfelt description of this journey along with some beautiful pictures and videos in the illustrated report.
Visiting God's own country
It was somewhere in February that I received a text from Supriya, our manager that we have been invited to cover a huge chess festival in Kerala - The Capablanca Chess Festival 2023. Whenever I receive messages regarding tournaments, my first response is always inquiring about the timeline of the event. I was happy to learn that the tournament will start on the 30th of March and end on the 6th of April which was not clashing with any other tournaments.
Since I joined ChessBase India in February 2022, I have had the opportunity to travel to various cities and states across the country to cover tournaments. But I have never been to Kerala, and thus I was really excited to cover the event and learn about the chess culture in the state. I contacted Vijin Babu, the Founder, and CEO of Capablanca Chess School, and we briefly discussed the event. During the conversation, it was quite easy to understand Vijin’s passion and commitment to the game of chess. After the initial conversation, our tickets were booked and we were all set to be in Kerala for the Capablanca Chess Festival. But, things were about to change really soon.
Within a few days, we had two other tournaments which were clashing the dates. The first one was the New Delhi FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2023 dated March 25 to April 5, and the second one was the 20th Delhi International Open Grandmasters Chess Tournament 2023, dated 23-30 March 2023. It was clear to me that If I am going to Kerala, I won’t be able to cover any of the other two events. But just like everything else, we as a team were able to come up with an excellent plan which ensured we cover all the events.
We (Abhyudaya and I) reached Delhi on the 22nd of March and we were all set to cover the two Delhi events. I was majorly covering the 20th Delhi International Open and Abhyudaya was covering the Women's Grand Prix. On the 29th of March, Abhyudaya took charge to finish both the Delhi tournaments while I was on my way to Kerala. Not to forget the role of Shahid Ahmed who always publishes extensive reports on the newspage from the material that we send. It was a long flight from Delhi to Thiruvananthapuram and it was already evening when we reached there.
It was really courteous of Vijin to be present at the airport to receive me and guide me to the hotel. We had a nice conversation during our trip from the airport to the hotel and I shared my excitement to be able to cover the tournament. It was quite late but I wanted to make sure that I make a video before I retire for the day.
The next morning as I woke up, I wanted to go for a short walk so I managed some time to visit the nearest temple which happened to be one of the richest ones - the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. There were certain rules, so I couldn't enter the premises but I saw the marvellous structure from outside and gaped in awe.
While I was getting ready to reach the tournament venue (the Jimmy George Indoor Stadium), I received a call from Sreeram who is a very close member of the Capablanca Chess School that he is waiting to tag me along to the venue. Though I remember mentioning that it is completely not necessary and I will go on my own, but it seemed a really difficult request to put down. Just to add this here, the same happened each and every day, they would make sure that I am escorted to and from the hotel. At the end of each day, Vijin would make sure to drop me back at the hotel and share his experience of growing up as a chess player and how he understood that there is so much to be done for the growth and development of the game. We used to discuss various ideas on how chess can be made popular in this part of the country.
Though the tournament was for only seven days, they made sure I stay back for a couple of days to explore the city and learn about the culture. It says a lot about you and how you treat guests and people who come to your place. Throughout the entire duration of my stay in Kerala, I always felt welcomed. There might have been some barriers of language while I used to go for a walk or buy something but a few hand gestures were enough to convey the message. I have met some incredible people and discovered some amazing stories during the tournament.
One of my personal favorite videos:
Finally the tournament was over and it was remarkable what a bunch of passionate individuals could achieve. Almost every player I saw was going back with a smile on their face.
Like every other tournament, we are always in a hurry to post and publish everything but there were two videos that were still pending and both were very important to conclude the event. I had to work very hard to get the first video done, it was the interview of Vijin and his guided tour of the Capablanca Chess School. Vijin literally tried every possible way to not do the interview as he is a really shy person but we really wanted to know and document his story.
You can check out the two-part interview and tour here:
Now comes the most special part of the trip. When Vijin and Sreeram came to know that I had visited the Padmanabhaswamy Temple the first day but could not enter, they made a plan where we would go together. They made all the arrangements. I initially resisted but it was all in vain. I am really thankful that I managed to visit the temple. The visit was extra special, as Vijin brought traditional clothes for me so that we can go inside the temple and they guided me through the area sharing their experiences and stories. This was really a very special moment for me!
When we were in the temple, Sreeram pointed out that there are a couple of palaces inside the premises which they have never visited. Before they could ask me, I was already in for the plan - and what a wonderful decision it was! This goes to show how culturally strong Kerala still is, and how much they put in to preserve their rich tradition.
After we were done visiting the palaces, it was already afternoon and it was time for lunch. We went to this restaurant called Mother’s Veg Plaza. To be honest, I am not someone who loves to experiment with tasting new food from different cuisines. I am always a safe player in this respect. I would also like to add that I am strictly a non-vegetarian, and the dish has to be really good if I do decide to eat vegetarian food. Vijin was very confident that I would like the food, as he ordered a traditional Kerala thali which is purely vegetarian. Finally, it arrived.
I usually take a lot of pictures but surprisingly here I was so involved in enjoying the food that I completely forgot about it. This is by far one of the best dishes I have had in my life but there might be a simple reason for that. There is no doubt that the food was really good but the way Vijin was explaining about each and every item, connected the senses to the core and thus became a wholesome meal.
It was almost evening and we planned to visit the beach which was a little far so when we reached there it was already dark but we were able to see the wonderful Vettukad Church and spend some time by the sea.
The next morning it was already time to leave, and I wrote a short passage on our social media to conclude the total event before I could start for the airport.
This will be a very memorable trip for me. Right from the hospitality to the passion and dedication of the organizers, to the absolutely amazing games that we got to witness and the stories we came across. There were many things I was about to take with me from the trip, but there was something very special in which I wanted to invest some more time. It was the story of Shanmugam Pck. If you have read this far, I would request you to finish it off by watching the video.