Generating a lot of interest

It was heartening to see many youngsters running behind both the Indian and foreign players, for autographs. It was good to see a few television channels taking a serious interest in the tournament.


MUMBAI means different things to different people.

If you swear by cricket, Mumbai, to you, means the heart of Indian cricket. And it is home to the country's greatest cricketer.

If cinema is your first love, of course it means India's answer to Hollywood. And yes, it's home to India's greatest star Amitabh Bachchan, whose house is within a stone's throw of Hotel Tulip Star, where the Commonwealth championship was held.

In fact, a Bollywood film named Ek Haseena Thi was being shot at the hotel during the tournament. One night, at the lobby, near the elevators, this correspondent was talking to International Master (IM) P. Konguvel, when a young woman, rather small-made and dressed casually in a T-shirt and shorts, breezed past and got into the lift. "She looked very much like the actress Urmila Matondkar," said the Chennai-based player. That indeed was Urmila, the Rangeela girl.

And if you think it's money, and not cricket or cinema, that runs the world, Mumbai, to you, means India's financial capital. And if you like to walk on the wrong side of the law, then of course Mumbai's underworld is the place for you.

If you are an admirer of all things beautiful, Mumbai would appeal to you as the city with India's most beautiful women; there are probably more pretty girls in Mumbai than in any other Indian city. Why, isn't just one female resident of the city, going by the name of Aishwarya Rai, enough to challenge the beauties from all over the world?

But Mumbai and chess? Well, it doesn't sound as well as, say, Chennai and chess (but it's not exactly Mumbai and (a) mess either, vis a vis chess). However, the Commonwealth meet did generate a lot of interest.

It was heartening to see many youngsters running behind both the Indian and foreign players, for autographs. It was also nice to see two chess players addressing a press conference. It was good to see a few television channels taking a serious interest in the tournament. For, if chess could make some interesting moves in Mumbai, it would only be the better for the game in India.

"I think more and more people in Mumbai are now interested in chess," says IWM Anupama Gokhale, a five-time National women's `A' champion. "Definitely there's a greater awareness about the game. There were not many young participants when I began playing, but look at the number of youngsters who played at this Commonwealth championship."

Mumbai's growing interest in chess was also evident in the response the simultaneous display by India's youngest GM Koneru Humpy, on the eve of the tournament, got. Twentysix youngsters, mostly from Mumbai, took on the former World junior girls' champion. She won 24 of those games, and lost two. "It was nice to see such a good response," she said. "I think exhibition games like this would make chess more popular."

It was three Mumbaikars, the Khadilkar sisters — Jayashree, Vasanti and Rohini — who popularised the game among Indian women. The lady who ended their monopoly of the National women's `A' titles — the Khadilkar sisters won the first 10 championships between them — Bhagyashree Thipsay, is also a resident of Mumbai for many years. She moved to the city from Sangli (also in Maharashtra) after her marriage to GM Praveen Thipsay.

The Commonwealth meet was held in grand style, at a five-star hotel, and had a prize fund of Rs. 5 lakhs. The person largely responsible for the show, R. M. Dongre said, "I wanted to hold the Commonwealth tournament in a big way because I wanted Mumbai to take note. I feel there's a lot of potential for marketing chess in Mumbai."

Dongre, who is the Chairman of the Maharashtra Chess Association, and his men seemed to have had considerable success in marketing the Commonwealth meet. They got sponsorships from ONGC and Union Bank of India. "We've already covered nearly 70 per cent of our total expenses with sponsorships and the rest will be met by the State Government grants," he said.

Dongre had in his team of organisers, energetic and enthusiastic bunch of young men such as Mihir Khadkikar, Vittal Madhav and Dhananjay, who worked hard to make the championship a great success.

The players said it was a well-conducted tournament. "The hotel was good, and so were the playing conditions in general, except the tournament hall, which was a bit stuffy," said GM Vasilios Kotronias from Cyprus.