It was around mid-1980s when a few men would be seen huddling together over chess boards every evening after office in between Gariahat and Golpark of then south Calcutta, much before the Gariahat flyover came up.
They never chatted with each other or engaged in heated arguments over sports or politics, like most Bengalis do — it was an “adda” of a different kind.
These were “true-blue” chess nerds who sat silently with unabated concentration across benches with their chessboards, ignoring the cacophony of the busy south Kolkata boulevard.
Time passed by and that small group of men slowly snowballed into a 100-strong group of chess enthusiasts. They shifted to the underbelly of Kolkata’s one of the busiest flyovers at Gariahat as the unique concept of Gariahat Chess Club was born.
People from different all walks of life could come and huddle over chess boards every evening, being absolutely oblivious to the world in general.
“We come here every evening to play chess. Be it street dwellers, government employees, shopkeepers, howlers, students, retired persons or professional, people from different backgrounds regularly come to this popular hangout zone and participate in the endgame,” said Nilanjan Samanta, a software professional who often come to Gariahat on weekends to play pretty intense rounds of chess.
Samanta said the place is open to everyone and anybody can be a member of the Gariahat Chess Club with a contribution of just Rs 10. “It is like an addiction to all of us. We can’t give it a miss even for a day. This is a kind of recreation for all of us who are regulars over here. We come gather at the most polluted junctions in the city but always stay focused in our games. The notice really doesn’t bother us at all as we remain so engrossed,” he said.
The bustling place got a facelift in 2018 with arched lamp posts and 26 stools laid out for the players and chess nerds. There are about 13 tables of laminated chessboards where people can sit comfortably and enjoy the game. The area, placed in the middle of a busy traffic intersection under the flyover, is also covered with iron guardrails to avoid any accident.
The place is not just for players but for many pedestrians and passengers who also throng the place regularly to enjoy the game as it opens at around 3 pm everyday. It is their favourite pastime perhaps.
“I come to this chess address to take part in the game. Sometimes all the 13 tables are occupied with players and we just stand for hours and enjoy the game. The city breeds nostalgia and it’s a wonderful feeling that we still have such wonderful features in this vintage city of Kolkata that keep us alive and kicking in our mundane daily lives,” said Bimal Das of Lake Gardens, further pointing out that it is both the love of the game and camaraderie that draw them to Gariahat Chess Club almost on every evening.
The Gariahat Chess Club was officially inaugurated by the Kolkata Police as part of its project to develop the area in August, 2018. City-based Grandmaster Dibyendu Barua had flag off ceremony along with the then Commissioner of Kolkata Police Rajeev Kumar.
The open and welcoming nature of the place was retained keeping in mind its original flavour while it developed by the city police force, precisely by Gariahat police station. Sources said there are also some plans in the pipeline like installing LED TV screens and a coaching sessions for kids to improve the unique chess joint of Kolkata.
Interestingly, the place had also hosted a grand show featuring two Grandmasters like the highest-rated Chinese chess player Ding Liren and Japan-born US Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura in November, 2019 as the duo participated a battle of minds across a 64-square board in the bustling intersections under Gariahat flyover.