Saturday, 19 August 2017

Learn Chess with Likhit Chilukuri

I met Likhit Chilukuri for the first time in March 2014 when we were playing in a tournament in a star hotel in Bhubaneswar. Well, at least this was the first time I physically met him. We had played a few blitz games before on Playchess, where the closest I ever came to winning was the very first game.


Likhit Chilukuri

I had a mate in one, and as I was delivering it, I blundered my queen with a mouse-slip.

But this was only a sign of things to come.

We had many conversations about life and career besides the usual chess-trash talk and insults. He was planning to give some law entrance exam, and for some reason, almost magically after some months, he decided not to attempt it. Ahem. I was stunned. Honest.

Around the last week of December 2014, I dropped a distress message to him, asking if he happens to know anyone who could share a flat with me in Bangalore. To my surprise, he asked me to stay over with him.

I vividly remember my first morning in Bangalore. I had reached the Majestic bus stand from Hyderabad and hired a rickshaw from there to Jayanagar. I later realized that I was blatantly scammed.

The six months following this were some of my best memories.

Bangalore days were fun -- chess, pranks (we once made a fake account and had a guy come to meet this fake person in McDonalds, Andheri, Mumbai!), Corner House ice creams, lots of delicious food, hilarious movies, more chess. I will certainly write about all this some time in the future.

But all that for some other day. In this blog post, I want to highlight the amazing chess ability of Likhit Chilukuri. See for yourself:





Monday, 5 December 2016

Religion in our daily life

Mumbai…

An Indian village is a mirror to the society and people in this country. The societal stratum is divided into various communities. The rich landlords own the lands and farms. The middle-class work for these landlords in administrative capacities. Then there are the poor farm-labourers who are the actual workers for those above them. These classes of people have their own civic systems, policies, and their own religious beliefs.

Bandra-Kurla Complex is the business village of Mumbai. The area is populated by corporate houses that own the jobs the middle class do as administrators, controlling the white-collar working class — glorified labourers.

Bandra-Kurla Complex
Had Bandra Kurla Complex been a dance floor, with the regulars grooving to their heart’s content in the middle, an educational institute building stood over like a bouncer at the entrance to this dance floor cum business village. This particular institute had recently shifted base to Bandra-Kurla Complex, taking up the role of a guard that checks the educational qualification of the people entering the ‘dance floor’.

Hundreds of young boys and girls at the cusp of adulthood stood in the campus of this institute. All of them wanted to get onto the dance floor. But the bouncer, the institute, just wouldn’t allow them. All of them had to clear the test and prove themselves worthy of dancing on the new dance floor.

And I stood there in the campus, with twenty kilograms of books to carry to Ghatkopar. The institute was well connected by transport systems, but there was no bus in sight at that particular moment. I was growing more irritated by the second in the sweltering heat of June. There was a bunch of rickshaw wallahs nearby. I pleaded with them to take me to my destination but they wouldn’t budge. For them, it was basic demand-supply calculation. So many students heading towards the railway station (not my destination), but not enough rickshaws. Finally, I decided to hire an Ola when one of the rickshaw wallahs walked over to me.

“Apka Roza chal raha hai?’ (Are you fasting for Ramzan?)

I suddenly became conscious of my beard.

“Uh… Hann. Ab kya kare, bhai, apne log bhi iss tarah dagaa dene lage hai…” (Yes. What to do, brother, even our own people have begun to backstab us…)

He replied: “Bhai mere, aisa mat bol. Chal, mai le chalta hu tujhe.” (My brother, don’t talk like that, I will take you to your destination.)

It is amazing how even in this business village; pockets of communities stick to each other and help their brethren on the basis of religion.

Mangalore…

A month after this incident, the apartment building where I lived hired a new security guard who moved into the watchman’s quarters on the ground floor with his family. The building was actually owned by the family of an old woman who lived on the fifth floor.

This old woman, right from the day I first saw her, looked like the female version of Peter Pettigrew (wormtail) from Harry Potter.

Peter Pettigrew

Like any pseudo-aristocrat, she would boss around the building all day. Everything was normal for a week since the new guard joined. Then, he was gone.

When I asked the old woman why she had removed that friendly looking chap, her answer was loud and clear.

“He is a Muslim. We cannot trust these people and their habits.”

Mangalore, again…

Today, I walked over to a store to buy paints and hire labourers to clean my rented house which I am vacating. I went to the lady at the counter and asked for the materials I needed. She replied in English, and I gladly continued the conversation in English. Her son, who was sitting nearby, put on a bright smile to his face as he saw me.

“Are you a Christian?”

I almost blurted out, ‘Of course not! I don’t believe in Gods and beings.’ But that would have been uncivil. Then I decided to say that I am a Hindu on paper.

But I just couldn’t say it. My mouth just wouldn’t move!

So, a second or two after he had finished asking the question, I just nodded my head in the affirmative.

At least I will get the job done.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Presence of mind while booking tickets — two stories

November 10, 2016

Sagar had been reminding me to book the tickets to Bombay since a week. I had to reach the godforsaken city on 19th November. Finally, after deciding my plans for the week, I sat down in front of my computer today to book them. Everything looked normal and mundane. But leave it to me to make stuff interesting.

I opened Chrome in incognito mode, went to Google flights, typed 'COK-BOM flight fare'. The automatic date that popped up was 1 December 2016. But I needed it for 19th November. So I changed the dates:
Arre wah! This is cheap. Let's  book it.
And so, I excitedly clicked on on the Spicejet tab and booked my ticket. As I was staring at the itinerary after booking and making the payment, I realized that something was off.

That's when it hit me — I had booked the ticket for 19 December, instead of 19 November. I immediately dialed the customer care. I barely had to wait to talk to the executive — less people tend to call them apparently.

She: Hello, blah, blah, blah?

Me: Er. Actually, I booked a ticket for 19th December instead of 19th November. What can I do to change or cancel it?

She: May I know your PNR No.? Blah...

Me: Blah

She: If you want to prepone it, you will have to pay Rs. 4800 over the current amount that you have paid.

Me: Oh! Never mind. I would like to cancel the ticket. What are the cancellation charges?

She: Okay. It will cost you Rs. 2250. May I cancel it?

Me: Bhenchod!

She: Sorry, sir?

Me: Yeah, I mean, please cancel it.

Of course, when I sat to book the tickets again, I made sure not to repeat the same mistake. I was pissed for a minute, then I realized the futility of it. Such mistakes are not going to stop occurring. Zindagi migzara.

Funnily enough, it reminded me of yet another mass blunder I made three years back...

July 03, 2013

Imagine starting the day with the excitement of playing your first tournament in more than a year. I was about to play a tournament in Indore that was supposed to begin on July 04. I used to live in Bombay. Indore was less than 15 hours away.

The emotions you go through when you make a comeback after leaving chess for such a long time can be mercurial. In my case, I was fluctuating between bouts of supreme confidence and periods of time spent shuddering in fear.

The group of friends I was traveling with had assigned the task of booking the tickets for all of us to Pankit and me. We had dutifully booked the tickets for July 04.

I left my office early that day, one day before the tourney began. I made sure that I had not forgotten anything and left for the Borivali railway station. Have I really not forgotten anything? I went through the mental checklist once again. Tickets were with Pankit, who was to meet us at the station. Nope, all in. Time to kick some ass on the chessboard.

We were a group of six people -- four engineers-to-be, a pharmacy student (Pankit), and a wannabe accountant (me) -- and we had booked a train ticket about a week-and-half before the tourney. I knew Atit Gupta, Kunal Modi, and Pratik Shenvi from the time I learned to play chess a few years before this incident. This was the first time I was traveling with Pankit Mota, though. And then, there was the amazing Nikhil Kadam, who looked like he could use a beer.

I asked Pankit if he had the tickets safe. He replied in the affirmative. The train arrived on time at 8 p.m. -- Aravali Express. We got inside the bogey where we were supposed to have our berths. All six of us reached the place where our berths were.

But we were perplexed by what we saw -- all the seats were occupied!

Me: 'Bhai saab, these seats are ours.'

He: 'What?! No, we booked these seats. They are ours!'

Pratik: 'No, sirji, this is ours, have a look at our ticket!'

Pankit was fumbling with the ticket and he held it out for the gentleman to see. He peered into it, and then all of us. Then he burst out laughing.

He: Today is July 03!

Atit: Yeah? So, what?

He: You have booked the tickets for July 04!

We panicked. All of us randomly began to curse each other. And in the heat of the moment, alighted from the train. The train walked off and left us on the platform. Four of them were circling me and Pankit like eagles eyeing their prey.

Atit: Bhenchod, you guys can't even book tickets or what?!

Me: (Silent. Shocked.)

Pankit: Shit yaar. We should not have alighted! We could have travelled in General class!

Kunal: BC, I can't go back to my house now. My parents will cancel chess tournaments for a year if I go back now.

Pratik: Arre, chill, man! Let us walk to Indore! I will play that tournament at any cost.

Atit: Okay, let us try to find buses to Indore.

Somebody got the Indore bus from Redbus and we called the agent.

Atit: We are in Borivili. We need to get to Indore tomorrow.

Agent: The bus is leaving in 5 minutes from Kandivali. No chance you guys can get a seat anyway.

So we looked at each other. My father was calling me to enquire if I was safe. Everyone's parents were calling their dear, heroic, sons to see if they got inside the train safely. Nobody except Kunal dared to lift the ringing phones. All of us had resigned to our fates. And people were cursing me and Pankit left and right. Pankit had had enough of this.

Pankit: Okay, enough. I am calling my dad. I will ask him to send an Innova.

We (collectively): Arre, bhenchod, why didn't you do this earlier?! Ask him!!

Pankit's father was a good man. He understood our predicament and sent an Innova to pick us up. A 12-hour road trip later, we were in Indore, an hour or so before the rounds began.

So that was how the event unfolded. Pratik Shenvi, the guy who wanted to walk to Indore, had an outrageously good event as he was leading with a perfect score after some 6 rounds. He was so over the top that somebody wrote 'Mai hu ma******' on the front of his scoresheet and he did not realize it. He walked to the board and kept his scorebook beisde him, when he noticed his opponent Sai Agni Jevitesh giggling. And then he saw the scoresheet and quickly tore it away.

The rest of us played some great games -- like Pankit's memorable attack over the unrated (!) Saket Kumar. I had a decent event as well and finished with wins over three 1900s. All of us returned home with a prize. The hero was undoubtedly Kunal Modi, who lost to unknown 1400s in the first half, and defeated most of the top seeds in the second half to finish 12th.

On the last day, everybody was having a good time drinking (except Pankit, who had gone to visit a relative, and me, because I didn't drink...). They were praising how great Tania Sachdev looks. Pissed by their constant praise of Tania, I interjected...

Me: Ghanta. She looks terrible.

All hell broke loose. They beat me up and somebody (I was later told it was Kadam) even poured whiskey on me from the top.
The class of 2013
I met most of my friends after a long gap this year in January 2016, in Delhi. I was talking with this beautiful girl in the hall when these bastards attacked me and dragged me out.

In the Batman hoodie is Atit Gupta, and in the Superman one is Kunal Modi. Sitting between and behind them is Pankit Mota. The remaining two are missing from this picture.

Note: Delhi is a fine tournament to play, meet all your friends and at the same time play some good chess. The January 2017 edition is going to be spectacular. We produced a preview of the trio of GM tournament in India that you can read here.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Chess, Books & Children in an Orphanage

What matters, in the end, is the value you add to the people around you. This essentially is what I learned reading books and teaching chess to children here in Mangalore.

Of course, life is more than just money, jobs, family, etc. They have made countless films and written a zillion books to tell one simple thing to a generation of humans – be happy. But how to be happy? Life would become simpler if we could answer just this one question. Like you, even I wrestled with this problem for the better part my life.

I discovered Bookwallah thanks to a friend in Pune who works for the NGO. A simple Google search revealed that Bookwallah has tons of volunteers, a compassionate bunch of young people that makes it a vibrant community. They used books to change lives. The concept looked simple and interesting.
There were books, and there were children; there was nobody to guide them.
When Bharat and I first walked into the orphanage where Bookwallah operates in Mangalore, it was not exactly what I had expected it to be. Volunteers were nowhere to be found. Except one, and she was painting cartoon characters on the walls.

There were books, and there were children; there was nobody to guide them. We felt responsible for these kids. Ms. Sharon Lewis, the volunteer who was painting the walls, later explained that the volunteers do join them. The problem was that they were not committing themselves. College attendance and jobs would mean that nobody could stay for long, and hence, the children never connected with anyone deeply. How could they?
That is Bharat (red) with the kids. We started working with these children in early August. Our first mission was to win their trust, and this we did in a variety of ways.
In the beginning, there were volunteers who would come regularly, but they had their own commitments to take care of. It was understandable, but it also motivated the ones who remained to work harder.
We saw that these books were making the children better individuals. It was clear that we were adding value to their future.
We read them stories from the books in the library, making the sessions as interactive as possible.
Books make you a great problem-solver. However, I realized that it was not enough to be monotonous. We needed a way to impart the same problem-solving skills to the children, but with newer methods.
Luckily, I had the perfect tool to do just that — chess!
Chess develops a child’s calculating ability and imagination — both the right and the left sides of the brain.

The children loved it! Chess and books turned out to be a delicious combination of education and fun.

Bharat used a laptop and internet connection to make it a better experience. In today’s day and age, a child must learn to operate the computer and surf the internet responsibly.

Things got a little better early this month — Bookwallah Mangalore received an assortment of activity books for the children from Disney!

And now, the children have so much to do and learn. Not to forget, have fun!
The kids had their own way to thank Bookwallah and Disney:
Mighty pleased with their new books, aren’t they?
The girls have their own unique way to say ‘Thank You!’
Another thing we worked on and still teach them is discipline.
The results are there to see. They pack up their books and keep them at the right place after the activities for the day finish.
One of the kids even learned to take pictures with my point-and-shoot. Here, a kid got a picture of the Mangalorean Kingfisher.
Mangalore

Dakshin Kannada (South Canara) is one of the most pleasant places one can visit in India. The district is a picture of narrow, winding streets, fringed with coconut palms, quaint houses with terracotta-tiled roofs, pristine beaches, temples and churches, and the aroma of spicy coconut curries. It has preserved its old-world charm.
Rivers and beaches are a common theme in Mangalore.
You can always walk to the beach and have child-like fun like this!
It is a pleasant place to be! Do visit Bookwallah Mangalore, and add value to these children’s lives with books!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Is Mukesh Ambani actually Tyrion Lannister?

On the day Mukesh Ambani launched Reliance Jio, the billionaire's second foray into the world of telecom, Business Standard reported that Jio's chief competitors to be  -- Idea and Airtel -- lost a sizeable share of market capital in a single day. While Idea lost 2,450 crores of market cap, Airtel was wiped out by 9,800 crores. Not so incredible, if you think about it.
Let me know if this advertisement doesn't make you facepalm.

IIN jokes became very popular at some point
Seriously, when these brands subject us to torture with such adverts, one does not even feel bad when they lose money in the market. Well deserved, may be.

I suppose Mr. Ambani (the elder guy) was pissed at these telecom giants for their stupidity -- who wouldn't be? Anyway, the day after Jio was launched officially, it was not all celebrations for the Ambani family. One day earlier, the company had received a potentially damaging blow from Mr AP Shah, former chief justice of the Delhi High Court.

Scroll.in reported: 'The one-member panel of former Delhi High Court chief justice AP Shah on August 31 held RIL and its foreign partners BP Plc and Niko Resources guilty of taking out natural gas that belonged to ONGC in an offshore block in the Bay of Bengal. Further, Mr. Shah promulgated that the Mukesh Ambani-led company should compensate the government for illicitly using 8.9 billion cubic metres of gas that flowed into its own field.'

Now, nitpicking in Wikipedia is one of my favourite pastimes, and I have been studying the English Tort law in some depth (for the fun of it, of course) since the past one month, and I was excited by the prospect of a real-life case that has happened right in front of our eyes. ├Łou can read more about this case here in this scroll.in article. (If you are a law buff, and enjoy tort law cases, then this one will be a good read.)
And that is how Reliance's shares tanked.
Now that is a big blow to Reliance. Truly.

A day after Mr. Shah released his report, Mukesh Ambani launched Reliance Jio, with his target clear to one and all -- become the data king of India. A day after the launch, I came across the following research article in wired.in that described in detail what exactly Mr. Mukesh Ambani had done.

I will highlight the excerpts from the article by Paronjay Guha Thakurta and Aditi Roy Ghatak in a point by point format, so you can understand it efficiently. (Text that follows in bullet points sourced from the aforementioned article, with light editing.)
  • The May-June auctions of 4G spectrum in 2010 was controversial: More than five years after the auctions took place, the losers — including Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Airtel, Kumar Mangalam Birla’s Idea Cellular and the UK-based multinational Vodafone — are all still smarting at the outcome. They had lost to a company that was a little-known firm called Infotel Broadband Services Private Limited (IBSPL), promoted by Anant Nahata, son of Mahendra Nahata (of Himachal Futuristic Communications Limited fame).
  • How did this microscopic company find the humungous amount of finance to become a major player in this intensely competitive industry? After all, companies headed by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications, Vodafone, and Tata Communications had to exit the 4G auction process because of the very high stakes involved.
  • At the time it entered the auction, IBSPL had a paid-up capital of Rs 2.51 crore, a net worth of Rs 2.49 crore, and just one single leased line client from which it earned Rs 14.78 lakh. It also had no more than Rs 18 lakh in the bank and was ranked 150th in the list of internet service providers (ISPs) compiled by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
  • IBSPL’s promoting company Infotel Digicom Private Limited (IDPL) had an equity capital of Rs 6 lakh and a net worth of Rs 8.55 lakh on 31 March 2009. IDPL did not have any fixed assets on that date and had earned a revenue of Rs 2.59 crore primarily in the form of “other income” and made a net profit of Rs 42.80 lakh in 2009-10.
  • Nevertheless, IBSPL managed to meet the financial requirements for bidders – an earnest money deposit in the form of a bank guarantee from Axis Bank of Rs 252.5 crore, a sum that was a hundred times its net worth! (Doubts have been raised about the authenticity of this bank guarantee, but that’s another story.)
  • The results of the auction were declared on the afternoon of June 11 with the approval of the IMC, indicating that IBSPL was the winner.
Enter Mr. Mukesh Ambani Photo; AFP
  • Meanwhile, on June 11, that is, on the same day (!), at an extraordinary general meeting of its shareholders called at short notice, IBSPL raised its authorised share capital by 2,000 times, from Rs 3 crore to Rs 6,000 crore by issuing 75% of its shares to Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a listed company and India’s single biggest corporate entity in the private sector, making itself a subsidiary of the latter.
  • On June 19, 2010, IBPSL ceased to be a private limited company and became a public limited company. On January 22, 2013, the company was renamed Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited. This was done before IBSPL’s memorandum of association – a document that governs the relationship of the company with external entities – was altered and the increase in its authorised share capital recorded by the Registrar of Companies in the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.
  • The director general (post & telecommunications) at the CAG’s office had some sharp observations to make in his draft report: that IBSPL had not declared its relationship with Reliance Industries as an associate or partner in its application for participating in the auction for 4G spectrum when details of all applications were disclosed on the website of the DoT on April 6, 2010.
  • The draft report of the CAG prepared in 2013 did not mince words: “The DoT failed to recognise the tell-tale sign of rigging of the auction right from [the] beginning of the auction” in which a small ISP, Infotel Broadband Services Pvt Ltd (IBSPL) emerged as the winner of pan-India broadband spectrum by paying 5,000 times of its net worth.
In other words, the competitors never knew that they were actually competing with Reliance and not some small unlisted company with a negligible net-worth! Had they known, the competition would have been completely different.
That is how Mukesh Ambani pulled off a Tyrion Lannister.
What he and Reliance did is, in a way, reminiscent of Tyrion Lannister's extraordinary move in the Battle of Blackwater Bay scene from the ninth episode of the second season of the Game of Thrones:

The negative press for the ONGC oil scam and all the competitors in the telecom industry, blown to bits in one stroke?

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

How to get locked up inside a jail in Mumbai

If the litterateurs had to come up with an elegant synonym for 'anomaly', they could very well anoint it as 'Mumbai'.  When I first read in the newspapers that Mukesh Ambani was constructing Antilia, a 27-storey residence at Altamount Road, Mumbai, I found it amusing -- this city has some of the world's biggest slums, and now she is hosting the most expensive residential house on the planet! Mumbai is the pulse point of India's financial, political, religious, and even fashion trends.


Zara hatke, zara bachke, ye hai Bombay meri jaan – "Be alert, be street wise, this is Bombay, my love". This famous yesteryear song of Hindi cinema sums up the spirit of Mumbai. I showed this to the co-founder of ChessBase, Frederic Friedel, who remarked: start the video at your own peril – you will not be able to get the song out of your head for hours – or days.

The maximum city. See some stunning pictures of Mumbai here: Raskalov-vit Journal

On January 28, 2016, IIFL Wealth, in association with the Indian Chess School, organised a beautiful chess tournament in Bombay. It was hosted in the suburb of Bandra in Mumbai and I was in the mood to show my friends the moods of this bustling part of the maximum city. Therefore, I made a pitstop at the Bandra Railway station on my way to attend the press conference as the tournament's official photographer.

Karimji has been selling books at this very spot at the entrance to the Bandra station since 1970! Sometimes, at night, he just folds the whole paraphernalia up and goes to sleep at the same spot.

Just beside Mr Karim's book stall is this place where you can eat some lip smacking samosas

Bandra is one of the busiest railway stations in Mumbai...

And it was at this point that a police constable got hold of me and asked why was I taking pictures. I answered truthfully about the same -- that I am a journo and I work for... -- he did not want to hear any more. He replied that photography is not allowed in railway stations and asked if I have permits.

'But so many people keep taking pictures all the time on cell phones and what not!'.

'No mister. Those are for personal consumption on cell phones -- you are clearly taking pictures to highlight the crowd here, and you cannot do that without permits.'

'Fine, I will delete them. Please let me go.'

'Chalo thane!' (You have to come to the police station!)

And therefore, I was unceremoniously dragged to a Railway Police Force station and was made to stand in front of some serious looking guy who was a superior official.

The boss was adamant. 'No! I don't want to hear any of your stories! A charge sheet shall be filed and you have to answer in court,' he boomed.

'But sir, nowhere in this station has it been mentioned that photography is not allowed...'

'Shut up! Has it been mentioned anywhere that you cannot kill people?'

With nothing suitable to counter, I resigned myself to being charge sheeted (the minor one for petty offences). Then, I was actually put behind bars with some other people who were caught crossing railway tracks or pissing on the bushes near them.

Now, this was a particularly new experience for me, and to be honest, I found the whole thing funny -- the reason I wasn't worried too much is because a constable told me that it is a question of just appearing in the petty matters court and paying a fine.

After an hour of waiting they took me, along with some forty other 'criminals', to the petty matters court at Andheri in a local train. We were actually divided into batches of five, each assigned to a junior constable, as we travelled from Bandra to Andheri. We got chatting with the constable, who originally hailed from Uttar Pradesh.

'So, how did you happen to join the police?'

'Actually, what happened is that I was once caught by the railway police in my village for crossing a railway track! I thought joining the police might be a good option. I gave the exams and here I am.'

Amazing.

The petty matters court was quite understandably busy, with a sea of blacks (lawyers), petty offenders and constables waiting for their turns. We went in quite effortlessly, as this seemed to be a routine matter for the officials there. We were made to stand before a judge in a special 'Railway Court' and probed about our respective offences. I was asked if I admit to have committed the offence, and I sighed a big audible 'yes'.

I was let off after paying a Rs. 500 fine to the court. I called my colleague Shubham Kumthekar who carried the blazers and shoes to the venue of the press conference, where I changed and got down to work.

That is Mr Karan Bhagat, co-founder of IIFL Wealth, speaking while Praful Zaveri of Indian Chess School looks on.

Ironically, the pictures that got me inside the jail in the first place were not even deleted or asked to be deleted! So much for Indian policing.



Friday, 8 July 2016

In Odisha: A pen drive full of porn and a trip to Jagannath Puri

I stood at the gate of the regal structure, a temple, and tried to absorb the sight around me—it can be unnerving, sometimes, to swim in a sea of humanity. People belonging to three different generations united by one common belief, a belief in a supernatural power that promises to purify them of their sins, and rid them of their miseries.
The sea of humanity
I am an atheist. But I won't lie to you, I have not been an atheist all my life. No one can be an atheist all their life. But, like everyone else around me in this vast land populated by humans, I was born an atheist. No human is born as a theist. We live in a society; culture and tradition are the fabric of such an existence. We, as children, tend to learn through our observations and follow the path that is taken by the people in our immediate surroundings. Ergo, we become theists, believing in a being that we cannot see, who will punish us terribly for our sins, but still, loves us no matter what. In that sense, god is more like a spurned lover—he will love you till the day you die, but will punish you with an acid attack if you don't love him back.

We grow up to finally enter the school system, which is, more often than not, practiced by institutions that have very close ties with religious organizations—churches, temples, mosques, and so on. How convenient for the people who be to control the masses by not allowing a child to question the very first thing they teach you at school—the morning prayer.

For me, a young and curious non-believer, it was a strange experience to stand amidst lakhs of invisible-superpower-believers.

Anyway, back to the story:
The KIIT Law College in the KIIT campus
February 2016: I was in Bhubaneswar to cover the National Team Championship 2016. The flight landed late in the evening and I had no idea how to reach the venue of the tournament. Luckily for me, I found GM Abhijit Kunte heading in the same direction from the airport. We hired a taxi and first headed towards a grand, I don't know how many stars or moons, hotel where the ONGC men's and women's team were staying. It was regal, glittering in yellowish golden lighting.

But I belong to the darkness. Next, the taxi headed smoothly towards the KIIT University, and for some reason, a 'technology' university had a law college that stood on the outskirts of the campus, like a lonely boy without friends. The university campus itself stood on the outskirts of the city anyway. Through narrow paths full of teenagers and adults acting like teenagers, we made our way, dodging sewage work-in-progress here and a cow there, to the law college campus. The organizers had provided the college hostel as the accommodation for the players from around India, from various teams.

A number of teams had already arrived, but it seems there was no room for me. And there were some more who wanted to get their rooms and rest before the tournament day. The men at the reception were betel-chewing uncles who obviously weren't getting paid well as I could make out from their lacklustre body language. Apparently, they had rooms, but there was some minor problem which they could not sort out. This is when the (law) students around noticed that their inept staff was not treating the educated, hard-working, sportsmen — who had obviously travelled a long distance to reach Bhubaneswar — well.

These boys did know to talk. And the receptionists were awarded a roasting. Then, the students took it upon themselves to make sure that they give us rooms! These particular hostel rooms were empty because its occupants were away on a vacation and it was allotted to us chess people. There was a separate hostel for the females as well.

The room was unkempt, but alright—chess players are used to seeing all varieties of terrible rooms. This was usable, but with a caveat. There were no attached bathrooms. The bed was quite obviously full of bedbugs. Too tired to think too much, I had a quick dinner in the hostel mess and fell asleep. Next morning, when I walked into the common bathroom, I realized how the situation actually was. Apparently, the authorities were cleaning them on a regular basis, but nevertheless, they were infested with flies and mosquitoes of all sorts. Plus, it was winterish. I suffered a bit, but it got worse when a google search revealed that there were no good hotels nearby. All the teams were, thus, forced to stay there, and this included grandmasters and international masters. The bigger teams like the ONGC got plush hotels, though, from their employers.

I stared aghast at the computer screen resigning to the fact that I must spend a week in this place. Shutting the computer, I bent to keep the machine on the floor, when I noticed it.
A red-black pen drive sat below the bed.
Curious, I plugged it into my laptop to see what exactly it contained, and honestly, I wanted to hand it over to authorities at the reception. In all likelihood, it must've belonged to the student inmate to whom the room belonged. I plunged inside the drive, and was not at all shocked, albeit a bit amused, to see what I saw.

Interessante
There was about seven gigabytes high definition porn, in an eight-gigabyte pen drive. College life can be frustrating for some, and this guy had precautionary measures handy in the time of need. Heavenly. But the appalling sight that actually made me feel sorry for him was when I saw what the remaining one gigabyte of space was occupied by:
Just the mere look at its poster convinces me that Indian cinema is doomed. Why the fuck is she starting at the camera, can't she act?
Wiki: Sooraj, a gangster, kidnaps Radha, the daughter of the Chief of Police. As they spend some time together, they fall in love and have to face several situations yadda yadda yadda. 

In other words, this movie harps on the 'Ek Gunda Ek Police Ki Beti Se Kaise Pyaar Kar Sakta Hai' era. It is 2016, people are dying around us—art, and cinema will do better to show us the hardships that people face and inspire us to become better humans.

Now, I had a new problem to solve: should I really hand this over to the betel-chewing uncles out at the reception?

Anyway, the tournament began and I came across my good friend Ram Krishnan of BSNL, to whom I was narrating the situation in the hostel when he invited me to stay in the BSNL guest house. "Really? Is that possible? I don't even use a BSNL phone!" "Why not, man? You are welcome to stay with us." I moved to the BSNL guest house the next day. The pen drive was proving to be a source of good luck.
The next day, I took this timely shot of the ONGC team enacting Gandhiji's three monkeys—hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Honestly, it was pure luck, but I did imagine the previous day that such a shot was possible.
I did take some nice pictures and was doing my daily reports with imagined gusto. But it was getting monotonous—the daily work, and when the BSNL guys made an impromptu plan to make a trip to Puri, some seventy kilometers, or two hours, away, I was more than happy to tag along. After a quick lunch, we headed to the Bhubaneswar bus station and saw a colourful rectangle box, half-full, waiting for passengers.

I gleefully jumped onto the window seat in the last row and saw the landscape of Odisha pass by. Like any Indian state, the conflict of the rich and poor was starkly visible. Red soil coupled with dry green fields and bumpy roads for the vehicles to traverse on was the summary of this trip. The people in the bus were mostly the common villagers, some doing this journey to and fro on a daily basis. A number of them looked like daily wage labourers.

After an interesting bus journey, we reached Puri. The bus station felt calm, but as we gravitated towards the temple, the turbulence in the atmosphere began to rise:
As we took a rickshaw towards the temple, we were all but taken by the swarm of men and women that made up the city. And beggars, there was no death of beggars.
The temple top.
The police were doing their job brilliantly, and we had to stand in this queue to get inside the temple.
And it was chock full of people inside.
We had to keep our footwear outside, in the open, and there was a good probability that they would be stolen. Therefore, we decided that it would be best if we went inside in groups of two. I stood there with considerable amazement as I absorbed the sheer number of people and their emotions and actions around me. Mr. Sharad Ukey of BSNL stood by me and noticed my wonder.

"So, you believe in god?"

"Not really—I'm here to just experience this. It's education for me. You don't believe in this concept, too?"

"No, I don't."

"Then, why are you here?"

"It is fun!"
Mr. Sharad Ukey is a senior official at BSNL
It was our turn to enter the temple now, and we did—two atheists in one of the most famous temples in India. This out-of-the-blue connection made us very good friends (we had already played a tournament game before, in Nagpur in 2015). We seamlessly flowed along with the crowd to reach the centre of the temple, where the gods stood.

People were jostling, like chicken inside an overcrowded coop, only that they were glad to be in the presence of the deities they revere so much. I was enchanted by the architecture that formed the temple. No cameras were allowed inside, maybe, because it would see a drop in sales of the pictures of the gods. You can read a detailed account of the temple architecture here.

It was  carved out of stone originally, centuries back. The carvings were beautiful. A work of art to behold. More recently, it had been coated with a plastering to protect the temple from the saline winds blowing from the sea.
People outside of the temple were resorting to advice from priests who made a business out of religion.
But religion is also a source of an honest livelihood for many.
It is a paradox, really. But then life is like that. Every coin has two sides, and so does the theory of religion. Only that it has more downsides than upsides.
The temple from the outside
Due to past experiences, I thought it would be apt to take permission from the authorities before taking pictures. I was jailed the last time I tried taking pictures at a public place. I went up to a police constable and asked him if I could do the needful. I was tactful when I asked him. He agreed.

The temple rules prohibited me from taking the pictures of the beautiful carvings and the architecture of the structure. Ironically, it did not stop me from taking the photos of the people around it.

'Differently abled' beggars...
...beggars in the name of god...
...female beggars.
The commerce of Puri:

The city in itself is bustling with activity and enterprise. As I said, this is the other side of religion. The tourism industry is huge here, and many of the beneficiaries are small and medium sized traders and businesses. This in turn also creates a lot of jobs and a flourishing economy.
The biggest chunk belongs to the hospitality industry. Small time sweetmeat shops are found in abundance.
And also the paraphernalia related to gods. I suppose this is an important reason why they do not allow you to take photos in the temple. It makes a lot of sense.
A mini rath-yatra for the gods that sit in the temple.
A unique mode of transportation here are the cycle-rickshaws
The beach is the important facet of the commerce in this city.
The beach is adorned with bustling small time traders selling eatables, ice-cream, and other wares.

The long coastline
I learned a lot from this trip. I understood the fabric of the people's emotions that surround their devotion to gods, the economics, and the commerce around it. A place worth visiting.