Mohanty started his Free Chess Coaching Academy from his home way back in 1970. At the time, the nation had barely a handful of great players. Chess was considered a nerd’s game and the image of a chess player—the small, sickly looking types with large spectacles—put off a lot of youngsters.
Before Viswanathan Anand fired our imagination, reclaiming the game for the country that invented it, Arati Mohanty was quietly inspiring some of India’s future GMs. His pupils include national-level chess players like Gargi Mohapatra, Sanghamitra Singh, Suresh Rath, Smruti Ranjan Dash, Roop Kumar Das, Manas Ranjan Parida and Soumya Ranjan Mishra.
Mohanty tries to instil the same all-consuming passion that he feels in his pupils. "Chess is the queen of all indoor games," he says. Mohanty considers it an excellent mental exercise for children, helping "vent aggression but passively". Mohanty takes a personal interest in each of his wards. Since he doesn’t coach for money, he chooses his pupils carefully, looking for potential. "Aptitude for the game is important, background means nothing," he says citing the examples of former GM Sultan Khan, who was a cook to the Maharaja of Patiala, and Mohammed Hussain who worked as a peon.
Mohanty goes to tournaments at his own expense with his students and every evening is there in his academy, surrounded by his young pupils. His small verandah has four tables where chessboards are neatly laid out with youngsters bent over in deep concentration. Their teacher moves around quietly, suggesting a gambit or analysing a move. His greatest pleasure is to be defeated by one of his pupils. "These youngsters pick up fast and their minds are agile," he says fondly.
A good player himself, Mohanty was state champion from 1965 to ’72. He also won the All India Civil Services Chess Championships a number of times. He is a member of the State Amateur Chess Association and has officiated in many leading chess tournaments. He started playing the game at the age of 10. His sister, Gargi Mohapatra, a good player herself, introduced him to the game. At the time, chess was considered more of a pastime than a sport in India. There weren’t enough opportunities for players to learn and shine. Tournaments were few, books about chess weren’t available and the game itself wasn’t very popular. "Today, the scene’s different. Many parents and children have taken to chess, thanks to grandmasters like Anand".
The tall, slightly stooped coach, who looks like a college professor, says, "I would have been an ascetic or an English teacher if I had not become involved with chess." Mohanty is a bachelor and deeply spiritual in his outlook. His daily routine begins with a visit to the temple and he makes a mandatory annual visit to his guru’s ashram in the Himalayas. And it is this other-worldly approach that has helped his wife Arati face up to many financial hardships. "My needs are few but I would love to buy a computer. Unfortunately, I can’t afford one at the moment," he says wistfully. The computer would provide him the opportunity to hone his skills and learn new moves through CDs.
Today, Mohanty considers himself lucky that the sports authorities allowed him to stay on in his quarters after retirement as a mark of recognition to his contribution to the game. He has never built or bought a house. His savings are meagre and he is yet to receive a pension. He has never charged any of his pupils for coaching though many could well afford to pay and have even offered to do so. For a man who plots the moves of a game with so much care, Mohanty is singularly unconcerned about his future. "It is all in the hands of God," he says, quoting from the Gita to convey his views on life and the eternal. To find out more, contact: A.B. Mohanty, Type IV quarters, Unit 2, Bhubaneswar. Ph: 2535092