Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Organizing the first Chess Jugalbandi Event in Delhi

The run up to the event had been rough. I had not been in integrity, hiding behind my busy schedule and travel, and the team was not empowered to run without a leader. When I got back from Dubai two weeks before the scheduled event date of 20th December, I realized that we did not have a venue or participants. I was tempted to give up at this point. I was annoyed with the team for not moving without me. I felt alone. “Nobody was ready to take up responsibility in my life.” “Why should it always be me?” “Why do I need to be responsible for everything?”
Over the next three hours of stewing, feeling dejected and introspecting in turns, it dawned on me that I was not empowering people in my life. I wanted to be important to them. So, I needed them to rely on me. They were doing exactly that, and I was resisting them for giving me “all the” responsibilities. I was doing the same with my Jugalbandi team. I hadn’t created the context of the event with them, nor had I created the right structures for them to lead their tasks. In reality, the team had immense potential. Each of the Jugalbandi team members had jumped in to support the event without any clarity on what it would involve, and was ready to give it his best shot. I realized that I was the problem, which was great because I could solve it.
Sunil, the founder of Astha and I decided to go ahead and announce 20th as the date of the event, relying on the team to pull it through. The team however still needed to be brought along.
I immediately called Rajkumar to fix the venue. He cut short the bureaucratic process to confirm it on the same day – “written confirmations and monetary advance payment do not mean as much as a man’s word.” We finalized the basement of the Knowledge Bus Global Preschool in Gurgaon as our venue for Rs.10,000. The next important task was to enroll participants.
Rajkumar is an international arbiter who has a chess academy in Ghaziabad and coaches students in Gurgaon schools. I had found his contact online as the arbiter and organizer of a previous chess competition in Delhi. I had proceeded to contact him on Facebook and met him once in Cyber Hub. He had instantly agreed to join the team. He saw the event as an opportunity to enroll new students and generate publicity for his academy, while contributing to the world of immensely talented visually challenged players. With Rajkumar’s connects in the chess community, registration of sighted players was a cakewalk. We prepared a deck on game rules, logistical details and price money (Rs.30,000) and he posted it on his Facebook forums. Within a day or two we had registered 50 sighted players.
Registration of visually challenged players however, was a different ball game. Till five days before the event we had none. “It all comes down to registering visually challenged players in the end. That is what will determine the success of your event.” - Sunil told me.
Shivangi had taken up the task of enrolling visually challenged players, but it was proving to be an uphill battle. Shivangi is a post graduate dentist, teaching students older than herself in a college in Rishikesh. She also happens to be my cousin. Shivangi did her post-graduation project with the disabled, spending hours trying to figure out the best ways to give them dental care. When I had asked her to support the project, she had instantly agreed, feeling energized by it. The problem at hand was that end of December is holiday season for some blind schools and colleges in Delhi and examination time for the others. Students from these institutes were thus back home in their towns and villages or were studying hard to excel at exams. One particular school even had their annual day on the same day as our event. To top this, a lot of older players were away in Mumbai for a visually challenged chess series. We had clearly not timed the event right, but now was not the time to think about that.
Five days before the event, we pressed the breakdown button on visually challenged registrations. Shivangi and I called more than 30-40 blind schools in Delhi asking for registrations. We also contacted Kaul ji via Sunil to help connect to blind associations. Kaul ji is a Padma Shri Award Recipient and the Secretary General of All India Confederation of the Blind. He knows all big and small organizations working in this field in Delhi, and was kind enough to send Chess Jugalbandi invites to a lot of them. Rajkumar also knew some blind schools and reached out to them. He also reached out to the Haryana state chess association to call for entries. Finally, with a lot of collaboration and team effort, registrations started pouring in. On the day of the event, we had 28 visually challenged participants.
The final major task was that of raising sponsorships to fund the event. I created a campaign on Ketto and started sharing it with my friends on Facebook, encouraging them to share it further. I also mailed half of my office with a request for donations. Funds came in from totally unexpected quarters. My friend Abhimanyu’s friend who is a promoter in Salasar Group saw the post and reached out with contributions. Colleagues came forward to donate money and share about the campaign. Old friends, whom I hadn’t met for a long time reached out with encouragement and funds. My brother and husband’s friends contributed. Shivangi’s college colleagues contributed. My dad reached out with CSR funds from his company, even though I never asked. Bit by bit, with a lot of push from many friends, we raised a total of ~Rs.80,000 for the event. A major part of the contributions were spent on prizes, venue, food, conveyance (for visually challenged players), arbiters’ fee, and chess boards. Other expenses included table rentals, printing of banners and certificates, clock rental, stationary, water, etc.
There were many other volunteers who helped pull the event to its conclusion.
Vijay, who runs a blood donation helpline in Delhi managed the event and supported the visually challenged players with his amazing team of volunteers. He also ensured media publicity by getting Sunil’ interview aired on FM radio.
Siddharth from the marketing department at Bain & Co (my workplace) helped design and print the banners and certificates.
Rajesh, who works with Genpact as a senior consultant helped capture the event with his camera.
My brother Nishant, who is a General Manager at Jindal Steel & Power helped organize tea, snacks, and lunch for all participants. Thanks to him we were continuously well fed with pav bhaji, matar kulcha, aaloo poori, patties, samosas and tons of biscuits and chai. He also helped manage the logistics on the day of the event, with my husband Aditya who is the founder of Toko Innovation Studios.
The event went wonderfully, like a charm. Visually challenged players were excited at getting an opportunity to compete head on with sighted players. Sighted players were overwhelmed with the ability, skill and determination that visually challenged players exhibited. Many sighted players lost games against visually challenged players. A young sighted player with a FIDE ranking in 1000s, choked when telling me how the event had moved her, and how this was the first time she was experiencing such a competition since she started playing 8 years ago. Mothers of sighted players who had accompanied their children almost wished that their children would lose against the wonder of their opponents’ game. What started as a chess competition quickly turned into a window between two different worlds, the confluence of which was touching and inspiring. Everybody wanted another event of the kind very soon. Everybody left richer than when they entered the room.
For me, the event for an expression of who I want to be as an individual. I want to create possibilities for others. I want people around me to move beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary. I want them to realize their potential and soar, and in their flight I find my bliss.

[Pardon me for using the word blind instead of visually challenged, which I personally find more appropriate. However, most such schools and associations in Delhi refer to their community as the “blind”.]
Event pictures here -

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