By Aftab Shaikh and Zirak Faheem:
An Afghan refugee in India has been discarded from the only place he derives happiness from. The reason? His love for chess. His humble personality and his sharp understanding of the game attracts hundreds of people who watch, and even join him, in playing chess outside the main gate of the underground Palika Bazaar in Connaught Place.
From Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Palika Bazaar in the heart of Delhi, 58-year-old Abdul Samad has come a long way with his chess board in his bag. Although he has temporarily made a concrete block inside the central park of Connaught Place as his new den, Samad now misses being the master of the game as only a few people now turn up for a match with him inside the central park.
“Once again I feel like a refugee who has been thrown out from a place where he belongs. I am losing the limelight and appreciation from different people who motivated me and kept me happy in this unknown, isolated city,” Samad said.
Samad was told not to play chess in the area by the local police as large crowds started gathering outside the market near the metro gate. “Police said that large crowds will lead to unwanted incidents,” he added.
Samad wants to get back to his daily routine. Around 11 in the morning, he used to arrange three boards on the tables outside the underground market’s main gate till 9 PM and was willing to start a battle against anyone who wanted to play. He misses the throng of spectators, be it Indians or foreigners, enthralled by the battle of minds on a busy street.
“It is not just the game, but the spectators and the crowd which make me happy,” he added. Ever since Samad arrived in India in December 2014, he has been playing chess across Delhi.
Samad, also known as Afghan Chacha, was a resident of Jalalabad in the Nangarhar province. After the fall of the pro-Soviet ‘Democratic Republic of Afghanistan’ (DRA) and the rise of the Mujahideen rule in Afghanistan in 1989, Samad fled with some of his family members to Pakistan. After travelling back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Samad finally arrived in India in 2014. Since then, he has been residing in a rented room in Ashram, near Lajpat Nagar. He spends most of his time outside Palika Bazaar playing chess.
“I started playing chess while I was pursuing my graduation from a university based in Afghanistan. Since then I developed my passion for chess,” he said. “People often ask me whether they have to pay entry fees to play with me; I smile and invite them to play. It is not a source of making money for me, but just a source to make me feel happy despite being away from my family,” he added. Samad’s sons are still in Afghanistan, while his daughter, sister and mother are now in the US.
Last week, a number of newspapers and news portals published articles about Afghan Chacha. This amplified his popularity in the area, which he believes is the reason he has been asked to shift from there. “Before, even the police personnel played with me. After the recent media coverage, more people started gathering to watch and play chess. I had started feeling like a celebrity after that,” he said.
Wasil Khan, a Delhi-based journalist, is among many who come to Connaught Place to play chess with Samad. “Afghani Chacha travels daily to engage with people and provides an opportunity to play and learn chess. It is very unfortunate to see that a person who was connecting people from different walks of life has been told to go away from the area.”
Samad is now considering shifting to Hauz Khas or India Gate, as very few people are turning up inside the central park to play chess. However, his local friends are trying to get him back to his old place.