Visually impaired chess champion Soundarya Pradhan is teaching the game online during lockdown
Soundarya Pradhan, ranked among the top three blind chess players in India, is teaching chess online during lockdown. Soundarya and his brother Prachurya, who is also visually impaired, are self-taught players and are using the lockdown as an opportunity to spread an interest in the game.
From a small town in Odisha’s Naupada district to Lucknow and New Jersey, United States, Soundarya Kumar Pradhan is spreading the love of chess across the world.
Soundarya, ranked among India’s top three blind chess players, is in rural Odisha since the coronavirus lockdown started. He is here with brother Prachurya, who is also visually impaired. The brothers were born with a rare eye disorder called Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA).
Soundarya and Prachurya are chess prodigies, having learned the game largely on their own. Soundarya has three international medals to his credit – World Junior Silver, Asian Para Games Silver and Asian Games Bronze. He is also doing a B.Tech in Computer Science at the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Jamshedpur.
Prachurya, who introduced his brother to the game, has won laurels in national and international competitions. Prachurya is studying to become a Chartered Accountant.
Loves to teach
Despite their hectic schedules, the brothers have been taking the time out to teach chess to visually impaired people during lockdown. Apart from chess, both share a passion for teaching. “Previously I had taught English to some children of my locality for free”, says Prachurya. “The lockdown deprived chess players, including us, of playing tournaments. That was the time when we decided to explore another dimension”.
Soundarya says the idea of online classes was first proposed by Indic AI Foundation, a Delhi-based organisation that works to empower visually impaired people.
I have always been fond of teaching and explaining things from childhood, be it chess or academics. We came into contact with Indic AI Foundation and During the lockdown, we decided to go for a project where we train visually challenged chess players from all over India for a nominal fee. This is how we started officially training players online. – Soundarya Kumar Pradhan, Visually impaired chess champ
Soundarya and Prachurya give chess lessons to about 30 students a week in different batches.
When Shilpa Mehra, Co-founder, Chess Club Black and White (CCBW), a Lucknow-based organisation, approached Soundarya to take online classes, he was quick to seize the opportunity. After one trial class, he has now joined them as guest faculty.
Students in Lucknow & US
“I have known Soundarya for a couple of years”, says Shilpa, who regards him like a ‘little brother’. “CCBW exists for the love of chess, we aim to make people fall in love with the game. Soundarya is teaching non visually impaired students and his three main students are in the US. He is taking advanced classes and we are hoping to scale this up after lockdown”.
It’s a tough act juggling academics and teaching chess but Soundarya and Prachurya see this as an opportunity to hone their skills.
“The chess lessons at Indic AI are on weekends and at CCBW we take the sessions at mutually convenient timings. It is a challenge to manage both studies and chess, especially because I chose the science stream in classes 11 and 12 despite being 100% blind”, says Soundarya.
Soundarya’s method of coping with these challenges tells you why he is such an ace chess player. “The challenge is actually in coming out of this negativity and procrastination and not in managing the time. I think there is enough time to manage probably a whole lot more things, but we are not able to do so because the anxiety takes over”.
Teaching chess online also comes with its own set of challenges. Internet breakdown is one. “Apart from that sharing screens, giving lectures and operating a physical chess board all at the same time proved a little tough in the beginning. Now, I am accustomed to it”, adds Prachurya.
The experience of teaching has helped hone other skills as well.
“When you do it for yourself, there is a tendency to leave certain basics which may be important”, adds Prachurya. “While teaching, you go into detail which helps iron out any chinks in your armour as well. To add to that, my skills of communication, presentation, and explaining concepts have noticeably improved”.
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