When I got engaged to Dr Anjali, I got acquainted with my father-in-law Shri R.B.Sapre. I only knew that he was an accomplished chess player and a chess columnist for I had seen his chess problems for years as they would appear in Blitz, Indian Express and Illustrated Weekly and maybe even tried to solve some of them. I had seen him on Ruia campus where he coached the initiated with his guru type zola popular amongst artists of yesteryears.
We did play Chess at our home with my parents and siblings and it was for fun. That was the golden era when we dabbled with card games, scrabble, carom and lido or snakes and ladder and of course ‘Nava Vyapar’ a game of money and business. There were no computer games then and physical culture was lacking in middle class homes where emphasis was on indoor games. After my marriage, I came to know about the world of competitive chess and its nuances although I knew about the great players like Bobby Fisher and
My respect for my F-I-L went up when I learnt that he was the first national champion and marveled at the fact that his career was totally different as compared to the run of the mill like doctors ,lawyers ,clerks and engineers . I however got to know more about this quirky individual when he shifted his residence to the same suburb where we stayed.He gave a lot of time to my son Devendra and that was his biggest gift to us.He would spend hours with his grandson keeping him company and inculcating values in him.We are grateful to him till this date.
I was thrilled at his seemingly carefree lifestyle although he put in a lot of hard work even when he was in his seventies writing about international games and posing challenging problems to the avid chess players and followers of the 64 house game across the nation. People knew him far and wide and every nook and corner of the country .He would burn the midnight oil to submit the problems for the column and took great pains to built quality into it. His old typewriter and withered chess board were at times improvised but together they churned out amazing problems and solutions. Shri Phadke a neighbor had got this Remington serviced on many occasions as he revered his ascetic lifestyle and principles without complaint.He was a pioneer in Chess Journalism and tremendously helped to make this game popular in pre computer and pre net era. He was felicitated for his contribution to Indian Chess on an occasion when Vishwanathan Anand was invited to witness the proceedings.Appa would himself appreciate Anands game and analyze them. He had predicted Anands’ rise on the chess horizon very early.He would feel proud for India everytime Anand won a championship .
Appa ,as he was addressed loved good things in life as he had seen it all in Europe during his chess tourneys and representations of the country where he rubbed shoulders with bigwigs and brought home stories of Great Players like Alekhine and ……….and other Grandmasters . I would love to hear when senior chess buffs met at times in the home for a weekend games and would analyze great games and tell anecdotes about chess celebrities. But they never gossiped as Chess players have their own etiquettes, style and code of conduct .The techniques like Sicilian defence ,…….,…….still hold me in awe as I appreciate the romance of the game of aggression,intelligence,strategy,patience and many other virtues . A thorough gentlemans game,the great Bollywood actor Rehman was an ardent lover of the game and knew Appa on personal terms.Appa had great contacts through his play and dedication ,but he never ever took any unfair advantage of the same.Bhau Padsalgikar a towering Chess man from Sangli was a friend and contemporary and on one occasion at a famed Sangli Chess tourney we had the opportunity to understand and witness their love and respect for each others. Appa had no fancy for clothes and popularity .He lived life on his terms happy in his thoughts and world. He never canvassed for any pension,gift or award .He was clean to the core.H supported his wife and handicapped daughter till the end with love and care.
Appa was clumsy and ill-kempt at times but it suited his personality and he never looked shabby. He was tall,fair , handsome and good looking with a wheatish complexion rare to find in a person of limited pecuniary status.He was clean shaven and had sharp features .He never had a penchant for money and material .He was simple, sagacious and succinct. He was a man of few words and listened carefully to others before he made any remark although he was sarcastic at times. He was a voracious reader and would distill off every meaningful story from the daily periodicals and knew about history and culture of India .He was a walking encyclopedia and had remarkable memory of dates and events. He had particular interest in the Indian Freedom Struggle and he remained a congressman till the end.Appa loved hot and sour foods and had weakness for curds and mangoes. He never consumed alcohol or never smoked but had very occasional beer for its volume, dilution and bitterness. He took tobacco for its anticonstipatory effects.
His language skills were astonishing and he would make every submission classy with his good English and phrases .His English vocabulary was amazing and he remained a student of good English till his end. An English dictionary was his constant companion and he never lost a chance to refer it .He did not dabble in arts and music as basically he was a man of science and had built in engineering genious.He would repair gadgets at home with dogged concentration and innovations. If he was seized of a problem he would go miles to understand it before solving it in his own way.
Appa was very good in Sanskrit and knew the verses of Bhavbhuti and Kalidas and the Mahabharata and Ramayana well although he was never religious .He would recite Sanskrit quotes perfectly with alacrity depending on the situation and on one occasion even proved that he was right when he corrected a close relative who had a masters in Sanskrit.She sobbed and was inconsolable when she was proved wrong as it hurt her ego.Appa held that wisdom came from language and grammar. It was this basic interest in Logic which made him into a Sanskrit scholar although he was not an exponent or pundit.Appa was equally comfortable with Marathi and never ever made a single spelling error .
Appa loved swimming and was a member of MGMO pool at Dadar.On way back he would drop at Pamart Studio for a cup of tea and short chat with my father .Later ,we went to Mulund swimming pool where he gave basic lessons in swimming to my son in floatation which according to him is first step in pool science. He would never exert much in the pool and would be seen floating supine for most of the time. I cherish those days of togetherness even today. When I had a brush with law Appa stood tall and argued out the homework with his stoicism and restrain. I had the good fortune to travel with him to Palaghat in Kerala where my son was taking part in national level junior chess tournament .We went to Gurvayoor and Maeenaxipuram and Managalore on return journey ,when I got more glimpses of his personality .I could then understand the love and respect that Amir Khoja the Secretary of AICF showered on Appa holding him as mentor to Indian Chess. Appa was timid and shy but always followed the rules .He would never cow down especially in crisis and would talk of killer instinct essential in the game .Appa never understood cricket ,cinema and advert sand he never cared .
If there was a message he would love give to entire clan it would be : In this big never-ending world ,always follow the rule .Never give up .Follow the head over heart yet do whatever you do with passion.
In the later life Appa developed cardiac myopathy and dysarrythmia and he took drugs for years and during one of the episodes during admission in an ICU picked up a bad Nosocomial lung Infection . During the last hours ,surprisingly his heart remained steadfast till the end.
My wife Dr Anjali and my son Devendra have inherited many traits from Appa and although they are at times bothersome, as it requires and understanding that they are essentially outliers and hence unique and over all lovable!
( I was told to contribute this article to a Book on R.B.Sapre published by Smt Meena PoI.I kept on procrastinating till I made an attempt only few days before going to press. Having written 250 blog posts ,it was essential to put on record my feelings and thoughts about this laconic man for posterity)