Sketch-mate: How a Bengal chess champion raised money for a Bangladeshi Candidate Master’s treatment

Eighteen year-old Chandreyee Hajra used her talent to raise money for the cost of Ikramul Haq Siam’s operation.

How do you raise funds for a young, talented chess champion who’s suffering from a degenerative disc disease?

You can crowd-source. You can ask for funds. Or like 18-year-old Chandreyee Hajra from a place called Rishra near Kolkata in West Bengal, you can decide to put your talents to use, bringing happiness for not just the person involved but for many others as well.

Bangladesh’s Ikramul Haq Siam, a Candidate Master, is among the promising young chess talents in his country. Yet, despite the talent, his story soon took a tragic turn. The 20-year-old was hit by a degenerative disc illness that paralyzed his right leg and even threatened his life. Having lost his mother recently and not being able to afford the medical procedures that would cost him ৳600,000 (Rs 480,000), he made a tearful appeal to ChessBase India in August, “I want to live and play chess. I am requesting well-off people to help me financially for the surgery”.

On this side of the border, 18-year-old Hajra, a Woman International Master, got to know of Ikramul’s story and was moved by it. She was participating in a local tournament and immediately decided to contribute the prize money she won to Ikramul’s cause. But she wanted to do more.

Chandreyee Hajra (left) with Ikramul Haq Siam (right). (Image credit: Chandreyee Hajra)
Chandreyee Hajra (left) with Ikramul Haq Siam (right). (Image credit: Chandreyee Hajra)

“Then it hit me. Chess has always been my life, but sketching is my other passion. I have sketched earlier, but this time, I decided to use that talent to contribute to Ikramul’s fund,” Hajra told The Field.

She stood by her words. Around the end of August, Hajra put out an appeal saying she would sketch portraits for anyone who requested her one for Rs 999. All the money she earned would go to Ikram’s cause.

“It affected me greatly,” she said, when asked why she put out that appeal. “As a chess player myself, I felt so bad thinking about the plight of another chess player who was not getting a chance to live just because of money.”

Some of Chandreyee’s sketches

“People did raise concerns that it would affect my free time…it would affect my game and tournaments,” she added. “But then I decided, if it does, let it. It’s a small sacrifice to make for saving someone’s life.”

Happily enough, the initiative has paid off. Hajra raised around Rs 40,000 through her sketches – that coupled with the efforts of a group of Telangana chess players who contributed around Rs 140,000 and another Bengali chess player Shaati Mazumder who contributed Rs 25,000, ensured that Ikramul had the funds for his surgery. He is currently in Vellore where he has an appointment with doctors at the Christian Medical College on Monday.

On her part, Hajra couldn’t be happier. “I am very happy. I have been sketching since I was a small child. It’s the way I used to relax from chess…it gave me the change I needed in my life from chess. I’m so happy that I could use it to save a life”.

And now that the job is done, she has her sights set on the chess board. She aims to become a Woman Grandmaster from her current International Master status. It’s a goal to which she’s happily dedicated all her life, all while finding an outlet in sketching, which she used to save a life.

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