21 August 2023

A stroll with Pragg and Arjun along a boulevard in Baku

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is the 201st article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below] 

 As I write, Arjun Erigaisi, the 19 year old Indian Grand Master (GM) has failed to make it to the semi-final of the Chess World Cup 2023 currently underway in Baku, Azerbaijan. Rameshbabu ‘Pragg’ Praggnanandhaa, the 18 year old Indian GM who defeated Arjun, having drawn both the classical games against Fabiano Caruana, the Italian and American GM, currently ranked second in the world, moves into the tie-break games in the shorter format.

By the time you read this Pragg may have made the finals where he would meet World No 1 Magnus Carlsen (who relinquished the World Champion title he had held for 10 years) who defeated GM Nijat Abasov of Azerbaijan 1.5-0.5. Even if he fails, he has already booked a place in the Candidates Tournament and with it a chance to take on GM Ding Liren of China for the world title in April 2024 in Toronto, Canada.  

Pragg and Arjun are both chess prodigies, the former having secured his GM title at the age of 12 and the latter when he was 14. They have long careers ahead of them and are bound to shine at the very top one day. We will have to wait on that potential rivalry.

Their quarter-final was an epic, Pragg prevailing after nine games. What was even more epic was something that happened before they had even started the first game.  

Irene Sukandar, a commentator of the World Cup, had taken a stroll and had come across Pragg and Arjun who apparently shared her views on relaxation. So there they were, two incredibly talented and strong chess players taking a walk together hours before they would cross swords across 64 squares to win the right to move to the next stage, the semi-final, of the Chess World Cup 2023.

Irene takes a selfie. All smiles. Arjun, slightly taller and slightly older, has an arm around Pragg’s shoulders. Big-brotherly.

Chess Base India commented on this chance encounter as follows:

‘There is so much to learn from Arjun and Pragg's behaviour. We are pretty sure that when they sit opposite the board against each other, they will not leave any stone unturned in fighting it out until the bitter end. But off the board they remain great friends and nothing can come in between that friendship - not even a spot in the Candidates!’

This is not uncommon among sporting rivals. Off the board or off the court, they become different people or, put another way, revert to their non-competitive selves. There’s always respect and for the most part there’s friendship as well. We see this in all sports. And we see sporting personalities putting aside friendship when they actually compete.  

Venus and Serena Williams are as close as sisters can be, but they always brought on their A Game when facing each other on the tennis court. They met 31 times between 1998 and 2020, Serena winning 19 of those matches. They met in 15 Grand Slam matches including 11 finals. They competed against each other in 9 Grand Slam tournaments, Serena winning seven of them. This included four consecutive finals (French Open, Wimbledon and US Open in 2022 and the 2023 Australian Open), Serena prevailing in all of them.  

There was always the customary after-game hug, smiles and a few words. The loser chins-up, swallowing disappointment as best he or she can. The winner is gracious. All that is easy.  It’s not difficult to be buddies off the court or board. Sportsmen and sportswomen do meet up for a meal. They text each other. They tweet congratulatory messages about each other.

But just before a close-to-career-defining moment? That’s rare. We could put it down to both Pragg and Arjun being from the same country. We could put it down to the fact they are almost the same age and have probably known each other through many age-group events.


When two players can abstract themselves from an impending fight, when two players can abstract themselves from their friendship, it does say something about focus, on shelving that which could scar the moment, pushing aside that which could distract. Maybe that’s why both these young men have achieved so much success so quickly in their careers.

That’s a chess lesson. That’s a sports lesson. Outside of it, however, I like to think there’s a deeper human lesson as well.

For now, let’s celebrate friendship and chess.

For now, let’s say, ‘Thanks Pragg and Arjun for all the great moments including the one captured by Irene Sukandar.’ 


Other articles in this series: 

Meditation on tree-art

Daya Sahabandu ran out of partners but must have smiled to the end

Gentle intrusions 

Sleeping well

The unleashing of inspiration

Write, for Pete's sake

Autumn Leaves Safeness

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


Ella Deloria's silences 

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness 

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable  


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan 

Enlightening geometries 

Let's meet at 'The Commons' 

It all begins with a dot 

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation 

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone 

On sweeping close to one's feet 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts... 

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm 

Who really wrote 'Mother'? 

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing 

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed 

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember 

On loving, always 

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal 

When you turn 80... 

It is good to be conscious of nudities  

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday  

There's a one in a million and a one in ten 

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California 

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature 

Pathways missed 

Architectures of the demolished 

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts 

Who the heck do you think I am? 

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha' 

The Mangala Sabhava 

So how are things in Sri Lanka? 

The most beautiful father 

Palmam qui meruit ferat 

The sweetest three-letter poem 

Buddhangala Kamatahan 

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello 

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership 

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked 

Pure-Rathna, a class act 

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna 

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other 

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles 

Matters of honor and dignity 

Yet another Mother's Day 

A cockroach named 'Don't' 

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth 

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara 

Sweeping the clutter away 

Some play music, others listen 

Completing unfinished texts 

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn 

I am at Jaga Food, where are you? 

On separating the missing from the disappeared 

Moments without tenses 

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have) 

The world is made of waves 


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller 

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya' 

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist 

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses 

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced 

Some stories are written on the covers themselves 

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature 

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time  

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie 

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists? 

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords 

The books of disquiet 

A song of terraced paddy fields 

Of ants, bridges and possibilities 

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva  

World's End 

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse 

Street corner stories 

Who did not listen, who's not listening still? 

The book of layering 

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain 

The world is made for re-colouring 

The gift and yoke of bastardy 

The 'English Smile' 

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5 

Visual cartographers and cartography 

Ithaca from a long ago and right now 

Lessons written in invisible ink 

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness' 

A tea-maker story seldom told 

On academic activism 

The interchangeability of light and darkness 

Back to TRADITIONAL rice 

Sisterhood: moments, just moments 

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging 

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha 

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows 

Sirith, like pirith, persist 

Fragrances that will not be bottled  

Colours and textures of living heritage 

Countries of the past, present and future 

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched 

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains 

The ways of the lotus 

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace 

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville 

Live and tell the tale as you will 

Between struggle and cooperation 

Of love and other intangibles 

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions 

The universe of smallness 

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers 

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills 

Serendipitous amber rules the world 

Continents of the heart
The allegory of the slow road