Monday Memories 11 – The Chess Players

I love the game of Chess. There is a certain beauty to it. The flow in the movement of pieces, the emotional and intellectual attachment with each move , each piece on the chess board. The riveting and aesthetically stimulating strategies and a well planned positioning and combinations.  It is an art  just like painting and music.

My dad’s family had expert chess players. In fact the Kayastha families were known for educating their women and for their passion for art and literature and for having some of the best chess players. Mainly Urdu literature as Hindi or Hindustani was considered as just a spoken language.  My grandfather was known as a good chess player in the Mohalla ( an area in town or village) in Allahabad. My father was the only child but all is cousins played the game. Many of my aunts were players in their own right though women usually played the game indoors among themselves or with men in the family depending on their relationship with them.

I never went to my paternal grandparents’ home but dad used to tell stories about chess competitions in the Mohallas and how it was a matter of honor to represent certain families. The chess players were revered and hero worshiped by the beginners who were learning the art of chess playing.

In my grandfather’s home there used to be a paved veranda before the main door to the Baithak ( A room where guests were received. Mainly men occupied this area and it was also called mardana ( for men) Women stayed away from this area.) This veranda was usually cemented and on those cemented slabs there used to be two board games permanently painted. One was a chess board and the other was Chopad ( an ancient game of dice).  The stage would be set for the game and slowly a crowd would build up around the chess players.  The rule was to remain silent. If a seasoned player was at the board it would be more fun to watch. The game would go on for hours sometime and it wasn’t just the players who would be involved in planning the strategies of the game, everyone’s mind would be equally involved but no one would help the players. It was a matter of pride and honor.

I learned chess from my dad at the age of six. I remember how fascinating I found the game. In the beginning he would patiently sit with me and explain about all the chess pieces and their role in the game. The best part were the stories that went with the learning sessions. A good teacher is one who can keep the interest of the student going. My dad was exception that way.

I remember many evenings when I would finish my home work and rush to him with the tin box rattling with pawns,  knights, rooks, elephants, bishops, kings and queens ready for a battle. Sometimes he would oblige at others I used to be satisfied with a self game which was more of a self story telling session than a proper game actually. There was anther kind of fun in playing with my other self. Makes me laugh now as I think of how I used to play that double role. Dad would sit on a chair nearby reading some book and keenly observing my antics. Sometimes he would join and help one of “me” to win. 🙂

It took me some years to master the game to an extent that I could defeat him. It was one of the most memorable day of my life as a girl. To beat my dad in the game of chess was like winning an international title. I could see how proud he was of his little girl and it doubled the joy.  Monsoon was the perfect setting for a good relaxed game of chess. The rain , the cool soft breeze, the hot pakodas with spicy chutney, sometimes a glass of hot chocolate or coffee at later stages and a gleaming chess board between dad and me. Some memories are just too precious. Mom would obviously not like it and complain about loss of study time etc but then mom’s complain and that’s a fact. I do it too. :p

When I grew older dad was hardly at home so he made me member of  Botvinik Chess Academy at Russian Cultural Center. It was a whole new experience for me and I realized how different it was to play under professional coaches. Dad and I used to play two variations of the game – Indian and International but this was something very different. I learned the finer aspects of the game there but missed the warmth that two chess players shared. For me the game of chess was not just about winning or losing it was much more than that. It was a bond that the players formed over the chess board.

Once dad stopped playing I yearned to find friends who played chess but there were none at the places I stayed.

It was later that I found friends with whom one could have a stimulating game of chess. One of the friends was extremely good and close to me too. We had many chess sessions at home when my boys were small. They would hover around and play their own games while we would immerse ourselves in a complex game over rum and vodkas 😀  there is a certain joy in getting checkmated for love 😉

We carried this love of chess on all our trips to the mountains and each evening there would be a chess session much to the annoyance of others who considered it anti social and waste of time.

Two of the most treasured memories of  games of chess are from those trips. One in Dharamshala, where under the moonlight in a German Cafe I and a friend of mine played the game till the clouds darkened and the beautiful full moon tugging the corner of night disappeared behind the mountains. Much can happen over a game of chess especially when you are in such exotic romantic surroundings but I won’t go into that.. leaving it for the reader’s imagination 😉 psst… I have written a post about it somewhere. You can look for it under memoirs :p

I don’t know which one of us won that day but at the end it really did not matter. The memory of it is unforgettable. One of those rare moments in my life when I really knew what happiness meant.

Another incident is from Kinnaur. There were six of us including Kid 2 in that gorgeous Kinnar camp at the banks of Baspa river. After a sumptuous meal around the campfire we decided to open up the chess board to the disappointment of some but we were riding high on something or the other and determined to play at least one game if not more. It was around midnight and under a swaying yellow light which made our shadows dance on the tent walls two of the male friends began to play. The rest just rooted for them and there was so much laughter, teasing and a serious game in the midst of all the din.  The game went on and on till we lost the track of time. A few of the lot fell asleep where ever they could but the players still concentrated on the few pieces that were left on the game board. It was fascinating how silence quietly crept in and no one bothered about the leftover rum in the glasses, the cigarettes that slowly burned out and turned to ash. Suddenly the players were locked into a complex game with a few minor pieces on the board. I could hear the low rumble of the mountain river near by and the heavy breathing of   those who had passed out for the night. By now even my eyes were becoming heavy with sleep and it was an effort to pay proper attention to the game but the two guys were wide awake and totally engrossed in the game oblivious to everything around them. That is the beauty of  chess, it takes you to another level. I call it Nirvana.

I don’t know who won that match and when did it finish but I can bet it went on till the wee hours of the morning for when I walked into their tent in the morning the chess pieces were all collected in a heap on the chess board with a black pawn guarding over them and a white king trapped in a corner.  That told the rest of the story of the game. 🙂

I miss those days of togetherness and playing with good chess players. Playing chess on computer is no fun although I did it for many months against virtual players through an app on FB.

The chessmen wait, dust motes dance in the shaft of light that falls on the chess board each afternoon, I watch  and remember the good old days thinking how much life has changed since then.

Gary Kasparov was one of the greatest chess players ever. Here is my favorite quote by him  from his book How Life Imitates Chess –

 “There is no one that can share your responsibility. It it is your responsibility you must carry it on and you must be responsible for your actions. At the end of the day we all are being challenged, sooner or later, by our destiny. And it’s up to us to make all the difference in this life. If not you, who else?”

One thought on “Monday Memories 11 – The Chess Players

  1. That’s one of the best posts on the game of Chess. Hubby is trying to teach Prince A the finer nuances of the game but like you have written he likes to play with himself and let one of him wins. Great memoir


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