War and Peace
In the land of Swarna Pradesh were two kingdoms. Rampur was ruled by Ram Singh, while Krishnapur was ruled by Sher Singh. Both the kings had gone to the same gurukul and had been taught by the learned sage, Swami Krupacharya.
Even though they had grown up in the same environment, their philosophies and outlook towards life were entirely different. While Ram Singh worshipped peace, Sher Singh believed in violence. Ram Singh was content with his kingdom and spent his energy and resources in developing it. Sher Singh, on the other hand, wanted to expand his kingdom as much as he could and therefore, continuously waged battles with the neighboring kingdoms.
In Rampur, agriculture, industry, literature, music, sculpture, dance, painting and sports flourished. All around there was economic and cultural development. Everyone prospered. Rampur could boast of the most learned scholars and poets, the most gifted musicians and dancers, the most talented sculptors and painters and the most accomplished sportsmen. This did not mean he neglected defence. His was one of the best equipped and trained armies in the region. But, because he believed in peace, it very rarely had to participate in wars. The soldiers kept fit by practicing and waging mock battles and performing relief operations during times of natural calamities like floods and earthquakes.
In Krishnapur however, things were quite different. Sher Singh was interested only in winning battles and stretching the borders of his kingdom. Agriculture, industry, music, fine arts and sports, he felt, were a waste of time. If they wanted food grains or other necessities, they could always attack the neighboring kingdoms and loot it. What was the necessity of spending time and energy of these needless pursuits?
As a result, all the young and able-bodied men were recruited in the army. The rest of the activities were left to the old, the feeble and the handicapped. Thus, industry, agriculture, fine arts and sports languished. All the young men were busy fighting, while their parents, wives, and children spent the years waiting for their loved ones to return.
One day, Sher Singh was returning home after a long battle. He was very happy. He had managed to win back a small kingdom to the north-east of Krishnapur which he had lost the year before. As he was passing through Rampur, he decided to call on his old friend and take a break.
In the king’s palace, he was pleasantly surprised to see his Guru, Swami Krupacharya. Sher Singh greeted Ram Singh and bowed down and touched Swamiji’s feet.
"How are you, Sher? You look tired. For a moment, I couldn’t even recognize you. Both you and Ram are of the same age. But see, how young and healthy he looks, while you look old and scarred."
"Well, Swamiji, I don’t sit in my palace watching dances and listening to music. I perform my duties as a king by going out and waging battles and expanding the borders of my kingdom."
Ram Singh kept quiet and merely looked at Swamiji and smiled.
"Listen, my dear Sher. Can you answer a simple question?"
"Why not, Swamiji? Please ask."
"What is the most important duty of a king?"
"To expand his kingdom, conquer new lands."
"No, you are quiet mistaken. The most important duty of the king is to keep his subjects happy. Have you been successful in doing that?"
"Of course. My people are not only happy, they are also very prosperous. In the last five years, since I became king, I have fought fifteen battles and expanded my kingdom."
"At what cost, Sher? Have you ever thought how many young men have died in these battles? How many women have become widows and how many children orphans?"
"But Swamiji, we do have to pay a price for getting something. Nothing in this world is free."
"I agree. But you have paid too much for too little."
"I don’t agree, Swamiji. I am sure my people are very happy."
"We can check that out. I suggest that we disguise ourselves and go and mix with the people in your kingdom. This way, we’ll be able to get the true picture."
So, the next evening after dark, Swamiji, Ram Singh and Sher Singh, putting on suitable disguises, went to Krishnapur. There, they took refuge in a small inn.
After dinner, Swamiji started making small talk. The owner of the inn was an old man of around sixty years. His name was Suraj Seth.
"Suraj, my two sons and I have come from very far. My sons are looking for jobs and if they get a suitable opportunity they will settle down in Krishnapur. People have spoken very highly about this kingdom. What is your advice?"
Suraj glanced here and there and lowering his voice said, "Since you are outsiders I can speak my mind freely. Don’t settle down in this hell. Your sons will not get any jobs. They will have to join the army and keep fighting useless battles till they are seriously injured or dead. I had two sons. The older one died three years back. Last year, the younger one lost his legs in a battle. Now I have a widow, a cripple and my half mad wife with me."
"But Suraj, you should be proud that Krishnapur is now regarded as a very powerful kingdom."
"Of what good is this foolish pride to me? I have lost everything. And even in war, we have really not been very successful. In the last eight years, since that battle-crazy king took over, we have annexed eight and lost seven kingdoms. We have had to fight fifteen bloody battles, lose thousands of ours sons, for what - just to gain one measly kingdom! Tell me brother, is it really worth it?"
Next morning, the three of them left the inn and made their way to the market place. There, under the shade of a banyan tree, some old men were sitting and chatting. They joined the old men and after striking up a conversation, Swamiji repeated the same dialogue. One of the old men, whom the others called Chacha, said –
"Are you mad? Why do you want to rot in this place? Why don’t you go to Rampur? It is really a heaven when compared to Krishnapur."
"Why? What is so special about Rampur?"
"Friends, my brother lives there. He was telling me that everyone is very happy there. They read books, watch dramas, listen to music, participate in sports and enjoy themselves. The children there are exposed to every facet of education. Not like in this wretched place, where they are only taught to shed blood. In Rampur, they have the best quality food grains, the best quality cloth and the most peaceful life."
The three of them came back to Rampur. Sher Singh was wild. He also wasn’t totally convinced. He took leave of Swamiji and with a curt nod to Ram Singh went back to Krishnapur.
The words of Swamiji, Suraj and Chacha kept haunting him. He decided to wage a war against Rampur and annex it. If Rampur was really heaven, he wanted it to be a part of his kingdom. He was sure he would easily be able to defeat his friend, Ram Singh, in battle. After all, his men had had so much of practice while Ram Singh’s people had been singing and dancing all along.
He sent his minister to Ram Singh’s court with a challenge : "Ram Singh should either surrender or be ready to fight a battle with Sher Singh."
Ram Singh was quite amused to receive the message. He decided to meet Sher Singh in person. Swamiji, who was still in Rampur, insisted that he would also come along.
When Sher Singh saw Ram Singh and Swamiji, he thought Ram Singh had come to surrender and had brought Swamiji along for support.
"What is all this, Sher?" asked Ram Singh.
"If your kingdom is all that good, I want it to be a part of Krishnapur."
"And for this silly ambition you want to sacrifice thousands of lives?"
"Why don’t you simply say that you are scared of fighting with me? You know very well you will be defeated."
"It is not a question of victory or defeat. It is a question of thousands of innocent human lives."
"I have a suggestion to make. If it is only a question of superiority, we can decide by peaceful means," Swamiji said.
"How?" asked Sher Singh.
"Well, we can have competitions in literature, music, sculpture, dance, painting and sports."
"Swamiji, that is not fair. You jolly well know that Ram and his people have been indulging only in these pursuits for the last so many years. Let them fight it out with us."
"Okay then, in addition to the above, we can have mock battles. The rules will be framed by Swamiji. This way, without shedding a drop of blood, it will be decided who is superior," suggested Ram Singh.
"Okay. If I win, then you have to accede to me and if I lose, the Krishnapur will become a part of Rampur and I will be your prisoner."
One month later, the competitions started. Both the kingdoms participated enthusiastically. Kings and princes from the neighbouring kingdoms were invited as judges. In the first seven days, competitions in the field of literature, sports, music, dance, painting and sculpture were held. The competitors from Krishnapur were completely outclassed by their opponents from Rampur. As Sher Singh watched in dismay, his people lost every event by a huge margin. But, he didn’t lose hope. The main event - the mock battle - was still due. Since his people were in such good shape fighting real battles, he was sure they would win.
The mock battle started in real earnest. The people from Krishnapur put up a great fight. But the residents of Rampur, being stronger, fitter and healthier, managed to edge past. With this defeat, Sher Singh’s hopes of victory were dashed to pieces.
Next day, he came to Ram Singh’s court and surrendered. He stood before Ram Singh, bowed his head and said, "Ram Singh, I have lost. Krishnapur is yours and I am your prisoner."
Ram Singh got up, embraced Sher Singh and said, "My dear Sher, Krishnapur was always yours and will continue to be yours. And you are not my prisoner, you are and will always be my dear friend. My only advice to you is ‘Give peace a chance’."
Sher Singh had learnt his lesson. From that day, he stopped fighting useless battle and concentrated on keeping his people happy. He gave importance to the development of agriculture, industry, sports and the fine arts. Krishnapur made rapid progress in all fields.
The following year, another competition was held between Rampur and Krishnapur and this time, Krishnapur edged past Rampur.
After the prize distribution ceremony, Sher Singh embraced Ram Singh and said, "My dear Ram, I will never forget your words. Earlier, I used to win battles but, by giving peace a chance, I have been able to win hearts."
Trauma and Triumph
Vikas woke up with a start. He looked at the clock. It was 4 p.m. He could hear voices in the living room. "When did you come back from Kolkota, Nizam? Vikas' father Suresh was asking his best friend Nizam Hussain. "Just an hour back and you know what, Irfan bagged three gold medals in the under-12 category."
"Wow! That's fantastic news. You should celebrate - throw a party. No, wait. Why should you? I'll throw one. After all I am Irfan's favorite uncle and he my favorite nephew."
Irfan, Nizam Uncle's son was a swimming champ. He had gone for the inter-state swimming championship to Kolkota.
"He won gold medals in 100 metres free style, 200 metres free style and relay," Nizam said.
"He is a born champ Nizam, though I wonder where he got his genes from."
"Certainly not from me."
"That's what I am saying. You were so hopeless in sports."
"And you were the ultimate champion," Nizam said thumping his friend on his back. "You know something Suresh, I ran into our sports teacher Sunny David. He was telling me your 100 metres sports records is still not broken."
"Really! I can't believe it. I ran that race 24 years ago when I was in class ten."
"You should really be proud of yourself."
"I would have been even more proud if Vikas had carried forward my legacy. When he was born I had declared that I would make him the next Carl Lewis but..."
"I understand your feelings Suresh, but you should never let Vikas know or it will destroy him."
Vikas sat up and removed the bed sheet that was covering his leg. In place of his left leg was a wooden stump. He had lost his leg in an accident five years back when he was seven.
Vikas was sitting on a platform under the shade of a Peepal tree watching his friends playing football. His father's words, the disappointment in his voice, were haunting Vikas every waking moment.
"Come Vikas, how about a game of chess?"
Vikas looked up. It was Sreenivasan Sir, his math teacher. He was holding a box in his hand.
Sreenivasan Sir was very fond of Vikas not only because he was very good in math but also because Vikas was sincere and hardworking.
"But Sir, I can't play chess."
"So what? I can, and I'll teach you. In a couple of games you'll get the hang of it. Your powers of observation and concentration are very good and I am sure you'll pick up the game in no time."
And so the teacher and his favorite student started playing. In the beginning Vikas found it very difficult to even understand the basic moves. But gradually he got into the rhythm. Soon a game of chess with Sreenivasan Sir became a regular practice. Vikas really started looking forward to that one hour of P.T. when he could match his skills with those of the brilliant Sreenivasan Sir. Six months went by. Sreenivasan Sir and Vikas were playing chess in their usual spot.
"Check and mate," Vikas said and looked expectantly at his mentor.
Sreenivasan Sir studied the move for sometime and then exclaimed, "Fantastic move Vikas, you trapped me. Well done, I am proud of you," he held out his hand.
A beaming Vikas shook his teacher's hand. He was thrilled to bits. This was the first time he had beaten Sreenivasan Sir.
Next day when they met for their regular game of chess Sreenivasan Sir told Vikas, "Vikas the leading daily of our State - News Today will be hosting a Chess Tournament for school students from 12th to 15th November. It will be called 'News Today Chess Olympiad' and will be held at Hari Singh Indoor Stadium. I want you to take part in that."
"M..me. B..but Sir, I can hardly play."
"Vikas you are being too modest. . Don't forget you beat me yesterday. And let me tell you during my college days I was the University champ."
"No, buts," Sreenivasan cut him short. "You are going to take part. You have six months to practice. I'll get you a few good books on chess. Do you have a computer at home?"
"Good. Then I'll also get you a couple of chess programmes on a floppy. Playing chess with the computer will really sharpen your skills."
"But Sir...I...I feel -"
"I told you, no buts. If you feel your parents will object I can talk to them."
"No, Sir, I'll take my parents' permission."
"Okay then are we ready to start preparing for the Olympiad?"
"Yes, Sir," Vikas said, a faint smile appearing on his anxious face.
Vikas told his mother Pramila but he asked her not to tell his father.
"Please Ma, I want to surprise Papa. He doesn't even know I know chess. Even if I reach the second round he will be thrilled."
Chess became Vikas' obsession. In school, during P.T. period; at home after his homework, Vikas would get busy playing chess, reading about it, matching his skills with the computer and even dreaming about different moves. He cut out the games which appeared in the newspaper columns, studied the various strategies used and discussed them with Sreenivasan Sir.
Two months later when he was waiting under the shade of the Peepal tree he found Sreenivasan Sir walking towards him accompanied by a tall, thin, man with grey hair.
"Vikas this is my friend and Guru, R.K. Murthy. He retired as a Physics Teacher from Government College. During the seventies he had won the State Chess Championship for a record nine times. He lives nearby and he will walk down and play every day with you during P.T. period."
Vikas folded his hands in a namaste and Mr. Murthy patted him on his head. "So young man, shall we begin? I am eager to match my old wits with that of a talented member of the Generation X."
Vikas found that playing with Mr. Vishwanath was altogether a different experience. He sometimes felt he was a complete novice playing for the first time.
Vishwanath taught him many fresh openings, several new moves. He also pointed out many of his follies. With each game Vikas felt he was learning something new.
Suresh was the Marketing Manager of a leading pharmaceutical company and was frequently out on tour. On 7th November when he was leaving for Chennai Vikas told him, "Papa you should come back definitely by 12th."
"Why son? Is there a function in your school?"
"No, Papa. But there is a surprise for you. I don't want you to miss it.
Suresh patted Vikas on his head, "Okay, son."
Suresh forgot about the promise he had made to his son. On 12th he rang up Pramila and told her he had got stuck and would be reaching on 15th morning.
The train was late and by the time he reached home it was 11.
"Maaji and bhaiya have gone to Hari Singh stadium and have asked you to join them," the maid servant informed Suresh.
Puzzled Suresh took a bath, grabbed a quick bite and drove down to the stadium, which was three kilometres from his house.
When he reached the stadium he saw a huge banner at the gate. "News Today Chess Olympiad."
Puzzled he parked the car and went inside. There was a pin drop silence in the stadium, which was packed. Right in the middle was a raised platform. People were sitting all around watching a game of chess in progress. One of the players looked familiar. Suresh stared unable to believe his eyes. It was his son Vikas! But Vikas and Chess? He wasn't even aware Vikas knew how to play the game. And here his son was participating in a championship! He felt a familiar hand on his shoulder. He turned, it was Nizam
"What are you doing here?" Suresh asked.
"I have come here for the same purpose as you - to watch Vikas play."
"B...but I didn't even know he could play chess -"
"He wanted to surprise you. Now, come with me. There is a seat reserved for you right in front from where you can watch the action."
Nizam led him to an empty seat next to which Pramila was sitting.
"You know Suresh, Vikas is in the finals - and this is the final game. If he wins he will be the State Champion."
Suresh shook his head.
"This all seems like a dream. It is too good to be true. When did he learn to play chess? Who taught him? And how come I don't know a thing about it."
"Have patience, all your questions will be answered in good time. But right now let us concentrate on Vikas' game."
Suresh watched mesmerized as his son, a picture of concentration, waited for his opponent
Harish to play. Harish made his move. Vikas quietly moved his queen two steps and said very calmly - "Check and Mate."
For a few second there was absolute silence. Harish looked at the board and then threw his hands up. Three was a thunderous applause and the entire stadium was on its feet cheering and clapping. Vikas got up with the help of his crutches and bowed. His eyes rested on the beaming face of this father. Suresh was clapping with joy, shaking hands with Nizam and shouting - all at the same time, like an excited five year old.
Later after he had receive the glittering trophy Vikas was given the mike.
"I would like to thank my math teacher and inspiration Sreenivasan Sir, the wizard who taught me Mr. Murthy, my Uncle Nizam and my mother. To my Papa I only want to say, "I know I can never become a Carl Lewis, but you can help me become a Vishwanathan Anand."
The stadium once again erupted in cheers and Suresh was seen wiping his eyes.
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