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My Tryst with A Brainy Game

Dr. Jaipal Singh
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I often feel that our education system is mostly designed to prepare pupils as mediocre citizens ready to earn some job for a livelihood so also some position in the contemporary society to stand among the friends, relatives and acquaintances. Although the real aim and impact of education is a complex issue and needs a proper analysis in an essay of a reasonable length addressing all related points and factors but, by and large, the averment made in the first sentence appears to be reasonably in order.

My aforesaid assessment or inference is so based on the fact that ever since a pupil is registered for the elementary education, the majority of elders around tend to over-emphasize the class room education by asking him (or her) to take it very seriously else his future will be doomed as a pathetic and failed adult unable to secure any respectable (white-collared) job for the livelihood and maintain a family after the marriage or parents’ retirement on attaining certain age.

I remember from my own childhood a popular saying in the local/regional dialect “Kheloge-Kudoge hoge kharab, padhode-likhoge banoge nawab" (playing and roaming around will spoil, education will make you a successful man), which many elders frequently used to tell children, including me. But I must truthfully also confess that my own parents never pressurized me in this context; I distinctly remember, my mother only once cautioned me after High School to avoid anything that would bring bad name to family’s reputation – an advice that I took very seriously for compliance as her moral edict during the rest of my life.

I recall I was a reasonably good learner since early age with natural curiosity and interest in nearly every genre of activity in the surrounding such as reading (outside syllabus books too), games and sports, music, arts, and so on; instinctively, I tried almost all such activities and fairly did well too, like the saying goes in the spirit of - a “jack of all trades, master of none”. I distinctly remember that I always had a good logic sense and Chess had appeared as my most favourite indoor game at the early age. In the joint family, although my father too used to play but my uncle (father’s elder brother) was an excellent chess player dominating most other players in the village who used to gather at our home for rather long chess sessions. 

Although out of sheer curiosity and interest, I wanted to stick around on some or the other context among the elders engaged in the chess marathon which at times led to heated debate and quarrel including an abrupt withdrawal by some too but the next day the member(s) would rejoin the group. My guardians were averse to my hanging around as they thought that right thing for me at that age was to play with boys of the same age or concentrate on my text books. Many people did not see chess as healthy game calling it an idiosyncrasy of idlers, quoting even famous short-story of Munshi Premchand “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” of Nawab Wajidali Shah vintage, based on which a classical Hindi movie too was later produced by the famous film director Satyajit Ray.

Nonetheless this could not douse my curiosity and passion for the game and one day I secretly made out my own chessboard and pieces carved out from the cardboard and softwood logs colouring it white and black. This was the beginning of my tryst with this brainy game; it was not difficult to find less skilled yet keen players around and soon I realized that I was a quick learner at chess too. Soon, the gossips of my skills at the game were leaked out but contrary to my apprehension and fear, I was neither scolded nor disparaged by my uncle or father, and gradually my presence was taken with less resistance in elders’ sessions, and I even started occasionally sharing my tips in their game.

Then I surprised my uncle and other village elders for the first time around the age of fifteen as part of a Marriage Party at the Bakhshi Ka Talab, Lucknow. We were from the groom’s side and a challenge was thrown by a player from the Bride’s side. At one point, this lone player defeated everyone who accepted his challenge including my uncle; although reluctantly given a chance but I succeeded in humbling him down in a straight game. Subsequent formal successes at the game include a Science Faculty championship on joining my undergraduate course at the Lucknow University and a few local/district level tournaments. Subsequent evolving circumstances and my commitment and compulsions for the higher studies virtually forced me to abandon the game around the time when I had a high success rate.

Later after few years of joining the civil service in 1983, I once again had opportunity to revive the game on coming in contact with an esteemed senior Late Mr Girish Bhandari, an outstanding officer and excellent human soul. Together at Allahabad and New Delhi, we had played chess on dozens of occasions during 1990s. He himself was a good player and was well versed with nuances of the game, having played even with some national level chess players in the past. This was he who told me at occasions that I would have excelled well had I continued to play chess with formal participation in various competitions.

On superannuation at the age of sixty years, I consciously did not look for any post-retirement position; instead, preferred and opted for a quiet, contended and peaceful life. I have often held that if you have any skill or mastered some art, you constantly need to practice it else rust and inertia sets in and you gradually lose it. Nonetheless I recently tried a few hands opposite computer using two different chess Apps. I gradually kept increasing levels and I found it still worked even at the highest level. To my comfort and consolation, I find some shine after all is still left.

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