The High Drama of Chess
People who are ignorant of chess think of it as a static game, and passionless. We chess players know different - high drama surrounds every game, even those played by kids.
I realized this when I was six, when my father, a mathematician and district administrator taught me the game in the midst of the thick central Indian jungles [ Mowgli country]. We played over famous games, and dreamt of the drama, the tension, the humour of it all.
More than six decades later I returned to the first lost love of chess, after spending years working for industry in Canada and India, teaching in academia in Ireland, and England, and working national and international NGOs in India, Switzerland, and Sweden. I wrote eleven One-Act Plays, all based on well-known chess games of history, but I found no publisher. But Robert Franklin, President of MacFarland Publishing wrote a kind letter:
'They are highly entertaining and very cleverly conceived and executed but for a variety of reasons we don't think we can make any money whatever publishing them. I'm sorry to disappoint. But surely someone will disagree with us, and they will see glorious publication. They are really quite novel and amusing'
At long last, Lazy Bee Scripts of England, managed by playwright Stuart Ardern, is publishing them online. The company is [in their own words]:
' A bookstore of scripts for pantomimes and plays. With one-act-plays, plays for schools and children's theatre groups and panto scripts all on line. Pick a pantomime script or a play script from the shelf - you get to browse the script before you choose whether to buy it or not. (Like a bookstore, you can't take away the script unless you buy it, but you can sit in a quiet corner and read.)'
The games turned into plays are:
1. Alekhine vs Table 11 [simultaneous blindfold tournament] Paris, 1925 - Alekhine, the great Russian Chess champion of all time, sacrifices his Queen and loses because he falls in love with a beautiful student. Why else would he make a move that even a child wouldn't?
Alekhine's Greatest Defeat
Alekhine's Greatest Defeat
2. Napoleon vs General Bertrand, St. Helena, 1818 - Napoleon links every move he makes to a famous victory of his. What else would the great warrior do in that island prison except reminisce?
The Emperor's Last Victory
3. Marcel Duchamp vs Georges Koltanowsi, Paris, 1929 - Duchamp the famous dadaist artist explains to the Belgian chess champion how his artistic masterpiece, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Nine Suitors, Even, helped him win in chess. Surely, the passionate artist would have influenced the passionate chess champion?
4. Sultan Khan vs Frederick Yates, London, 1933 - Sultan Khan manservant to a Nawab beats Yates British Champion during the Round Table Conferences in London on Indian self-rule, by following the satyagraha of the Indian Freedom Struggle. Would not the quiet chess-playing servant have nurtured political opinions during those heady days of confrontation?
5. Albert Einstein vs Robert Oppenheimer, Princeton - Einstein, Oppenheimer, and Chandrasekhar, astrophysicist, meet one afternoon in Einstein's apartment in Princeton just before World War II, and while playing the game decide Oppenheimer would be the best man to lead development of the Atom Bomb. Surely, the lengthening shadow of the on-coming war would have been uppermost in the minds of these scientists?
Apple Strudel, Chess and Ethics
6.Humphrey Bogart vs Lauren Bacall, Los Angeles - Bogie gets Bacall to say 'yes.' Bogie loved chess, and he may have won La Bacall over a game?
7. Fidel Castro vs Filiberto Terrazas, Havana, 1966 - The chess game as part of the victorious Cuban revolution. The exuberant Castro triumphing in chess would surely remember his other great victory?
8. El Greco, the first chess master, vs Anonymous, early 17th century - It is suggested that the game was actually played by the elder El Greco, the artist, against Duke Medina-Sidonia, just before he led the ill-fated Spanish Armada against England. And, just possibly, the younger El Greco, the first great champion, noted it all down?
9. Karl Marx vs Meyer, Berlin, 1867 - A Bollywood Mogul, inspired by the success of an Indian film based on cricket, decides to make a film on Das Kapital around this game. Why not turn a rather staid game into a fun movie?
The Filming of Das Kapital
10. Claude Bloodgood vs a guard of the Virginia State Penitentiary - How the game helps the lifer escape. Did Claude deceive his guard over a chess game?
11. LeoTolstoy vs Alymer Maude - with a discussion between the spirits of Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy in heaven on how Non-Violence can lead to victory even in chess. The apostles of peace surely would have found another role for chess than conflict?
A centenarian Indian chess player with a colourful background introduces all the plays in the Indian dramatic tradition.
Brief CV of Vithal Rajan
Vithal Rajan (BA Hons McGill, PhD London School of Economics) emigrated to Canada from India in the mid 1960's, and worked for several years as Information Officer for Canadian Industries Ltd. (I.C.I.) in Montreal.
Following the intensification of the Vietnam War, he involved himself in the peace movement, and served as a 'mediator' in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the early 1970's on behalf of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Commission for Justice & Peace. Later, he was a founder faculty member of the School of Peace Studies, Bradford University, U.K.
Following the suspension of civil liberties in India by Mrs Indira Gandhi, he felt impelled to return to India, and based at Hyderabad, he has worked in an honorary capacity with several civil society organizations, and especially with 'dalit' communities of very poor women.
He was founder volunteer chair of the Deccan Development Society, which promotes integrated rural development in the semi-arid poverty-stricken Deccan plateau, literacy and community health programs, and ecological agriculture. Several NGOs like his own helped establish the fact that poor women can save and manage very successfully large funds in their community interest. He is now volunteer chair, governing body of the Confederation of Voluntary Associations, which works through community empowerment for harmony between poor Hindu and Muslim communities living in Indian slums. This association also plays a vital role in the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy, a citizens' initiative to bring peace to the two great powers of South Asia. He is also honorary chair of the ASP Dalit-Bahujan Cooperatives Federation of Andhra Pradesh, a federation of over a hundred thousand member families of the poorest of the poor. He is Emeritus Chair of SKS, a leading micro-finance agency of India. He is on the board of several other organizations, including the Environment Protection Training & Research Institute of the government of India. He is honorary member, Poverty Eradication Mission, of the Andhra Pradesh government.
Special projects he has initiated include ecological management of agricultural crops, such as cotton, without resort to dangerous pesticides; the introduction of solar energy, and LED lamps for the benefit of poor communities. He has instituted a special scholarship for graduate students at the Ramanujan Institute for Pure Mathematics at Madras University.
Over the last two decades, he has also worked on brief stints in Europe, as Chair of World Studies, International School of Geneva; as Director, Ethics and Education, World Wide Fund for Nature International, Switzerland; and as Executive Director, the Right Livelihood Awards, Sweden (better known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize'), and continues on its Jury.
He has written extensively on academic and development-related issues, and recently taken to writing fiction, short stories and plays, to be published by The Writer’s Workshop, Kolkata, India, in 2006. He is an active member of The Little Theatre, Hyderabad, India.
He lives in Hyderabad, India, with his wife, K. Lalita, a well-known feminist and writer. His daughter, Diia Rajan, is at present an intern with IDRC in Ottawa.