Category: Creative

“What Does Your Enemy Say?” By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

“What Does Your Enemy Say?”
By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

“What does your enemy say?” Our teacher, Radha Krishnaji at Bhupendra High School, Narnaul, a district town in the erstwhile Patiala State, was a Master of English idioms and made us learn so many of them by rot.
This is idiomatic English; it means, “What is the time by your watch?”
He used to wear a big round watch tied by a slipknot to a noose-like cord suspended from his neck into the front pocket of his shirt. He pulled up the strings and held his pocket watch in his right hand, looked at it cursorily for a moment and repeated: “What does your enemy say?”

I learned the idiom and it got stuck to my memory. Whenever I met my classmates, we turned back in time, recalled our Master Ji and asked: “Who is our enemy? Is it Time? Or is it our watch?

Our confabulation always ended inconclusively, leaving us in a greater state of confusion and excitement about “What does your enemy say?”

We never dared ask questions in the class, nor were we allowed to make suggestions nor lead a discussion. That this idiom would keep nagging me all my life, and lead me to strange actions and experiences, I had little idea then! It has triggered me to act in foolhardy ways to seek practical and experiential answers to the question: “What does your enemy say?”

“I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop”, bring Master Radha Krishna ji back and tell him, “No one in England I have heard use this expression nor in Canada, nor in other English speaking countries”. None of my Professors at the University of Toronto where I wrote my thesis, “Achilles’ Spear: Problem of Time and Consciousness” was familiar with this expression.

What does your enemy say? I was impelled to answer this question many a time in thought and action and felt even more unsatisfied like cigarette smokers craving for one puff more!

I had not yet fulfilled all the requirements for my doctorate that I got a job offer from the University of Guelph. My main reason to prefer Guelph U was that it had the so-called Trimester system. That is, if I taught three semesters in a row, I could avail of the next two semesters as paid vacation, traveling anywhere I liked. In Two-semester universities, every seventh year was the Sabbatical Year.

A couple of days after joining my academic duties, I joined the Guelph Flying Club. Each time, I went up in the sky with Mike Taylor, our Flying Instructor, I felt like I was soaring into a ‘No-time Zone’-Canada has six of them! Each time, Mike turned off the throttle perfect calm settled around us and I would close my eyes. Mike had to shove me to resume flying.

One morning, I went to the Flying Club and found a Cessna 180 whirring on the runway.

I could not resist the mechanical bird. I did not care to sign the log book. Just jumped into the cockpit and surged into the sky. On reaching the serene heights, I silenced the engine. The little Cessna stalled and hung in the air. I closed my eyes and silently uttered: “What does your enemy say?”

No time here. No watch on my wrist. No answer to the question either. Only deep, dreamless sleep. I do not remember how long but it lasted till I felt a sensation of a steep descent. It roused me from my meditation. Cessna was plummeting into, what later I was told, Guelph Lake.

I was disqualified from the Flying Club membership and earned a good deal of free publicity. This did not please Dean H.M.H. Mackinnon who summoned me to his office. Heavy classical scholarship permanently enthroned in his thick glasses, his unsmiling face looked unusually scary.

“What are your plans for next year?”

I dared not say, “I have no plans”. He was a pucca North American WASP [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant] and had little affection for those who do not plan their time.

I simply uttered, “I intend to go to India at the end of the third semester”

“You are not going anywhere, Jitendra. You will write your General Examination and fulfill other Ph.D. requirements– if you wish your contract to be renewed.”

I did not take the threat seriously and came out of the Dean’s office determined to go to India. My Guru, Marshall McLuhan had already published a few articles by me in his “Explorations”, a highly respected Quarterly.

My dissertation too was with a publisher. I had also read a long paper at The Learned Societies of Canada which was accepted by “The Journal of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research”.

“Publish or perish” was the rule for academic survival and I was confident of getting an academic post. Several new universities were also coming up in Canada then.

“Plan your work and work your plan, Jitendra”, was Dean Mackinnon’s parting advice.

“What about spontaneity?” I shouted to myself most inaudibly and exited.

I had never fancied myself to be an academic. I wanted to be a wanderer if I could afford to be one.

I returned to my office, called my friendly Bank Manager Mutrie who, as ever was ready to finance my trip to India, which included the purchase of a factory-fresh Diesel Mercedes at their Stuttgart Manufacturing plant in Germany under a ’Travel Now, Pay Later’ plan.

At the end of the third semester, I flew to England and after a few days at Cambridge where I met E.M. Forster I flew to Stuttgart to pick up my Mercedes. I had to wait in their Canteen as it was being given the final touches and a Carnet du Passage was being prepared for me to drive it away from Germany.

The only other buyer was a Malagasy diplomat, linah Luciano, a very articulate, middle-aged, most appropriate person to speak to about Time.

“We Malagasy experience time as flowing behind us, literally behind our head and the past keeps spanning before us”.

“How?”, I said, feeling as if I was doing Shirs Aasan like Nehru trying to see the world upside down.

“It’s simple; the past we can see and know, it always interplays with our actions”.

Feeling even more ignorant, I again said, “How?”

“Actually, we go on consulting our ancestors, we even dig out their bones, if required for seeking their advice”, explained Monsieur Luciano.

“Like Mackenzie King of Canada who used to consult his dead mother”, I rejoined.

“Who, Mackenzie King?”

“He was a former Prime Minister of Canada”, I informed.

“And how do you perceive the future?” I asked.

“Actually, we do not. Anyway, it is behind our heads, so we cannot see it”.

“It is not time but people’s volition that decides things in Madagascar”.

“I don’t understand”, I confessed.

“In Germany and Switzerland, have you noticed how obsessed they are with punctuality? Trains departing 7-03 Yverdon, arriving 7-49 Lucerne”.

“Is it not good?”

“We are not talking about good or bad. In Madagascar, a train shall leave only when it is full”

I relished what diplomat Luciano was telling me.

“Is the train meant for people, or is it being run for Time?” Luciano had a mischievous smile for the topsy-turvy world of western civilization.

“In my country, a train will not leave until it is full” and “No company is ready to run a passenger train there. We have only freight trains.”

My Mercedes had arrived. I took leave of the learned diplomat and started driving. Pride and patriotism intensified by an excruciating twisted ankle held me up for three weeks at Charlottenburg, West Berlin where Netaji Subhash Bose had stayed as Hitler’s guest.

Crossing the Berlin Wall, a most friendly Russian Immigration Officer issued me a Visa in a matter of minutes. We together drove in my Mercedes to the nearby Ratskeller in the basement of the Rathaus.

Over lunch, I said, “Time runs faster in West Berlin”. Vladislav, my Russian friend of the moment, promptly retorted, “They are all crazy on the other side of the Wall”, then apprehensively tipped, “I must tell you there is no Mercedes Service in Russia. Change your route”.

Thence, my Mercedes and I crossed from Europe to Asia at Uskudr on a ferry. The blue waters reminded me of many other places, of Port Said and Capri where the sea and sky had appeared literally to mate merging the Here into Eternity. Time and Endlessness of Time!

“What does your enemy say?” was on my mind and I had my heart’s fill asking and getting answers of all kinds of people I met during my long journey.

At Trabzon, a mountain resort on the Black Sea, a young Turk, Abuzer Abidin took me to a Hamam, a Turkish Bath, where we were bathed, wrapped in white chaddars and served Kahava. We came out and walked up to a cliff overlooking the Black Sea. I asked Abuzer, “Is there any phrase like ‘What does your enemy say’ in Turkish?”

“Let us not talk of enemies. We are friends”. He planted two kisses, one each on my two cheeks, took away a little black comb peeping out from the front pocket of my jacket and put a green one from his pocket into mine and parted.

At Salonica, capital of Greek Macedonia, I stopped several academics at Aristotle University to enquire, “How would Aristotle respond to ‘What Does Your Enemy Say?’ Their answers setoff a splitting ache and serious doubts in my head about Aristotle’s Greek origin, even his existence.

Did I fulfill my wish to stop Time or did Time stop for me? How and where I met my Masterji? How old was he and how old was I when we met? Did I ask, “Time or Watch, who is our enemy, Sir?” Or, I simply forgot about it.

On reaching India, I did drive to Narnaul. Met my old schoolmates. They said, “Master Radha Krishnaji retired at 55, not seen since”.

I was slothful in my search for Masterji because my cousin, Sudhir, Deputy Manager with Indian Oil Corporation at Varanasi was abducted by oil mafia during an Inquiry he was conducting in a case of diesel pilferage from the Company’s containers at Mughal Sarai.

Instead of Varanasi, I drove to 1, Rajpur Road, Dehradun where my stepmother Shanta Sharma lived [now, Mridula Sharma, my step-sister; the reader may please check]. Finding me despondent, she straightway took me to Swami Satyanand’s Rishikesh Ashram.

Most of the way we were silent but as we reached, she said, ”Swamiji is eighty-two years but he appears 52 or less”.

“How do you know him?”

“I know him from my Gurukul days. After your father’s death in Nasik, I and Mridula returned to our Khukhri Market Flat, Dehradun and renewed my contact with Swamiji’s Ashram. Seth Ram Prasadji also used to come to the Ashram. This is where Mridula started babbling about her previous birth and recognized Sethji as her father in the previous birth. Sethji soon adopted her under Swamiji’s guidance and gifted Mridula 1, Rajpur Road where now we live.”

I had read the story in papers.

We are born again and again in Time. Which Time? Time of the clocks and calendars or there is some other Time!

We sat in front of Swamiji, he on his raised Aasan. He surely looked less than fifty. Should one believe one’s eyes or the municipal or school records or calendars? That is why the Hindus care little for history, rulers, rajas, maharajas, things temporal and much more for Sanyasis!

Many devotees sought Swamiji’s advice and he was generous with his time and wisdom. My stepmother nudged me to ask something.

“Why do we take the Sea and Sky as symbols of Eternity?”

I thought it was a profound question but Swamiji debunked the whole idea of Eternity and deflated my academic ego.

“This is your westernized tutored sensibility; there is no such thing as Here or Eternity. There is Time or the Timeless”.

I gaped at him.

“Can one live timelessly?” I timidly asked.

“Yes, in time and timelessly. Not so mysterious either. Live desirelessly and you are living timelessly”.

Finding me nonplussed, Swami Satyanandji turned his gaze to Mridula and said to me,
“Look at Mridula! No death or birth for her, only exchange of atoms. Changing places. She got what was hers in her last birth. 1, Rajpur Road”.

More than his discourse on Time, death, birth, timeless, I was lured by his looks. “Is he 82 or 48, 47?”

While driving back, I said to my step-mother, “I wish I could live with Swamiji rest of my life”.

She sighed sadly, “Your father was in the habit of leaving things half-done or undone”.

I returned to Canada. Dean MacKinnon did not renew my contract at Guelph U but Donald Theall invited me to join McGill. I completed my doctorate and am still teaching at McGill. There is no retirement age in Canada.

That night, I had returned from my seventh sabbatical leave from Birds of Paradise, Papua; was still unpacking when John Harney called:
“I am at the Bistro. Come”.

We had several beers and then drove around aimlessly.

“Have you regretted giving up academic life?”

“No, I have tons of money. I joined my Dad’s business”

“What do you do with tons of money? Nothing much. Make more of it”.

“Do you also have tons of Time?”

“I have no time for anyone, not even for myself at times. But ‘Time is Money’ makes time pass quickly for me”.

I don’t know when we reached the Laurentian Mountains.

“This is Vajrayāna Vihar”, said John Harney.
“James George, our first High Commissioner to India brought lots of Tibetan Buddhists; a mad man in brown Lama habit is seen lurking about this lodge. I knew you will love it here”

“Yes, John leave me here”

In that uncertain morning hour, crowding, whirling fall leaves made rapid short loud sounds at times imitating several asthma patients rasping, wheezing, chasing one another as black-white spruce, balsam fir, larch, poplar, white birch swung and danced on the shoulders of tall mountains feeling taller and seeing farther than they.

Suddenly, I was blown toward and caught the sight of my Masterji.

“Masterji?”

“Jitendra?”

Were we ghosts? Or like ones we see in dreams.

As I moved forward, I saw Masterji did not have his specs, he appeared less than forty and I was more than eighty.

Reading worldly curiosity on my face, he said: “Yes, I no longer wear glasses; I was fifty years when I taught you “What does your enemy say?” I had myself learned it from my teacher”.

He tweaked his ears as he recalled his teacher.

“Now?”

“Now I am forty, my son”

My son! Someone my son’s age, calling me ‘my son’!

Anyway, I touched his feet. “Time means less to you than it does to me and much, much less than it does to John Harney”.

“We at Vajrayāna Vihar do not live in the past, present, future.”

“Don’t you live in Time?”

“We do, all things and beings do”

“Then, how is it, you and I have different vestiges of time?” said I.

“Your world is too conscious of time; increasingly, it wants everything instantly. Soon children will have no time to grow, have no memories. No childhood either. They will be eighty, ninety, one-fifty, even before they are ten. You are lucky to live on memories at eighty-two.”

“Come with me Masterji, and teach these things to others”, I implored.

“As soon as I step out, your world will treat me as a mad and old man of one-twenty. I might die of old age”.

“In fact, I had gone mad after my retirement but Lama James is always in need of madmen. They perceive right, he says.”

“How do you stop time, Masterji?”

“We don’t”

“Then?”

“We live internally”

“Internally?”

“Yes, Man began to know death from life when he started measuring time.”

“You mean, he began to live externally”, I said.

“Yes, Time appears but is not. Your age and know the time when you live externally”

Before I could speak further, my Masterji said,
“Are you carrying that picture postcard you wrote to Sudhir at Capri but never posted it because you had no Italian stamps?”

“I always carry it in the hope of handing it to Sudhir myself”

“You can do it now”, Masterji pointed to Sudhir running toward me. He was as we were together in school, fourteen years!”

I recognized him alright. He has always existed in my memory.

“Bir [brother in Haryanavi]”

“Where were you? Did not the Mafia abduct you at Mughal Sarai?”

“They did. I escaped and never felt like returning to Sansar, the Time-World. I met George in Bhutan; he brought me here.”

We hugged,I eighty-two-year elder and he, a fourteen-year kid brother. I gave him the picture postcard:
“Dear Sudhir, Ever since I shipped myself via Llyod Tristano’s ‘Asia’ from Bombay to Genoa,I have longed for that glimpse of Eternity as mer and moon fore-played and the ‘Asia’ skirted the Island of Capri in the Mediterranean! I threw my wristwatch into the gentle sea, sort of offering from a Time’s creature –Jitendra”

I am packing for my eighth sabbatical leave at eighty-nine. Finally, I am going to Madagascar. I shall meet Luciano and read out to him my story!

Roma Putri Ke Naam [To Roma Daughter] Hindi Novel Written by Dr. Shyam Singh Shashi Reviewed by Dr. Jitendra Kumar Sharma

                                         Roma Putri Ke Naam [To Roma Daughter]

                                           Hindi Novel

                                          Written  by Dr. Shyam Singh Shashi

                                          Reviewed by Dr. Jitendra Kumar Sharma

 

Manu Joseph, a best-selling Indian writer and Times of India Short Story Panelist, “hates genre”. Dr. Shyam Singh Shashi’s “possibly first and last” Hindi novel defies form but then to twist Alexander Pope’s famous couplet, “For forms of writing, let fools contest/whatever is written best, is best”.

Marshall McLuhan, the iconic media thinker and my Guru at University of Toronto once pointed out that there is no unifying principle for the contents of a newspaper except the date printed on it. Yet the reader remains glued to it. Roma Putri Ke Naam is a sort of pastiche that engages the reader with its variable form and content like a musical composition consisting of a series of songs or other musical pieces from various sources.

The opening chapter or rather episode starts with a letter in which the writer asks the Roma daughter, “what I should call you, goddess of beauty, white foreign lady or an Indian-origin Roma daughter!” The reader may well ask: what shall I call this book?  A novel, anthro-sociological report,  travelogue or something else?  Who knows, the writer may have unwittingly invented a new form or genre for those who seek a form in every piece of writing.

The point is, Roma Putri Ke Naam makes an interesting reading, even though, it is an amalgam of epistle, diary, autobiography, travelogue, anthro-sociological investigation, film and literary criticism, newspaper reports, oped-articles, editorials, memoirs, notes, anecdotes, essays, short story, transcript of radio and television interview, email, self-reflection, poetry, observations on paintings and painting exhibitions, discussion on relationship between painting and writing, and commentary  on current affairs, presentation at seminars and many other things. It is an engaging, bitter-sweet narrative where fact and fiction commingle freely and “writer” himself is the chief narrator, protagonist, observer of events as they kaleidoscopically pass from 1980’s to 2012…. Even some living susceptibilities like Prime Minister Modi, Serbian Minister of Roma Affairs, [foreign names in Hindi are spelt differently in the novel from how they are spoken in English, therefore, the reviewer is avoiding giving their English equivalents here lest he misspells them] a prominent Belgian Roma publicist and rich Mexican hostess appear without  wearing any fictional garb.

Dr. Shashi’s short preface sets the tone of the novel and hints at its outcome.  He wants to emulate Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan who has been called the Father of Hindi Travelogue, who gave it a literary form. Dr. Shashi regrets that he could not be a “full time traveler” like Rahul Sankrityayan. In fact, Rahul was a vital, existentialist living being capable of going against his grain. Rahul made his choices and paid full price for it. The writer of the novel is a middle class government servant. He has the creative spark but not the capacity to face uncertainties of life like Rahul, the tireless traveler. Nor can he make his own choices to authenticate his existence. Even, Cathy, the Roma Daughter is freer than the writer; she can come and go anywhere anytime and stay in expensive hotels or with friends or in Ashrams as she likes because of the largesse she gets from her “gentleman husband” who no longer loves her but generously finances her international jaunts.  The writer, though well-off by Indian middle-class standards is handicapped both in terms of money and time. He has to depend on fellowships, travel grants, invitations, airline tickets and abide by restrictions and strings attached to such assistance from government and non-government organizations. For these reasons, there is a sense of lack of fulfillment of life’s ambitions in spite so many honours, awards and prizes the writer has won. This tone of regret and the writer’s self-consciousness about aging and reaching his seventies suddenly and his inability to live like Rahul or Cathy pervades through the novel.

 If the first chapter is like a panning shot of a documentary, the second chapter  closes-up on Roma daughter whom he calls Cathy and her awe-inspiring paintings of Hitler’s holocaust notorious for the mass murder of Jews. Cathy’s paintings, however, highlight the mass murder and torture of the Romas who had faced the same fate as the Jews but history seems to have just bypassed them. In this chapter, the writer establishes a bond with the Roma painter Cathy especially and with the Roma community, generally. He gets horrified by Cathy’s paintings that bring alive the scenes of Roma holocaust. He finds her paintings crying and shrieking as they depict horrors and hysteria of history. He is writing a letter about these paintings  and questioning the painter: Can’t she make some other kind of painting, a painting projecting the ‘total man’, in whom inheres truth, piety, non-violence, compassion and love? The writer does not get answers to his questions as the painter remains engrossed in organizing her art exhibition. He gets confused; he hates painted colors yet he loves them because Cathy perhaps.

The same letter introduces Roma Daughter as a painter who often comes to “Barothan”, that is Bharat, a country of Ram Ravans, infested with “corruption”. The painter gets put off by men and women of Barothan each time she comes here only to return to her native Germany with “bitter-sweet memories”. The writer tenders a fatherly advice that Roma Daughter ought to accompany her husband because criminals are mushrooming in India and even foreign ladies face “murder and rape”. He also compliments her for her being “bold”, capable of self-defense, much loved by his family and respected by his friends. Buried in his “document” is “nomadic pain”. He seeks her “response” to what he calls “his pen’s last journey”. The writer wants to write about the art of painting but the paintings he sees put him in a dilemma. He wants paintings that would make the world look like a family, project the ideal of vasudhaiv kutumbkam [Entire World Is One Family] as the rishis or seers of Bharat, that is, India, saw the world. But the paintings he sees in Europe are distortions of man; he makes acerbic comments on Piccaso, Fida Hussain and other modern painters. The novel, among other themes, touches upon the interaction between Cathy the painter and  narrator, the “writer of the novel,” and also on the relationship between the art of painting and the art of writing. In fact, he, the writer is drawn toward Cathy the painter because she wants to create paintings that would speak about that which the writer’s million words cannot tell. The ‘whole universe gets articulated in a single painting”, so perceives the writer who gets more and more engaged with and engrossed in Cathy’s paintings.

Chapters 3 to 33 offer a moveable feast of events as the writer recalls his national and international travels and his encounters with nomadic tribes, especially the Roma he meets in Germany, England, Yugoslavia, Mexico, USA, Canada, mostly modernized and belonging to the chattering class like himself. In the Himalayan region, however, he meets cattle-breeder tribes of Gujjars who are Hindus in their ways of living and Muslim in their ways of believing.

Increasingly conscious of aging, his existentialist angst comes out in the last and final chapter. More than Cathy depending on the writer, the writer becomes dependent on her. Perhaps, she has not returned to India and no longer needs the writer to get her paintings released from the custom and excise bureaucracy at the Indian airports. It seems, he had become used to her. He needed her for continuing his writings on Roma and her Roma art. Has she stolen away his inspiration and strength of his pen? It is for the reader to answer such questions. Writer’s pen has lost life and movement, the reader learns toward the end of the novel. He can no longer write. In lieu of the Great Roma Novel he had dreamt of writing all his life, he has offered a cluttered description of events of his own life in which Cathy and Roma figure more and more intensely than his own milieu , friends or himself.

He has received innumerable honors, prizes, fellowships but they are all recognitions from the government and not society. What irks and aches him even more is that these recognitions are not from his peers. Perhaps that one big Roma novel would have fulfilled his life’s ambition of being recognized by other writers rather than ‘sarkar’ or government but it could not be!

In spite of the writer’s complaints and regrets, irrespective of academic discussions and intellectual observations on art exhibitions and critiques of society and literary milieu, Roma Puri Ke Naam is a book of experience rather than a book of knowledge. Human interest prevails over academic and journalistic content of the novel and sustains the narrative. Just as the author is in a dilemma as to what name he should give to Roma daughter so is the reader, at the end of the novel, and wonders what should he call this engaging narration.

What is there in a name? Dr. Shashi’s pen shows no signs of aging. He retains his  poetic verve and vigor and weaves a story about himself and his Roma that flows like a sinuous river with many a bend and many voices! This is confessedly his first novel belatedly written. This reviewer hopes it will not be his ‘last’, as he confides in the reader. His writing style is, what Roland Barthes might call, Writing Degree Zero and lends a bourgeois universality to the middle-class intellectual life portrayed in the episodic concatenation of events, ideas, conversations, comments and reflections.

Roma Putri Ke Naam ends with “You too Brutus”, a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar which turns and transforms life’s innumerable regrets and remonstrations into life’s ultimate betrayal.

Empson has identified seven types of ambiguities that poets and writers resort to for making statements with multiple meaning. Reader is left cogitating whether the writer, the protagonist of the novel, betrayed life or life betrayed him. He wanted to be a sanyasi and had made a pact with his childhood friend and classmate to renounce life but in the moment of truth he cites circumstance and responsibility as the reasons for giving up the path of renunciation and forgets his childhood friend or whatever happened to him. This is a spiritual level of betrayal.

At a personal level, the writer hints at Cathy, the Roma Daughter, having departed from his life and consequentially, his pen stopped flowing!

Wiliam Empson’s number six  AMBIGUITY is a statement when the writer  “ says nothing and the readers are forced to invent a statement of their own, most likely in conflict with that of the author.

The ending is thus the most effective part of this ‘novel’. The writer of Roma Putri Ke Naam borrows William Shakespeare’s famous quote from Julius Caesar, Et tu, Brute?  But does not complete the full quote, “Then fall, Caesar”.  Obviously, a bourgeois, middle class hero can neither fully rise nor fully fall. Therefore, the incomplete quotation from Shakespeare has a puzzling effect on the reader. He has to make his own guess about the meaning and significance of the novel as well as its ending. The relationship between Cathy and the writer remains incomplete, ambiguous, and enigmatic just as the writer’s novel is confessedly not what he wanted it to be!

++++++++++++++++==The End=================

Candid Camera A story about an Indian boy who became a girl in Canada By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

Candid Camera

A story about an Indian boy who became a girl in Canada

By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

I was then living in Professors’ Colony, Sonipat, Haryana. My neighbors, all of them, were colleagues and lecturers in the Hindu College. I was Head of the English Department and Ashwini Miglani, a lecturer in the same department, was a frequent visitor to my flat. He usually came on the pretext of discussing some poem, short story or a play but always asked me questions about life in western countries of Europe and North America I had lived, worked in or visited during my long stint abroad. He hesitated while satisfying his curiosity about other countries, at times, took a long pause before asking me questions about sex life or my escapades in western countries. He was much younger and respectful to me and I felt it was the usual deferential reserve the youngsters of my generation observed toward elders. But when he persisted with his unnecessary demurral that his taut face made too obvious, I myself one day,  as he stood up to leave after tea and biscuits, said to him, “ Professor Miglani, please sit down for a minute”.

“Yes, Sir”,  Ashwini Miglani said while sitting back in the easy chair and looking at me with heavy downcast eyes.

“Do you have anything else on your mind?”

“No Sir, yes, sir”, was his response.

“Come on Professor, we are neighbors and a fraternity. There need be no reservations between us. Please be frank and say it all”

Our talk lasted till dinner time. And he told me mostly about his brother-in-law, Shashi, his wife’s brother, who several years back had gone to Canada.

“Where is he now?

“We do not know, Sir. That is what I wanted to talk about. I tried several times during last few days but hesitated. In fact, I wanted to seek your advice in this delicate matter which I cannot discuss with everyone. It is a private family matter and has to be kept confidential”

“You may trust me”, I said, becoming a bit curious myself.

“Shashi is four years younger to my wife Sheela, Sir”

“Yes, go ahead, Professor”, I said.

“He had just passed his B.A. when Sheela and I got married. My father-in-law is in Handloom business and has a factory in Panipat. Almost his entire production gets exported to Sweden and he is a man of property with few family obligations. After Sheela’s marriage, my father-in-law, wanted his only son, Shashi, to join him in his business but Shashi insisted and went to Canada for higher studies. For a couple of years my father-in-law sent him money. He had no problem because his foreign earnings were sizeable and restrictions on foreign exchange did not apply to him. All was well, then, after two- three years,  Shashi stopped asking for money and said he did not need his father’s money any more.

My father spoke to him on phone and asked if he had taken up a job to which he replied, “No, no. I do not need to work in life”.

My father-in-law was much worried about what was happening to his son because he found Shashi’s voice squeaky, somewhat abnormal,very different   from the voice he was used to hearing since Shashi’s childhood. He could disclose this fact to no one. For quite a few months, he did not tell all this to his wife, Shashi’s mother even. But Shashi was always on his mind and he imagined all kinds of things about his son who was reluctant to reveal anything about himself.

“I am okay, Papa. I will come and surprise you”, Shashi would reiterate to his father’s entreaties to return home. But my father-in-law was not convinced. He could not go to Canada because of the business. There was a strike in the factory and his Chief Manager had resigned and moved to Ludhiana. His friends also said his worries were unnecessary. If his son does not need money from India that meant he was doing well and supporting himself with his own earnings. In the USA and Canada, one gets jobs easily and the young fellow must be having great fun.

My father-in-law began to call Shashi more often on phone. This made Shashi change his phone number and perhaps also his place of residence.

Miglani stopped, looked at me with imploring eyes and said, “Can you help us, Sir?”

“How?”

“Do you know someone who could find Shashi’s  whereabouts and find more about him. You have lived in Canada for a long time, Sir”.

“Yes, I have but I have lost my contacts there. There were very few Indians there then and I lived in the University of Toronto itself. I was a Don of Taylor House at the University College and all my students were Canadians, so also my colleagues. One or two Indians I knew at the university have since returned to India. Like K.C. Agrawal, a Chemistry researcher   who is currently working at the PUSA INSTITUTE. Anyway, I will think about it and let you know”.

Miglani left, only to return in a couple of minutes. I was still in the lawn and seeing him, I walked to the gate. Miglani whispered, “Please, Sir, do not tell anyone”.

“Oh, no, Professor, rest assured, this will remain between you and me”.

Ashwini Miglani hurried home.

Next day I typed out two letters, one to Porter Abbot and another to Jon Pierce who were my classmates at University of Toronto and we were nocturnal pals.Did many things together. I had not corresponded with them for a while and did not know what they were doing then. At least, Jon would find the errand interesting as he was a free spirit and preferred part-time jobs. Though not a fool he was capable of rushing in where angels fear to tread. I only hoped, he still was reading existentialist philosophers and doing things that went against his grain.

Next day, I stopped Ashwini in the crowded College Quadrangle as both of us were moving in opposite directions to meet our respective classes and whispered, “I have mailed two letters to my friends”.

“Thank you, Sir”, he responded in a faintly audible voice as students were crisscrossing the Quadrangle and corridors helter-skelter.

After nearly four weeks, Jon responded with a good deal of gusto. Said, I had given him a good assignment. In his quest for Shashi Ajwani, he had met an Indian Maharaja, a real one, with a lavish style of living. “This fellow is fabulous. He has rooms booked in five-star hotels, throws gay parties, owns mining interests in Canada and knows how to burn the candle at both ends and a bit in the middle too. And he has taken a fancy to Shashi Ajwani and plans to marry him in India.”

I showed the letter to Ashwini Miglani at tea the same day as I received Jon Pierce’s letter. He read it again and again and got puzzled more and more. His face fell. “Maharaja to marry Shashi… ” He seemed unprepared to hear and grasp the meaning of such news about Shashi, his brother-in-law.

Within a week, I got another letter from Jon. He wrote, “Shashi Ajwani is still enrolled at Ryerson Institute of   Technology at Jarvis Street, Toronto. He has a room at the Institute’s Students Residence but is living with the Maharaja in the nearby Four Seasons Hotel suite. Actually, he is no longer he. Shashi is now ‘she’. Has changed his sex and is enjoying the physical conversion, that is, Shashi has already gone through a sex reassignment surgery at the Maharaja’s expense. His dick is now a pussy, if you know what I mean.

The Maharaja belongs to the erstwhile Porbandar State and is proud of being a descendant of a Maharaja under whom Mahatama Gandhi’s father served as Prime Minister or Dewan. Gandhi was born in Porbandar too. He is hetero and homo at will. A most knowledgeable and articulate fellow.    He has appeared on various television channels and runs a charity  called Porbandar Trust  which works for LGBT Rights to live freely in society and without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association. Jitendra, you have always been nice to me and this Maharaja, Narendra Singh, has appointed me his media advisor. This is great and sudden boost to my earnings. I am a part-time stringer with CTV.”

I had not yet acknowledged Jon’s letter that only two days later I got another letter from him.

Jon this time wrote: “I am delighted to inform you that the gay Indian prince Narendra has thrown open his fabulous Huzoor Palace doors to vulnerable LGBT people. He says he will devote more time to change the life of LGBT people in India where same sex relations are illegal. Lesbians, gays, transgender and other Indians shunned for their sexuality can regard his palace and its guest houses as their home and can enjoy the Maharaja’s hospitality anytime. They can hold meetings and conventions and Maharaja’s Charitable Trust will extend legal and financial support to the LGBT community.

My friend, yes, I can call Prince Narendra my friend and benefactor, is heir apparent to the throne of Porbandar, birth place of Sudama, Krishna’s friend of Mahabharata fame. He calls me Sudama, and I like it.

While announcing his mission in India, the Maharaja last night on Canada Television said, “LGBT faced unbearable pressure from their families, were forced to marry, or thrown out of their homes and had nowhere to go, often condemned to lead a life of exclusion and isolation with no means to support themselves.  So I am building a centre for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) right inside my ancestral palace.”

He went on without a trace of self-pity or regret, “Fate will keep me childfree even after I marry Shashi Ajwani and she has agreed with me to use our palace and income from our Canadian mining operations for this good purpose? Our LGBT Centre will offer rooms, a medical facility and training in English and vocational skills to help my people find jobs.”

I may add Jitendra that Narendra the prince was disowned by his mother through a newspaper advertisement for his being a homo but, being a rich Maharaja, he is still in the limelight and gets invited by the high and mighty here in Canada. He is vocally critical of India’s colonial-era law that criminalizes consensual sexual relations between same sex adults*. He is renovating and extending his palace, built in 1930, on the 25-acre site, fitting it with solar panels for power, a part of the land will have an organic farm.

PS. Shashi will live happily forever with Narendra –JP.

The college bell rang and I left a bunch of other letters on my table and went to meet my class. Returning to my office, I scrambled my papers and saw another blue airmail envelop and Jon’s handwriting. This letter was in continuation of the previous one, and read, “Jitendra, Canada TV has revised my contract. I will be interviewing Shashi next week”

I kept showing these letters to Ashwini. He said, “I cannot reveal all these developments to my father-in-law, Shashi’s father, nor to my own wife, Shashi’s  sister. They will breakdown.”

A week later, Jon wrote, “Shashi was born in a boy’s body but was conscious of her feminine softness. School kids teased him. He liked boy things. When he was thirteen he started having feminine thoughts and cupped breasts. No incident during school days and he remained a boy. In college, his gender transition began and he came to Canada and his appearance became feminized- curvy hips, bubble butt, c-cup paps and he was on HRT, estrogen and anti-androgen, etc. Shashi moved over to LGBT community and felt safe. Met Maharaja Narendra who paid for his surgery and Shashi fulfilled his dream of becoming a woman. Her sex reassignment surgery was successful. She thinks, she is very lucky and is looking forward to living with Narendra Maharaja as his wife. Watching Shashi and Narendra is for me an altogether new experience, Jitendra. Prince Narendra trusts and confides in me. He is hallowed by his love for Shashi. Shashi is a typical Indian lady. She values her virginity; ‘has not allowed me to break her in’, Narendra told me in good humor”.

Ashwini was sad and stopped coming to me. He was no longer interested in reading Jon’s letters about his brother-in-law.

One day I received a letter and in the evening a telegram from Jon Pierce: ‘REACHING PORBANDAR  October 20. PLEASE JITENDRA COME. CARRY A TOOTHBRUSH IF YOU LIKE.VISIT PAID FOR THANK MAHARAJA’S HOSPITALITY.

These events were well-timed. The college was to close for Dussera holidays from October 21. I had full four days to decide and prepare. I was then a bachelor. It was exciting. For the first time, I visited Ashwini’s flat. The flat was locked. He and his family had gone to Panipat, Professor Kajal who lived in the same block told me.

I travelled Airconditioned First Class and boarded the Delhi-Ahmedabad night train. Maharaja’s cars were waiting to pick up guests at Ahmedabad and I was lodged in the Maharaja’s guesthouse next to Jon Pierce. He was mixing a martini for himself and his room had a little bar in the corner as had mine. Gandhi’s birth place was flowing with liquor as a consequence of Prohibition and nexus between the police and bootleggers.

We hugged and talked of university days. Jon said he had four days and was there to make a television program and documentary on Porbandar for CTV. “The big event is tomorrow evening when prior to the wedding ceremony there will be a Drag Queen show. I have to go and check the arrangements. I will be sitting in the commentator’s box. You may sit with me, if you like. This is for the straight people performed by feminine transsexual women. Shashi will be one of them and focus of attention,” Jon gave me a dope on events he was covering for CTV. He had a tiring schedule and I too was fatigued from the train travel. So we had a quick evening meal in the dining hall and hit the sack.

I missed the morning events, including a meeting with Maharaja Narendra as I slept in. After lunch, both Jon and I had a little a nap and then dressed for the evening.

I sat with Jon in the Commentary Box from where Jon was commenting on the happenings. His assistant Eric Rump was to conduct a brief interview with Shashi about which she had not been told. His cameraman Paul had received directions in advance. The show was a part of CTV’s weekly serial called ‘The Candid Camera’.

Reverse countdown had started for the Drag Queen Show and camera was focused on Eric Rump who was waiting for the banquet hall to open for him to enter and look for Shashi. Just then, Jon held the mike and started to speak and we could see him and Eric alternately on the screen. As the camera brought Eric Rump into focus, Jon started speaking, “This is our reporter Eric Rump (the camera was now closing up on Eric and panning out to the banquet hall and Eric swerving and moving into the glittering banquet hall as if searching for someone) as Jon Pierce continuing with his commentary, said: He is looking for a girl, who does not know he exists, or the story that has brought him here. He has no reasons to be discreet but still he has to be careful. He is standing near the doorway and surveying the golden banquet hall, which is filled with refined bodies in saris and jackets, and beautiful young women with straight hair who never make facial expressions. But they will, soon. Any moment now.    

After a pause, he said, “I am Jon Pierce and you are watching your popular show ‘Candid Camera’. We are right now, in the Golden Banquet Hall of the Huzoor Mahal, a historical palace, in Porbandar, India. Porbandar, Porbandar where Mahatama Gandhi was born. A town made immortal by Mahabharata. Sudama, Krishna’s proverbial friend lived here. Porbandar is also called Sudama Nagri, City of Sudama. It’s all so romantic, out of this world, the sea, the sky, the sun seem to descend on this town for a tryst and as two times meet the shimmer of the setting sun on a lapping ocean, under the endless variety of skies play hide-and-seek and stagger our imagination [a montage of images of sights and sounds of the sea, bevies  of evening flying birds, the setting sun and then the camera turned to the Golden Banquet Hall and Eric Rump entered the hall with his crew .. to spot and meet Shashi, the bride].”

A day after the wedding ceremonies, Jon and I visited Dwarka and Somnath, where he took some camera shots, and parted with an embrace at Ahmedabad Railway station.

On returning to Sonipat, as I opened my flat, I found  a piece of paper rustling under my shoe. Ashwini Miglani had slipped a note under my flat’s front door: “Sad events have overtaken. I had to resign and take over my father-in-laws business. He is no more. I am grateful to you for tea and sympathy, Sir”- Ashwini.

There was no mention about Shashi. Within a month, I retired and moved from Sonipat to Delhi. Whenever I travel to Chandigarh, I think of Ashwini, feel like looking him up when I inevitably cross Panipat but have never done so. Nor has Ashwini ever come to see me. Nor did I ever think that I would write a story of which he’d be the protagonist.

* Transgender Laws since have changed in India.

===The End===

Inamoratos’ Existentialist Leap , A Short Story By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

      Inamoratos’ Existentialist Leap , A Short Story  By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

On a pleasantly warm Saturday morning a lad came to Timothy & Brother store in London’s Savile Row which is home to world famous traditional bespoke tailoring for men. He presented  written instructions on the back of an envelope bearing a cancelled stamp and addressed to Robert B. Singh, 73Forelease Road, Maidenhead which read, “To Timothy Stores: Please give to bearer the suit, pants I purchased last week; kindly put change in envelope in inside coat pocket. Trust, alterations are okay. Thanking you for your courtesies, I remain- Robert Singh [signed].”

Timothy’s called the police. The boy was arrested but released when he disclosed that he was only doing an errand for a “gent” who was awaiting him nearby. Instead Mr. Robert Singh was held for interrogation.

Robert, a dapper, somewhat anemic, young man confessed that his real name was Ravinder Bahadur Singh and he lived at a ramshackle cottage in the City of London’s 23Bread Street, a relic of his great grandfather Late Maharaja Bhupendra Singh of Patiala’s  property that had seen better days. He requested that his wife Rosy Singh be informed as soon as possible of what had happened.

At Police Headquarters he was identified as the forger actively engaged during preceding months in passing bad cheques throughout the city. More recently, LLyod’s Bank was his frequent target for £1600 on May 20, for £2901 May 30,for $5113.50 and £710 on June 4,and £900 “to bearer,” on June 8 at  Harrods Bank. This one inexplicably was cashed at the bank itself.

Police were certain that the forger had finally been caught. Therefore, the precinct policemen Eric Rump and Jack McLeod visited 23Bread Street. A young girl of attractive appearance opened the door whom they conveyed the unpleasant message. Mrs. Singh appeared duly shocked at the news; she insisted on her husband’s innocence. Officers departed without much ado.

Mutual jealousies and pettifogging exist in every organization and City of London Police Headquarters are no exception. The plain-clothes men and uniformed cadres often belittled each other’s successes. The police department, having earned the credit for the arrest, simply “forgot” to tell detectives Arthur Stanly and Eugene Cork about police constable Eric Rump and Jack McLeod’s meeting with Mrs. Singh.

Yet, Stanly doubted and Cork agreed if Singh alone could carry out his operations. Therefore, Stanly enquired at the Old Bailey Prison about the names and addresses of visitors who came to see the prisoner. The gateman said that no one had turned up but right then a young girl brusquely stepped to the wicket and sought permission to meet Mr. Ravinder Singh. Detective Stanly at once called the Prison Office and told the warden to detain her temporarily and say “No” to her request. A few minutes later the girl turned back dejectedly.

Stanly was no reader of Sherlock Holmes or other classic   detective fiction. He was a real sleuth and depended on his own devices. Therefore, he donned a shabby suit, denied himself his overdue visit to the barber and, right away went to 23Bread Street. He saw the same girl reading a newspaper while swaying in a rocking chair in the veranda. He did not know that the girl he had seen and was now seeing was Mr. Singh’s wife. Nor did he suspect in the least the girl to be herself a forger. He only envisaged she might hold some clue to the accomplices or gang behind Mr. Singh so he might get additional evidence against Ravinder Singh, the accused.

Sheepishly, he introduced himself as an old pal of “Ravi” unfortunately locked up in the same cell with him. After a pause, Stanly sighed, “Poor Ravi; he is in desperate need of morphine”.

“Poor Ravi”, cried the girl, “couldn’t you smuggle some for him?”

“Hard job with those turnkeys, but I have already done that.” And he related stories about his being together with Singh in a Deaddiction Centre, other places.

Her responsive exclamations, questions, and expressions established rapport between the two and confirmed that she was Singh’s wife. He gathered the couple lived in comparative comfort, and she was a well-educated woman. She, however, uttered nothing about her husband’s offences or of any persons connected with them.

Stanly who had introduced himself as Steward suggested and the girl slipped on her coat and hat and walked with Stanly to Police Headquarters where Stanly’s fellow detectives convinced her that her husband had already received a small hypodermic syringe as Stanly alias Steward had told her. Mrs. Singh was now in good humor and invited the supposed crook to lunch with her at the Savoy.

At lunch the girl enquired of her new acquaintance what his particular “graft” was. He said he was an expert ‘second storey man’, and gave accounts of bold robberies and clever “tricks” in many cities. Mrs. Singh was convinced that Stanly [or Steward, his assumed name] was an expert “gun” of much expertise.

Steward or Stanly took another chance.“Ravi wanted me to say that you better put the gang wise”, he said and waited for Mrs. Singh’s response.

“Gang, what gang? You mean Dutch and Sweeney.”

“Don’t know,” he played safe, “Ravi didn’t say who they were—just to put them ‘wise.'”

Unexpectedly, she came directly to the point.

“Do you want to make a lot of money?”

Steward or Stanly replied, “Why not?”

“Do you know what they have got Ravi for?” enquired the girl.

“Phoney paper, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Rosy Singh “but Ravinder Singh didn’t write those cheques. I wrote them. If you join me we can make enough money to get your friend Ravi out and be comfortable yourself into the bargain”

“I don’t believe. Never met a woman that was so clever at that sort of game”.

“Oh, you don’t know me. Why, I can copy anything in a few moments—really I can.”

“Too dangerous,” remarked Stanly alias Steward.”I might get settled for ten years.”

“No, you won’t”, she continued.”It’s the easiest thing in the world. All you need do is to pick the mail out of some box with a copper wire and a little piece of wax—and you can’t miss among the letters some cheque made out in payment of a bill. There! You have the bank, and the signature.”

“Then”  

“Then you write to the bank requesting for a new cheque book, sign the name that appears on the cheque. If you can dupe the cashier to handover your messenger a new cheque book you can safely gamble on his paying a cheque signed with the same name.”

“Really”!

 “Yes, but watch out. Never overdraw the account. I have made hundreds of cheques and banks have certified without fail!”

Stanly smiled thinly.

“Listen. Make out a fat cheque, then, go to a good store, buy something, tell to forward the cheque to the bank for certification, and that you’ll send for the goods and the change the next or some other day. The bank certifies the cheque, and you get the money.”

“Not always,” said Stanly

Mrs. Singh nodded agreement but added, “Ravinder and I have averaged over two hundred pounds a day for months.”

“Good, but how does the one who writes the cheque identify himself?  Say, I go into Harrods, pick out expensive jewellery, tell I am Steward of 73Forelease Road, Maidenhead and the floorwalker says, ‘Sorry, Mr. Steward we don’t know you?’”

“Dangle a few letters to him” instructed Rosy Singh, “Letters and envelopes.”

“From where”, asked Stanly alias Steward?

“Silly boy; Send to yourself through the post, as many as you like.”

The ‘second storey man’ persisted, “But how can I mail myself a letter to 73Forelease Road, Maidenhead when I don’t live there?”

Mrs. Singh smiled, “I’m glad I can disclose a new game I have invented myself. You want letters of identification? Buy a bundle of stamped envelopes and write your own name and address on them in pencil. When received, rub off the pencil address and put down anybody’s address in ink.”

“Rosy,” said Stanly, “You are a genius, you got the gray matter. I’ll do these lucrative errands for you.”

“You can do it in style; on a lucky day if you find a letter and bill head together in the mail, copy and write your request for the cheque book and your order for the goods on printed paper exactly like it. That’s the final touch, you see. We did that with a dentist named M. Budd of 137Burlington Street.

“I give in”, said the second-storey specialist.

They rose and went to her place for a practical lesson.

Zestfully, she said to her would-be cohort.”Now, come to the desk in the French window and see my regular handwriting. She pulled a pad and wrote in a fair, round hand: “Mr. James D. HOWELL”; she continued with changing her slant and said, “Viola! Here is the signature we fooled the Lincoln National Bank with” and with variable orthography she produced the signature that got poor Ravi into trouble; she went on inscribing E. Biers and also wrote ‘poor Ravi’.

“By George, Rosy, a wonder you are! Can you copy my name? “With a flare she wrote, “Stiward”, Stanly’s assumed name with wrong spellings varying a stub and fine point nibs.

“Sure, count me in; we’ll get enough money to get Ravi Bahadur out!”. Saying this, detective Stanly swept the documentary evidence off the desk enough to convict a dozen women and pirated it under Rosy’s wide open eyes.

They were now bosom friends. Rosy advised Stanly, that is, Steward to go, make himself presentable, come back for Indian dinner at the Taj restaurant and hunt for sample mail boxes.

As soon as the fake friend left, Macavity the cat jumped from the old fashioned ventilator. Positioning himself on the writing table, he meowed persistently to Rosy facing him from her chair. Was the friendly animal reminding the thriving forger of something? Perhaps Macavity wanted Rosy to remember who had launched her on a successful crime career.

“Yes, yes, my feline friend”, Rosy played up and repeated lines from T.S.Eliot’s ode to Macavity after whom Rosy and Ravi had named this street cat:

“And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.

Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled.

Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair –

Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:

‘It must have been Macavity!’- but he’s a mile away.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,

There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity. At whatever time the deed took place – MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!

Macavity…..: the Napoleon of Crime!”

Rosy sweet-talked to the proud, haughty, criminal cat: “You are of Indian origin like me; you like milk, not meat; carrots not parrots; peas and ground nuts; not fish or greasy omelets, you are a vegetarian. At this, Napolean of Crime jumped high and thumped on the table scattering pad, papers and pens in all directions.

Rosy brought a bowl of milk and gently offered it to the animal who after sitting in her lap for a while departed nonchalantly leaving Rosy Singh lost in memories: How on a Sunday morning, Macavity had snatched from an urchin a bundle of envelops he was trying to fish out from the Post Box at the street’s edge with a copper wire, its probing end twisted into a lump of wax. Macavity, as a practiced looter leapt to and pawed the booty, firmly held it in his mouth, ran to Rosy and Ravi, placed it before their feet and disappeared into the back street.

The loving couple had accepted the gift most graciously. Sitting on a nearby park bench they opened envelops and found several cheques in payment of bills. Together they schemed and conspired to turn the dear animal’s gift into perpetual moolah. And they never looked back. Macavity was now on friendly visiting terms and they shared their secrets with him openly.

Rosy also recalled how they had argued and debated about  going against their middle class norms. They had been reading Sartre’s Being And Nothing, the Bible of Existentialism: Existence is absurd. Life has no meaning. Death is the ultimate absurdity. One is born by chance; one dies by chance. There is no God. This Human Condition demands that one must make use of freedom; only freedom of choice can allow one to escape “nausea” and authenticate one’s existence. That means one must not merely think but act even if it means going against one’s grain! Together they had shouted: Let’s break out of this bourgeois shell and be born again. And they  took the so-called existentialist leap on that weekend in a London Park.

She broke off from her reverie. Got up and dressed for meeting her dinner guest at the Taj, St. James Court. Stanly alias Steward was waiting for her a few steps away. Both walked together when a cop accosted them and rudely said to Steward, the sleuth pretending as a criminal:”What are you doing here in London? I gave you only five hours to fly the cage? And who’s this woman?”

“I was going”, answered Steward”;“honest I am leaving; this lady’s okay; hasn’t done a thing.”

“Well, I must lock you up at Headquarters for the night,” said Eric Rump rudely, “The girl can go.”

“Oh, Mr.Rump, have dinner with us”, implored Mrs. Rosy Singh, “my friend hasn’t had anything to eat, he is hungry”

“Nothing doing, Miss” and Rump led Steward alias Stanly in the opposite direction. That was a preplanned police stratagem.

Steward never came back but a couple of hours later a ruffianly yokel knocked at Rosy’s door. He said he was Sweeney and, Mr. Ravinder Bahadur Singh, now behind the bars, had sent him to get morphine. He said he was her husband’s trusted cock, done things together and was just released from the same jail.

Mrs. Singh listened to him forbearingly and said, “But I do not know you”. She had become extra careful about strangers after the catastrophic fiasco with Steward alias Stanly though she did not yet know that he was a police detective and only pretending to be Ravi’s jail mate.

She gazed into Sweeney’s eyes and said, “What morphine you are talking about? My husband is no addict. He is a decent gentleman of royal lineage”.

Sweeny got up, said, “couldn’t care less” and hurtled toward the door.

Meanwhile, hand-writing experts testified that the E. Biers and other signatures were as perfect as originals and Mrs. Rosy Singh was, indeed, a “free hand” forger. Her forgeries were written by a muscular imitation of the pen movement of the writers of the genuine signatures, nearly impossible to detect.

The police, now confident of getting the real forger convicted, freed Ravinder Bahadur Singh but advised him not to leave London.

Ravinder was a jealous and suspicious husband though Rosy was a loving wife and eager to find ways to help her husband escape from the clutches of law. She was totally in the dark about his having been let off by the police.

She was happily surprised when after midnight Ravinder walked in. He was not his usual self and very inarticulate. It seems the sleuths had been telling tales about his wife having another companion and doing brisk business unaffected by his absence. Perhaps he was angry because his wife had refused to send dope through Sweeney.

The loving couple had never quarreled before but tonight Ravinder became furiously violent without reason. After a few drinks, he started thrashing her delicate wife. She was shocked, seriously injured and fell unconsciousness. Ravinder quietly slithered from the scene.

She opened her bleary eyes when the cat, all seven pounds of squirming flesh, climbed onto her belly. Squinting into the sunlight streaming in from the open window, she discovered that she was now the weary possessor of a pounding headache, and at some point, had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse.

On top of that, a few hours later that Sunday noon she was taken into custody by a posse of police. Stanly, the detective had accompanied them.

Was it a cat triggered weekend fun or a Fate enacted farce played out on that weekend to these London inamoratos? Were the couple really free to make their existentialist choice or what happened to them was all predestined?

Let the reader riddle with these and many more questions the story of Rosy and Ravinder has left behind. It had all started on a Sunday and ended on a Sunday too. Coincidence!

====The End of ‘Inamoratos Existentialist Leap’ By Jitendra Kumar Sharma====

What Do You Want to Do With Your Life? By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?

By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?

First of all be thankful. Thankful for what and thankful to whom?

Thankful to your own self that you are able to ask this question!

Not everyone born on this earth has the self-awareness to ask such questions.

And thankful to the unknown Greater Self from whom your little, aware self derives its life and force, curiosity and capacity to seek answers about life’s questions!

Before you answer this question, please realize that you are a unique being. Like all living beings and all non-living things, you are unique. In fact, even products uniformly produced by machines in factories are individually unique.

This means the life you are going to lead in Sansar or Time-world too shall be unique.

And the answer about your life will also have to be given uniquely by the unique you.

This does not mean the hints and guesses you receive from writings like the one you are reading now are useless.

We are not an island to ourselves and we exist in a world where the other is an ever present reality. You may hate the other, love the other, or be indifferent to the other.

The choice is yours, whether you make it yourself or someone else–parents, teachers, friends- make the choice for you.

In actual experience, the choice shall be your own and you alone shall face the consequence of your or others’ choice/s made for you.

Whether you seek someone else’s advice or answer the above question yourself, you alone shall feel and perceive and know what and how much  you were able to make of your life at any given point in your life.

That is why the first thing to learn is that not knowledge gathered from others or books or other sources will ever give you the right answer to the above and other questions about  life.

It is not knowledge but experience that imparts and enhances meaning to life.

The answer to the above question then is that the mystery of life is to be experienced, not to be explained.

Therefore, make your conscious choices and live your life fully and you will learn what you will make and have made of your life.

This is how I am currently living my life most joyfully amidst ups and downs of life.

–Jitendra Kumar Sharma

==The End==

 

Chapter 2. Hindu View of History and Rulers of Maharaja Agrasen and His Vaish Agrawals Wealthmakers and Winner Caste of India By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

   To  

My Maternal Grandmother Dropdi Devi

Affectionately called Bebe Bhopi

By the Narwana Agrawal Baniya Community

Who respected and sought her advice

As their Leader

And Protector of Their Rights

 

          Chapter 2. Hindu View of History and Rulers 

>Hindus inherited their traditions from the Aryas. Aryas did not care for history, much less for political power and political heroes. Rama and Krishna, protagonists of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, are epical heroes Hindus celebrate, revere and even worship most but not as kings. 

>Cultural continuity and political disunity form a basic design in the mosaic of Indian history. India is perhaps the only country that evolved cultural unity over so large a territory before it became a nation-state in the western sense. In the U.S.A. political unity came first, cultural unity is still groping. Cultural unity has played little role in European integration. Even in countries like Germany, national unity was imposed through “blood and iron”.

>Agroha is also a politically tiny but culturally significant motif in the peculiarly Hindu pattern of history of Bharat, that is India. 

>Western democracy is a conflict model and that is the reason for its success in India. The Hindu Mind is “naturally argumentative”, argues Amartya Sen. An average Hindu seeks peace but delights in conflicts. 

>Modern Hindus are capable of indulging in ugliest forms of flattery of their boss, or powerful superiors. Mahabharata prominently points up this Hindu trait. Current Hindu politics is infested with flatterers.

__________________________________________________ 

Hindus inherited their traditions from the Aryas. Aryas did not care for history, much less for political power and political heroes. Rama and Krishna, protagonists of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, are epical heroes Hindus celebrate, revere and even worship most but not as kings.

Raja Ram is remembered as Purushottam, “the first or finest among men”, not as a king or conqueror. In fact, in the epic at the end of the battle, he is made to sit at the feet of Ravana and seek wisdom from his arch enemy and  hs wife, Sita’s abductor. Rama’s human qualities have made him a timeless symbol of the divine in man. He remains a timeless figment of Hindu imagination and inextricable content of the collective Hindu consciousness, irrespective of whether he actually lived on earth or in fiction only.

Krishna was neither a great king nor a conqueror. In fact, one of his names, “Ranchhod Ji” suggests that he withdrew from battle. In his last days he was not seen around Kurukshetra or Dharamkeshtra [situated in the present day Haryana state of India], the battlefield where the Mahabharata’s ‘War of Brothers’ was fought and Krishna taught the Gita to Arjuna. This epical war lingers as a bad memory to this day in the Hindu Collective Mind because it was a battle for political power and in violation of the Aryan code. Worse, it was a fight among kith and kin brought up and educated by common guardians and gurus who cringed before their ruling disciples or remained silent spectators to their unjust and unethical actions.

Krishna lived in bad times when fair was foul and foul fair like in Scotland in Macbeth’s times. Krishna is remembered for his Gita, or Song Celestial, a lesson in immortality amidst inhuman killings of close relatives for worldly gains and temporal power. In the very midst of mindless death and destruction, Krishna assumes a teacher’s role as Arjuna’s charioteer and dispels  confusion from Arjuna’s  mind. He goads Arjuna to fight, perform action on the field of battle, live consciously or timelessly without worldly attachments, through death become deathless, through destruction become indestructible, through time become timeless. Because, as T. S. Eliot explains the Hindu view of life in his Four Quartets:

“It is through time time is conquered” and “to be conscious is not to be in time”.

Krishna, then, is remembered not because he was a great king. In fact, he was a small-time ruler of a city state, Dwarika, in Gujarat.

Krishna is remembered because he reminded Arjuna, other Aryas and their Hindu descendants, that Sansar or the Time-world is not a place to seek happiness in but a place to seek liberation from. Even the most ordinary human being can seek and attain timeless delight by performing detached and desireless acts of daily life. By observing one’s dharma, or doing duties or daily chores, one can achieve spiritual liberation from the sufferings of the time-world.

Krishna is remembered for correcting the perceptions of the Hindus about life and death in the temporal world or Sansar because we die and are born every moment  of time endlessly; paradoxically, we can also realize ourselves if we act  and desire nothing from our actions or karma. Desire bounds us to time and time-world; freedom from desire is everlasting life. In fact, desirelessness  abolishes all distinction between life and death; when we  have no desire, we are not in time because all desires are rooted in time.Living desirelessly is living timelessly or spiritually.

Krishna is not remembered for any great political power  like Ashoka, Alexander, Akbar, Great Kings and Emperors but  as the reciter or teacher of Gita, a practical guide to overcome fears of death. He is not celebrated as the Perfect One of History unlike Jesus the Christ, even though he is regarded as Puran Avatar or a complete worldly version of the Divine. He was gifted with all the sixteen kalas or attributes of a perfect avatar. Yet, he lived only in time and history, though he is not of time or history.
Rama and Krishna are remembered as avatars. They became timeless, though they lived in time. They are avatars, not because they performed great and powerful actions as kings and heroes of their time and history. They are avatars of the divine because they inhabit and live in human consciousness, beyond time.

This is where Christian Humanism and Hindu view of life fundamentally differ. For Christians, man has to attain perfection through and in history. The Christ is the Perfect One of History. Man must fulfill himself through history. But, in spite of Shelley’s Ozymandias and Christ’s being the Son of God, Christians celebrate history’s kings and queens. Even Christian saints are great for historical reasons.

Western quest is for happiness in the joy, peace, prosperity and good things of life that one’s time in the world offers. American Constitution even postulates the Right to Happiness to the citizens of the United States of America.

A true Christian lives and realizes self in and through history, a Hindu lives and realizes self in spite of history. A Christian can realize self by owning and surrendering to Christ; a Hindu has to merge his little soul [atma] with the Great Soul [param atma] by living timelessly or consciously, by freeing self or liberating self by detaching it from the objects of time.

Hindus make no distinction between foreign rule and self-rule. Any ruler who follows the ruler’s dharma deserves respect and allegiance, if not loyalty.  Any ruler who leaves the Hindu alone to pursue his own way of life is acceptable to him. This explains a thousand-year Muslim rule in India and 400 years of British dominance of Indian history. Likewise, Hindus have no difficulty in accepting and following god-men of all kinds, indigenous or foreign, belonging to any religion or prophets of other religions. Good values are not the monopoly of the Hindus, so taught their ancestors; Hindus’ basic concern is to maximize their individual awareness and realize their potential, human and divine, by doing their dharma [right, detached action].

Foreignness makes one existentially aware of the other; the foreigner personifies anti-environment  and as  Marshall McLuhan points out, anti-environment impels self awareness. Foreigner is always welcome in India and is considered superior because the foreigner imparts more and extra awareness than is available from the indigenous environment or culture. The foreigner, because of different ways enlarges and enriches the Hindu’s experience. In the Hindu psyche, interaction with the foreigner always extends the horizon of consciousness. The Hindu response to the foreigner and things foreign can be nutty and ludicrous.

Indian texts and traditions consider a guest as a god. In fact, ‘atithi devabhav’ means he that arrives without prior date is a god. [tithi= date, prefix a= without, deva= god, bhav= is].

Enthusiastic acceptance of the British Annie Besant as President of the Indian Home Rule League and of the Indian National Congress by  Indian leaders like Tilak, Motilal Nehru and others was part of the Hindu tradition to honor and respect the foreigner and accept her/him as leader in her/his own right. Likewise, acceptance of Italy-born Sonia Gandhi as the maximum leader of Indian National Congress from 1997 to 2017 is yet another example of a foreigner’s willing acceptance as leader of the Hindus.

Hindu nationalism is cultural, not political.  

As to the status of Kings and Queens, this can be said on the authority of Ramayana that even a pair of wooden sandals is good enough to rule over the Hindus. For fourteen years wooden sandals ruled over the Hindus and Hindus are proud of it.  They deem it as the raj or rule of Rama in absentia because Bharat, a step-brother of Rama refused to sit on the Rama’s thrown during the latter’s exile and begged his elder brother to leave behind his sandals. He kept Rama’s sandals seated on the throne for full fourteen years until Rama returned  and sat on his throne as the King of Ayodhya.

Hindu tradition did not permit the kashtriye king to do his will; the king was ordained to carry out the will of the people. He had to abide by the advice of the Brahmin Raj Purohit [from Sanskrit Purohita; Puras meaning front, and Hita, placed. Hita also means welfare, gain or benefit in Hindi. Rajpurohit is a term used to denote a priest for a royal family or a king, both the Raja or Ruler and his Purohit had to keep the people’s interest and welfare in front of them].

Nor do the Hindus care whether the ruler is male or female. Many Hindu and Muslim, even Christian women have been rulers of Indian principalities. Chand Bibi of Ahmednagar, Razia Sultana of Delhi, both Muslims; Rani Padmini of Chittor and Rani Jhansi of Bundelkhand, both Hindus and Begum Sumru of Sardhana, a Christian are examples from India’s history.

Hindu tradition cares little for political heroes. Hindus have only culture-heroes. These traditions are no longer in force but do inhere silently in the Hindus of all hues. Western-style democracy is furiously destroying the Hindu  values in politics and business and all other spheres of life. Ugly and base self-seeking  and immorality of the present day Hindu politicians has no resemblance  to  the past Hindu Rajas and Maharajas.

Hindus, according to Morarji Desai, a Gandhian past Prime Minister of India, are “moral cowards”. They please their gods and goddesses by offering flowers stolen from public parks or private gardens; modern Hindu would seek blessings to commit any sin or violate any law in return of petty offerings or even promise to distribute in the name the deity a five-rupee Prasad [anointed eatable offering] Modern Hindus are capable of indulging in ugliest forms of flattery of their boss, or powerful superiors. It is hard to believe that these denizens have descended from Rama, Krishna, Rishis like Vishvamitra, Vashisth, Valmiki and Patanjli. But then, in their own classics, it is written, and Hindus do  believe that in the present age or the Fourth and Final Cycle of Universal Time called the Kaliyug, Hindus shall morally rot and face Parlaya, a more complete and fiercer version of the Apocalypse.

This short discussion on Kings and their place in Hindu tradition is necessary to understand modern Agrawal’s reverence for Maharaja Agrasen as a source of inspiration for achieving success and living like kings that their traditional Vaish ancestors never sought or craved for.

The Agrawals’ soaring resurgence on the wings of Maharaja Agrasen is a phenomenon contrary to Hindu tradition that assigned very low value to wealth and very low status to men or women of wealth and attached no special significance to political power and rulers.

Maharaja Agrasen is not worshiped like Rama or Krishna as an avatar or demi-god. Agrawals of today like to think, imagine, believe and accept Agrasen as a real Maharaja who actually ruled like a kshtriya and enjoyed all the power and glory that is due to a king, a presiding deity of worldly achievements,wealth and political power.

Vaish Agrawals, more popularly known as  the Baniyas, remember and celebrate Maharaja Agrasen as The Blessed Devotee of Mahalakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Glory.

====The End of Chapter 2. Hindu View of History and Rulers====

Chapter 1. Maharaja Agrasen and Agrawal Re-birth 2. Marshall McLuhan

 

  1. Chapter 1.  Maharaja Agrasen and Agrawal Re-birth 2. Marshall McLuhan

 

 

Maharaja Agrasen and His Vaish Agrawals

Wealthmakers and Winner Caste of India 

                              By          

              Jitendra Kumar Sharma 

 To

My Maternal Grandmother Dropdi Devi                                                                                      

Affectionately called Bebe Bhopi

By the Narwana Baniya Community

Who respected and sought her advice

As their Leader

And Protector of Their Rights

 

 

Chapter  1.  Maharaja Agrasen and Agrawal Re-birth 

>When the Vaish and Agrawals found their Maharaja, it was due to extraneous reasons and not because of their own curiosity or efforts to discover their own past.

 

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  Maharaja Agrasen of Agroha, glorious and powerful like a true king, was discovered in the last nine years of the British rule in India. The late arrival of their Hero in Indian history and belated knowledge about his life and works has imparted to the Vaish, especially the Agrawals or Aggarwals who claim superiority as a Vaish sub-caste, an extraordinary and unexpected social impetus. For the first time they feel inflated with pride as a caste who is capable of attaining political power. They are no longer shy but strident about making and piling up wealth and regarding it as a source of social and political power rather than mere ‘grime of the palm’, conventional Hindu view of wealth and money. 

Maharaja Agrasen has goaded them to overcome the social inertia of ages, go for the kill and emerge as the winner caste of modern India. 

Whereas Brahmins have lost their knowledge and the highest rank and authority over other castes and also their prestige in  the Hindu caste hierarchy, whereas the Kashtriye have been reduced to a non-descript  caste and lost their privileges and position as rulers and warriors, whereas Shudras have abjured the very word and adopted Dalit as their new identity to claim reservation and affirmative action  from the Indian state, the Vaish caste, on the other hand, are extending their traditional socio-economic horizons by dint of their inherent business acumen and new-found elitist caste status. They are gearing up the engines of growth to rebuild their community, increase its power and unravel its intrinsic stamina, without looking up to the state for help or other props. They appear to be reclaiming their caste with pride. They are using their Baniya gotras [surnames] and family names with a self-conscious sense of renewed caste identity. 

The Baniya today has been pushing himself and the rest of Hindu society into new directions and adding extra dimensions to modern Indian social dynamics while setting up unprecedented benchmarks for achieving heights of wealth and power, collectively and individually. 

At the time of writing, Lakshmi Mittal, the world’s unrivaled steel tycoon, recently lost $3.5 billion (around Rs 13,700 crore) due to the global stock market crash. But, perhaps, the Non-Resident Indian , Lakshmi Mittal, still remains Great Britain’s richest man. Dhirubhai Hirachand Ambani (28 December 1932 – 6 July 2002), Indian business entrepreneur, founder of Reliance Industries, has been among the select Forbes billionaires. He had also figured in the Sunday Times list of top 50 businessmen in Asia. His life was a true “rags to riches” story. His two sons, Mukesh and Anil, are top businessmen of India and billionaires in their own right even after the family and business split. All these men do the Vaish community proud and help renew their  tradition as wealth-makers of Hindu society and Indian nation. 

Agrasen, who ruled over Agroha, had some unique qualities as a ruler and progenitor of the Agrawals. He may rightly be described as a Socialist King. Just as  Christ is supposed to have washed the sins of all Christians, Maharaja  Agrasen’s memory, as a just and progressive if not a revolutionary ruler, appears to have washed away the Baniyas’ guilt  about usury and exploitative money lending they had been practicing  from times immemorial. The sacred memory of Maharaja Agrasen, their original ancestor, has wiped out and helped them forget their anti-social stigma of ages in a jiffy.  

Their own guilt and other castes’ condemnation of their methods of making money from money, keeping their debtors, farmers and  poor members of the society in their perpetual bondage, appear to have been forgotten suddenly. They are no longer hesitant, timid or shy of displaying their wealth, wearing fashionable clothes and mixing and mingling with other castes and  openly competing for power and wealth. 

Discovery of Agroha and emergence of Maharaja Agrasen as the Vaish Emperor of Agroha, have incontestably contributed to the modern Baniya renascence. In the midst of drastically changing times Baniyas once again find themselves in the role of super wealth -makers. Resurfacing of a royal past from the deeper recesses of their collective memory has recharged them with an atavistic urge to relive as Rajas and Maharajas, a privilege denied to them for centuries. They are emerging not only as a community of enterprising leaders of the booming Indian economy but setting new trends in styles of living. They are living in palatial houses and rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty of the world. They are grabbing multinational corporations abroad and furiously setting up intercontinental industrial empires. They are the dreamers and protagonists of an advancing India that is currently smitten with desires and dreams of becoming a super-rich world power.

Vaish have become economically the most dynamic caste in Independent India. Maharaja Agrasen has given them a new birth as a dvija [twice–born or born again] caste of the Hindus.

Maharaja Agrasen, mythic or historical, has turned the Vaish Agrawals into the front-runner champions of Business and Industry. 

 Up to the end of the British Raj [August 15, 1947] Vaish observed equality to a greater extent within their own caste than other Hindu castes. They also obeyed laws and social customs more strictly than other castes. Mutual consent rather than compulsion prevailed among the Vaish or Baniyas as a community. In spite of their wealth and means, they lived very frugally and maintained low standards of living and wore indigenous dress or dhoti-kurta during the British rule when other castes had fallen for the British ways and imitations. They, more than other castes, lived within the caste discipline or confines of  sub-castes  they were born into and  meekly stuck to  the station  in life  the Hindu caste system had ordained for them. 

They avoided quarrels and conflicts with other castes. In fact, the Baniya during the British rule got stereotyped as a miser, cowardly weakling who consumed dal [pulses] and passed wind fouling the air in his shop as a sedentary doormat. Yet, the traditional Baniya had inherent capacity to bear losses, grit and tenacity to bounce back to a thriving business again and again. A Baniya would take financial risks quietly and stoically. Making money was his dharma and he would go anywhere to make money. There are stories of a Multani Mal who left his village in Narnaul [Haryana] with only a lutiya [small round brass mug] and became the richest man of Patiala. He became richer than the Maharaja and lent money to the profligate Maharaja Bhupendra Singh of Patiala. He established the famous industrial house of the Modis. 

That the Baniyas, irrespective of the stereotype, were capable of daring to go where others would fear to tread provided it was for making money is a fact of history. They would travel far and wide in search of fortune, live away from their families in strenuous circumstances, face risks and dangers in hostile territories to increase their wealth or regain their lost fortune. 

I recall an incident.  In 1947, my maternal uncle was posted as District Magistrate at a town called Bassi Pathana [ in Patiala state, near Sirhind, Punjab], temporarily co-opted from his judicial post as a sub-judge to meet the exigencies of the pre-partition Muslim-Hindu riots.  As the name suggests, Bassi Pathan was a dominantly Muslim Pathan town. It had 13000 Muslims, 3000 Hindus. In June 1947, after the partition of India became imminent, Muslims started leaving for West Punjab, would-be Pakistan. In order to avoid possibility of violence and foul play, my uncle imposed curfew and martial law on the outskirts of the town where the Muslims were accommodated in a transit camp prior to their departure to Pakistan in a caravan. No unauthorized person was allowed to go near the Muslim Transit Camp. District Administration had clamped shoot- at- sight orders in the prohibited area. 

One night my maternal uncle, Pandit Om Prakash Sharma, went on a surprise inspection of the camp site. From his military jeep, he spotted three shadows lurking on the fence along the camp. The army men trained their guns but my uncle stopped them from shooting and straight headed toward the shadows with jeep lights blazing on them. Shadows changed into three dhoti-clad, round black-capped Baniya Sethjis of the town known to my uncle. He asked them what had brought them to the danger zone and said the army constable was about to shoot them. They confessed that they had come in the hope of striking a profitable bargain with the departing rich Muslim families who would be willing to sell their jewelry cheap. The gold dealers reckoned  that the departing refugee Muslims would prefer keeping  a few rupees  in their pockets to carrying their women’s ornaments as that would help them meet the needs of the long journey and expenses they were bound to incur on reaching  their unknown destination in their yet to come about homeland, the so-called Pakistan. 

“That was foolhardy”, said my uncle and sent them back to town under police escort. I recall this incident to prove that Baniya stereotypes are only stereotypes and do not tell the truth about the Baniya’s daring and venturesome bargaining spirit. The Baniya is made of a sterner stuff and capable of risking life and facing dangers if that promises to bring him money. Increasing his money and fortune is a Vaish’s dharma. 

The arrival of the British affected fluidity of the caste system but the Baniya felt comfortable under the British rule and British laws. He could carry on his not so socially respectable or elevating vocation of lending money on exploitative terms safely under the British dispensation. This aspect of Baniya’s making money from money further lowered him as a caste in the eyes of reformers and progressive elements of Indian society,including Gandhi though himself a “Baniya or Bania”, during the times of freedom struggle.  

The great story writer Munshi Premchand, a Kayasth by caste, has written profusely about the degradation and dehumanization  the money lending regime as  practiced by the village Baniya and the zamindar inflicted  on the poor and hapless Indian villagers. 

Prem Chand has portrayed the degrading impact of money lending in such stories as Sava Ser Gehoon, Kafan, Posh ki ek Raat which tell the tragic and pathetic tales of the poor villagers of India who borrow small amounts of money that pile up into astronomical sums of money because of exorbitant and arbitrary rates of interest. The poor borrowers lose their freedom, dignity and humanity and get reduced to bonded labor generation after generation because of the inherited burden of unpaid debt. In the story Kafan [Shroud], a poor villager borrows money on the pretext of buying a shroud and pay funeral expenses of his dead wife but actually he and his son go on a drinking and meat-eating spree as the dead body rots. Mehboob Khan’s 1957 film Mother India, too depicts the village Baniya or money-lender in a villainous role. 

 Coincidentally, Prem Chand was writing about the corrosive social effects of money lending at the very time  as H.H. Srivastava, another Kayasth and archaeologist, was carrying out archaeological excavations at Agroha, a village in the then district Hissar of British Punjab,, now Hisar to bring to light the reality about Maharaja Agrasen and the remains of his Janpad or ‘republican domain’ or kingdom. 

The British had ordered archaeological digging of Agroha which is now in Haryana near Hisar in late 1930s. This is how and where the Agrawals, the most advanced sub-caste  among the Vaish, found their lost King and his kingdom. The archaeological finds at Agroha have had a revolutionary significance for the Agrawals. The British abandoned the excavations, allegedly, because of the World War Two. The Indian government has not thought it fit to resume the excavation of Agroha nor have the Baniyas and Agrawals sought further digging at Agroha with much zest. The Haryana State government made a half-hearted effort in 1976 to dig up the ruined city that lies buried under a mound near the town of Agroha but it was inchoate. 

Even the inchoate archaeological excavation at Agroha has done wonders for the Baniya as caste. They now have a Maharaja who beckons them from a hidden and mysterious past. After the independence of India in 1947, Maharaja Agrasen of Agroha seems to have delivered to the Vaish or Baniya Agrawals of modern India a magic wand that has been delivering wealth and power and glory to this not so elevated a caste of the Hindus till recently. 

 The British were quick to grasp the divisive potential of India’s caste system and use it for perpetuating their imperial rule. During the initial days of the British East India Company’s rule, caste differences and customs were accepted, if not encouraged. The British law courts, however, disagreed with the discrimination against the lower castes.  British policies of divide and rule as well as enumeration of the population into rigid categories every ten- year census contributed towards the hardening of caste identities. The Baniya caste felt comfortable under the British dispensation. They enjoyed the protection of the British laws. They could ply their trade and practice exploitative and usurious money lending unmindful of the protests of socialists and social reformists. 

Against this bleak and depressing Baniya caste scenario, it was perhaps not so ironical that the British rather than the Vaish Agrawals themselves discovered their Proto Progenitor Agrasen, a Socialist Maharaja, who ruled over Agroha like a Kashtriye king. 

In free India, the Vaish caste needs no protection or patronage of the state. They have learnt the art of manipulating or buying the powers that be for gains in business. Their Maharaja Agrasen presiding over them, they need no Presidents and Prime Ministers for their vertical rise as a caste of wealth makers and prime movers of the Indian society. 

    =====End of Chapter1 Maharaja Agrasen and Agrawal Re-birth=====

 

 

 

2.

*Remembering the Guru

 

         Herbert Marshall McLuhan

By

         Jitendra Kumar Sharma

 

 

It was a sunny bright afternoon on a day in September 1962 – just the day for a stranger to get acquainted with city streets. Walking through the  Park, I crossed over to the other side of the university campus and stopped to look out for someone to ask where I stood exactly on the map of Toronto. Presently, I saw a tall man, his hair slightly curly and wavy, his trousers hanging casually on old-fashioned suspenders, apparently sunning himself  but somewhat occupied with inner thoughts. I advanced a few steps. As he looked towards me I exchanged a stranger’s smile. Then I do not recall how we got started on a conversation that lasted nearly three hours. Mostly we talked about T. S. Eliot, the great American-born English poet. A man with a triangle-shaped beard introduced as Harley Parker [Canadian Painter who has co-authored books with Marshall McLuhan] came over. Our conversation eventually ended. But I had already ‘clicked’ with Marshall McLuhan, totally oblivious of his name and fame. 

From the front lawn we moved into his book-laden office at St. Michael’s College where McLuhan solemnly announced to Harley Parker that I was an “Eliot Man”. A little later Father Morin entered McLuhan’s office carrying his English translation of a French poem by T.S. Eliot. “Show it to him”, said McLuhan turning to me: “He is the Eliot Man.” And he continued: “You got it made”. “Are you familiar with this expression?” McLuhan, as I found later, was always keen to know how men of one culture use and respond to the clichés and archetypes of another culture. “You can write a Ph.D. dissertation on T.S. Eliot”. McLuhan translated “You got it made” for me. 

I was a young man smitten with wanderlust. But I had come under McLuhan’s spell. A few days later I enrolled myself in the Graduate School at the University of Toronto. I was to make Canada my home for the entire decade and McLuhan my teacher, friend and philosopher. 

Only toward the end of our first meeting did I come to know that McLuhan had just completed the manuscript of Gutenberg Galaxy, the book that was soon to launch him as the Philosopher of the Electronic Age. In later years, I had occasion to watch McLuhan on TV, listen to him on the radio and read his books. But, I am confirmed in my belief that neither television, nor radio, nor the printed word were his true media. Conversation was the medium to communicate with McLuhan, the medium for understanding McLuhan. For he thought and talked at the same time. It was an exciting experience to view the instant verbalization of his thought-process. While communicating with McLuhan, walking went better with talking. On TV or in a panel discussion on the radio he was likely to be defensively aggressive.Talking with him long hours was like being on a trip of exploration in the invisible world of thought. 

McLuhan was generous to me with his time. There were days when we would converse for seven or eight hours. He often invited me to his home. On Christmas Day, if in town, I was always present at the exclusively family dinner at the McLuhans’.  Besides in his house, his office, while going for lunch, at the cafeteria, on sidewalks, right along the curb in a busy street or on the patch of grass in front of his office, mornings, evenings, afternoons I always managed to draw him into long talks. Later, when the grapevine said that McLuhan’s consultancy fee was three thousand dollars per hour, at the end of a long conversation once I said: “Professor McLuhan, you lost twenty four thousand dollars today”. He responded with utter humility: “I always learn from you, Jitendra!” 

Marshall McLuhan did not suffer from pride of knowledge, the first infirmity of a scholarly mind. This was proved to me on several occasions. One afternoon I got a phone call from a McLuhan fan, Dr. Hugo McPherson, later to become Chairman of Film Board of Canada. An excited Hugo said: “Did you listen to Marshall’s broadcast on Eliot?” McLuhan had just finished a CBC obituary talk on Eliot in which he had quoted me at length. I was no authority on Eliot but only a graduate student at the university! One day an American lady knocked at my suite in the Daniel Wilson Residence, U of T and with a look of curiosity murmured to me: “Are you the fellow McLuhan quoted in his lecture at Philadelphia?” Puzzled, I could only say “I don’t know”.                                                                                            

                                Cartooning for Priestley 

Perhaps McLuhan had more confidence in my understanding of Eliot than I myself had. So,  instead of proceeding directly for Ph.D. I had decided to do my Master’s first. Since I had very little money and had not been exposed to the North American custom of dating, I had to spend most of my time in studies. As a result, within seven months, even before the academic year was over, I fulfilled all requirements, including the dissertation, for the Master’s degree. Ruefully, I discovered that I had committed a great academic heresy. The accepted period of completion for Master’s in English was two years. The Department Chairman, Professor Woodhouse let it be known that my credentials as a Master’s candidate were dubious. Also Dr. Marshall McLuhan’s role as director of my dissertation was suspect in departmental eyes. A minor intra-departmental battle ensued. 

The greatest opposition to my being examined within the academic year came from Professor F.E.L. Priestley. Heavy scholarship permanently enthroned in his thick spectacles scared students away from his sight. In the final round, however, Priestley lost in committee vote three to one. The compromise arrived at was that I could be called for oral examination but only after the close of the academic session though before the end of summer vacation. Another point yielded to Professor Priestley was that the Examination would be held in his office instead of Professor McLuhan’s office. On the appointed day, Professor Priestley was late in reaching his office by five minutes. The venue was shifted to a neutral territory in the meantime. In Professor Frank Watt’s room the Examination began. As expected, Priestley was giving me hard time. He was determined to inflict the heaviest punishment for my academic aberration. Professors McLuhan, Watt and Ross sat in silent sympathy unable to come to my rescue. 

Just as I was about to fail, perspiring, I asked for a piece of chalk and blackboard. There was none in the room. Instead, I was allowed the aid of a pencil and piece of paper. I started to explain my concept of time with the help of diagrams. Every half-a-minute or so I would make a drawing, stop and say to Professor Priestley, “ Is it clear, Sir?” Each time Priestley responded with a most unsmiling “yes”. After five or six “Priestley yeses” I suddenly decided not to take a further risk on Priestley yeses. I clinched the entire explanation then and there. With a sweep of my hand I declared to all present: “Sir, this is all I had been saying all the time”. Professor Priestley caught through my trick but an instant late. For a stupid stare crossed his impressive, scholarly countenance. I had performed an exercise-lesson fit for a primary school child and here was Priestley saying “Yes, yes” all the time. Professors Marshall McLuhan, Malcolm Ross and Frank Watt avoided exchanging looks with me, lest they burst out laughing. Silence fell on all of us. The examination ended abruptly. Nodding scholarly heads indicated I should exit the scene. 

I had hardly entered my room at College Street that the phone rang. It was Marshall McLuhan. He was laughing and saying: “Never forget that trick…. That bit of cartooning you did for Priestley, Jitendra…..”.  “Have I passed?”  I asked. “Priestley is supposed to announce your result”. McLuhan had a few more laughs and invited me to meet him the following afternoon. 

                                                  McLuhan’s Advice 

 

A valuable advice I received from my Guru a long time ago often comes back to me. In my early days in Canada, like any other immigrant, I was beset with pressures and problems of a new socio-cultural environment. McLuhan, finding me depressed at times, would say: “Respond, do not despond”. And when I had become a member of the university teaching faculty and was drawn into minor conflicts with the Establishment, Marshall would say: “Do not react, only act”. Often, he would recall the strife-ridden life of his friend and colleague, the late Professor Harold Innis, author of Bias Of Communications. At times his eyes were bedimmed while warmly remembering Harold Innis who, according to McLuhan, suffered enormous discouragements by the Establishment yet continued his work. His own interest in communications, he said, he surely owed to Harold Innis. “Act, do not react”, is a piece of advice I have often found difficult to practise but most rewarding whenever I did practise it. 

                                                             Backward

 

Marshall McLuhan, Philosopher of the Electronic Age, explorer of speed and movement, seer of the Global Village, futuristic perceiver of anti-environments, himself would rather opt for a world that had already gone out. He always preferred walking to driving. Often, I would offer him a ride in my car but he would say with a chuckle “No, I shall use the ‘public conveniences’.” In 1969 he returned to Canada after a stint at Fordham University, U.S.A. He had to undergo an operation for tumor of the brain during his stay in New York. One evening, I happened to meet him just as he was leaving his office. Again he preferred to use ‘public conveniences’ rather than ride with me. So we walked and talked till we reached the Bloor Street sub-way station. Suddenly I asked: “How is the family?” McLuhan put his hand on my shoulder and with brimming emotion said: “You know when we went to New York we were nine. Now we are only two.” And he ran downstairs to catch the train. 

My memory wandered back to early days of my acquaintance with McLuhan and days and evenings spent at his modest Wells Hill house, full of children basking in the ambience of parental affection. Mrs. Corinne McLuhan, the very ideal of a mother and wife and handsome McLuhan children all flitted across my memory screen. I had become quite fond of the youngest two, Elizabeth and Michael [twins]. I did not myself realize that all the McLuhan children had now overgrown the need and care of their parents and were discovering the world on their own, away from the family home. A deeper glimpse into Marshall’s fatherly heart was provided two days later when I visited McLuhans’ new house at Wychwood. It was a part of an excluded estate, though right in the city of Toronto. It was large and certainly graceful an abode. But, inside it was empty, and curiously I recognized the old drapes I had seen at their old Wells Hill house. Marshall put on a record and went inside to get me drink.  Mrs. McLuhan looked at the drapes and whispered to me:“Marshall can’t get used to new things. I can’t change these old drapes.” McLuhan children had gone away but the old drapes remained to give him the feeling of family togetherness, I thought to myself. 

                                                             Insight 

McLuhan took me on a tour of his new locality. It had more than eighty Spanish style villas and bungalows on a beautifully landscaped piece of land with sinuous walkways and a narrow stream flowing. We walked up and down and talked as we went along. Suddenly, McLuhan stopped. He drew my attention to the house we were passing by and asked me to regard the house carefully. Then he said: “Do you find this house any different from other houses here?” I replied: “Yes, this house is a variation on the modern, matchbox style.” McLuhan hummed a little tune and said: “Is it not funny?”  The  only  couple  seeking divorce in this neighbourhood live in this house.”  Well, sense or nonsense but the form of space we live in does affect our social, cultural and family behaviour. 

The only time I saw Marshall McLuhan drive a car turned out for me an occasion to remember. I had gone to his Centre for Culture and Technology and was much surprised to see him seated in the driver’s seat outside the building. The only other occupant in the front seat was Barrington Nevitt, the Canadian Civil Servant with whom Marshall was co-authoring their book The Executive Drop-Out. I hopped into the back seat without knowing where we were going. We had hardly hit the road when McLuhan raised a question: “Of all the Asian countries, why Japan alone took to rapid industrialization?” Thoughtlessly, I happened to say: “Because the Japanese have to import food”. McLuhan jammed the brakes and brought the car to a halt. He looked back to me and said: “You have solved an eighteen year old problem for me”. Then he reversed the car, called Mrs. Margaret Steward, his Secretary, and got my remark noted to her. 

McLuhan was a philosopher of insights rather than of ideas. Consciousness and not merely knowledge was the field of his perception. He found poetry and art more dependable sources of environmental understanding. McLuhan’s response to human sensibility was not merely conceptual or bookish as I discovered one cold January morning- the day I had to defend my thesis on T.S. Eliot. The university had invited Professor Rajan, an Indian, to be on the Board of Examiners. As arranged between us, I reached McLuhan’s office from where we were to proceed to the Examination Room together. I found McLuhan waiting for me shivering in a terylene suit I had never seen him wear before. He did not even put on his overcoat and started to walk with me. Surprised, I stopped and said: “What happened to your tweeds?” Tweeds were his habitual winter wear. The shivering McLuhan replied: “I didn’t want to hurt Professor Rajan’s tropical sensibility”. We ran to the other side of the campus and sought shelter in the heated building of the Graduate School. McLuhan went in and I awaited to be called for examination. 

As I entered the room, I looked at the august representation of scholarship collectively and individually. I looked at Professor Rajan and immediately turned to McLuhan. He concealed a smile from me. In the solemn atmosphere of high academic stance I could also only suppress my laughter. Professor Rajan had turned out in heavy tweeds, in spite of his “tropical sensibility”. 

One day I asked McLuhan to lunch at Daniel Wilson Residence, University College where I was a Don. The University College had several anti-McLuhanites. McLuhan’s Understanding Media was then creating “history and hysteria”. After lunching at the High Table we went to the Senior Common Room for coffee. The hour passed by quietly. As soon as McLuhan left the scene, some of my colleagues joined me and started talking about my guest of the afternoon. One of them said; “McLuhan ought to have PRs”, to make him acceptable to the academe. Another said: “I thought he already had PR’s working for him or else how could he have the few friends that he has….” 

Oscar Wilde, himself a celebrity once remarked: “A worse thing than being talked about is not being talked about.” I reflected on this observation. How lucky I was to have known McLuhan before he became a celebrity. Surely, understanding McLuhan has been more enriching for me than understanding Media. 

           ===========The End—–Dr. Jitendra Kumar Sharma======

 

 

 

 

 

No Indian can murder a Britisher, A short story by Jitendra Kumar Sharma

We grew up in this town but feel so very alien during this short visit.

My brother Trevor and I had come back to Karnal to sell our bunglow, next to Liaqat Ali Khan [now Pakistan’s Prime Minister]’s sprawling Estate. How soon the scene has changed!  The Liaqat estate has been converted into Dayal Singh College. No white Angrez can be seen here now. Yet, only a decade ago, a score of them dominated this mofussil town.

 Both Liaqat Ali and my father Lawrence Sanders practiced in the District Cou

No Indian can murder a Britisher

BY  Jitendra Kumar Sharma 

It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had got puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back….

and ruminated: We grew up in this town but feel so very alien during this short visit.

My brother Trevor and I had come back to Karnal to sell our bunglow, next to Liaqat Ali Khan [now Pakistan’s Prime Minister]’s sprawling Estate. How soon the scene has changed!  The Liaqat estate has been converted into Dayal Singh College. No white Angrez can be seen here now. Yet, only a decade ago, a score of them dominated this mofussil town.

 Both Liaqat Ali and my father Lawrence Sanders practiced in the District Courts at Karnal and were frequent visitors to each other’s house. The Four o’clock tea and game of tennis was a daily ritual that brought them together. In the club, they drank and played cards. And, of course, in the courts they often faced each other.

Liaqat Ali was a typical Indian zamindar[landlord] and kept the plebeians at bay. My father did not consider all locals as vulgar. He argued their cases and mixed with them socially, though seldom concealed from them his sense of racial superiority.

Among his favorites was Wazir Ali. My father called him Wazi. Sometimes, he intentionally called him Baji. Many Indians were unable to say Wazi, including the Magistrate Gokul Dass, who called Wazir, Bajeer. My father would, at times when he was in a more jovial mood, hail Wazi as Bajeer imitating Gokul Dass’s accent and pronunciation and both laughed in guffaws.

My father always spoke Urdu with his local acquaintances and was popular among them. He often appeared before Gokul Dass and won cases for his native clients. Gokul Dass was known for showing servile deference toward my father and seldom gave a verdict against him. Was it because my father belonged to the British ruling class? Greater the notoriety of Gokul Dass for his  servility toward my father, higher the demand for my father as a surefire winner of cases in the Magistrate Gokul Dass’ court!

During the Monsoon, Wazir came wearing a two-and-half maund  bori [a jute bag that can hold 100 ser of grain], an improvised rain coat to protect himself and his modest kameez pyjama and waistcoat against the raining clouds. He would walk laggardly all the way but from the outer phatak gate he would rush at full speed to our verandah and pretend shivering. He would get a hot cup of tea, English style, as a reward for his sprint.

After the tea, he would invariably ask my father, “Sahib, which is the best season of Hindostan?” Even before my father answered “The Monsoon season”, Wazi would put his next question, “And Sahib, which is the worst season of Hindostan”? Both he and my father would together say it in unison, “The rainy season!”

Why did we choose to come during the rains, if the purpose was to sell the house? It was not the best time to find customers.  In fact, the house had already been sold. Before handing it over to the buyer, we wanted to relive a few days of childhood and remember our father in his house. Rains he loved and mangoes and the koel. He used to mimic the koel’s voice and throw mango parties. We remembered and we wept as we recalled the past. Again and again.

Trevor had not returned. It was thundering and raining cats and dogs. The muddy stream of rainy water was rising, swelling and freely entering the neglected vast garden from all sides.  What was a puddle a while ago, now looked like a veritable pond. The boundary wall was already falling in several place. Flooding water was attacking it like a hungry tiger attacks and gnaws at a gentle cow!

 And then this soft knock at the door. From the knock I knew it was not my brother. Trevor’s door knocking is rhythmic. There was subdued rudeness in this soft knock. I did not open the door. The knock became persistent and I heard a familiar native voice. “Kholo, baby, main hoon” [Open, baby, it’s me].The voice sounded familiar yet it had a far and fearful tone. As the knock became louder and ruder, bolder became   my resolve to ignore it. Now the knocking stopped. And, also the rain.

The silence was even more frightening than the knocking. I turned to go to the balcony and shuffled the window drape to see if the knocker was leaving. Before I could look through the window pane, knocking resumed. It was louder but there was no hint of breaking open the door. I returned to the easy chair my father used to nap in with his long legs stretched over its long arms. I was getting used to the noise and nuisance the knocker was inflicting on me.

I heard two voices now exchanging greetings. “I have come to see you Chhotey Sahib and baby Miss”. Trevor was back. His familiar, rhythmic knocking was reassuring. He gently said, “It’s me, Christine”. I jumped toward the door, and swiftly unbolted it.

I opened the door and looked intently at the strangely familiar face. The man was tall and slender with grey eyes. His build and mustaches were just like my father’s. I found myself resisting from embracing him. Did I not know that my father was dead? Nor was it a ghost because my brother was standing by him. Before I could get puzzled, Trevor said, “The College Principal had detained me for a chat. He wants to go to UK for doing a doctorate and wanted me to suggest the right university he ought to apply, etc……”.

Turning to the familiar stranger and looking at me, he said, “Do you recognize Wazir Ali?” I did and we all three sat talking about the past. He was no longer his former self. Instead of his peculiar gusto, guilt spewed from his voice. Or, did I only sense so?

In the old days, Wazi had engaged my father as a defence lawyer and continued to visit our house even after my father had won his case in Gokul Dass’s court. There was a striking resemblance between Wazi and my father, both in temperament and physique but for Wazir Ali’s slightly less white complexion. Were they drawn together because of their odd resemblance?

My father preferred to discuss politics with Wazir Ali rather than with Liaqat Ali who had become a hard-boiled politician.

Father also played Halma with Wazir Ali and with no one else. My father had taught him this board game. Wazi played Halma excitedly, skillfully and was unrestrained in his elation over winning a game. He forgot all about his racial inferiority   whenever he beat my father in a game of Halma. My father did not like to lose a case in the courts, much less a game of Halma.

My brother and I watched them play under the canopy of the mango tree, a servant in livery swaying a large palm-leaf fan to keep the flies and mosquitoes away from the two dedicated players. Wazi wore a red Turkish fez and, on some festive occasions, a formal black achkan [a buttoned up long coat], and white chooridars. My father at home wore casual clothes, often a sarong and sandals but that did not detract from his superiority.

Indoors, Wazir Ali always took off his shoes and left them outside the drawing room. He was consciously respectful to my father at the beginning of their Halma game but he became less respectful as the game progressed. They argued volubly, loudly and reached moments of equality but never for long. My mother, however, thought Wazir frequently exceeded his social limits and was insolent toward my father. Anyway, game over, they sat relaxed over whiskey and cigareetes. Wazi was a stout Muslim; he neither drank nor smoked.

After the game, Wazi and my father launched into a long, wide ranging discussion. Local affairs, law suits, intrigues, politics, culture, philosophy, religions. Transitions from one topic to another were seamless. Neither of them was committed to any belief or cause and freely changed stance and reversed their positions on any point of argument. Often Wazi would start with his anti-Raj tirade and end up praising it when he saw my father becoming too critical of the British Rule in India.

They conversed in Urdu. Wazi, though not a lawyer, was a munshi, nonetheless and argued with great fervor. He didn’t care for winning or losing his point of argument. He simply and zestfully argued endlessly. My father became jittery, sarcastic, witty, if he felt he was losing. If he was winning, he was cool, grandiose, condescending. Not so much my father’s arguments but his unpredictable show of condescension or hauteur irked and galled Wazi enormously.

To me and my kid brother, our vicarious pleasure at watching Wazir Ali and Lawrence Sanders play and argue seemed never ending and timeless. We hoped it would never end. But, like all things, it did and before our eyes.

One rainy day, we all sat in the veranda. In one corner, Wazi and my father, Halma board between them, looked at each other intently. Suddenly, my father got up and laid himself back in the long chair. He inclined into it as he always did, his back resting at the chair’s enormous back and his long legs spread out over its long arms. Wazi  kept  sitting  on  his  cushioned game chair. He repeatedly spied the winning and defeated Halma men still arrayed on the board. A sly smile danced on his mustaches as he twirled them with ineluctable glee. Wazi abruptly laughed and his laughter became uncontrollable.

My father found himself in a fit of rage. Wazi’s laughter was outrageous and insulting. All the more so, because he had won game after game.

Looking disparagingly at Wazi, he said, “The Rajputs  at Chittor in 1303 gave that damned Allaudin Khillji a run for his Sultanate?”

There was no context for this historical reminder. His intent was simply to insult Wazir Ali, the proud Mussalman who regarded his ancestors as the true predecessors of the British Rulers of India. Even we children understood that and felt that his defeat and aching pride had made my father burst out  with this impertinent  sally.

Wazi laughed derisively and riposted. “The Rajputs burnt their women and perished on the conqueror’s spear”

My father: “Rajputs were chivalrous”

Wazi: “Chivalrous, my foot!” and excitedly and rashly he blurted, “Had I been chivalrous today, you would have won the game”.

Fire descended in my father’s eyes! “You bastard! Get out of here”

No sooner had Wazi  gone a few steps than my father sharply pulled his sandal dangling in his right foot and threw at the departing guest. It hit him on his head.

Wazi turned back, picked the hurled shoe from the ground and surprisingly put it back in my father’s foot. Then he stood and glared at my father. Silently and coolly he pulled out a big knife from inside his deep pocket, and with full force he thrust it into my father’s thorax. My father groaned and was dead. We rushed toward our dying, dead father. We did not see when Wazi slinked away. Later we heard he was absconding and police had registered a case of murder against him. Some said, he had joined the Ahrars or Razakars, anti-British rebel organizations. He remained a fugitive and eluded justice.

My mother had never liked India. She took us to England by the first boat we could get for boarding at Bombay port. We lost track of Wazi and also interest in him. We kept hearing that he was under trial in Gokul Dass’s court who had become  the District and Sessions Judge of Karnal.

India was being ruled by Indians now!

Today, on this rainy day, Wazi was produced before Judge Gokul Dass who was to retire that very afternoon. He pronounced his judgment. Lawyers and some lower staff and lawyers’ munshis had crowded the Gokul Dass’ Court. They talked among themselves of old days when my father, Lawrence Sanders, practiced in these District Courts. “Wazir Ali will surely go to the gallows”, some said it loudly. There were whispers: “Sanders’ ghost must be haunting Gokul Dass”,

“The Judge will break his pen’s nib and write his last judgment- convicted for cold blooded murder of an English man. Hang the guilty by neck until …”.

The above details Wazi himself told me and my brother. He  had walked straight from Gokul Dass’s court  to our house. He said because of rain the civil courts were deserted and several lawyers and munshis told him that we were in Karnal to sell the Sanders Villa.

This is what he told us:

 “In a moment of remorse, I had surrendered to the police. I wanted to be hanged like all murderers should. But strange are the ways of Fate and/or of the Judges. I confessed to murdering Sanders Sahib but Gokul Dass set aside all evidence and my confession too. He who had always felt the lordly presence of Sanders Sahib in the court, took only a few minutes in setting me at liberty.

‘No Indian can murder a Britisher, only the British killed and can kill Indians’. It was so unlike Judge Gokul Dass to write and pronounce such a judgment. He even pronounced my name correctly. He called me WAZIR, NOT BAJEER!”

Wazi  got up from the sofa , spread out his arms, knelt down and put  his right hand on my brother Trevor’s knee and mumbled with a gulp in his throat, “ Gokul Dass has not freed me Sahib, he has condemned me to die every waking moment. Sahib and Baby Miss, Never Forgive Me. I beseech you, never forgive me”.

He prostrated himself, then stood up and silently departed from the scene. 

===The End====

A Game of Chess A Play in Three Acts based on Munshi Prem Chand’s Story “Shatranj Ke Khilari”

ame of Chess in Three Acts by  Jitendra Kumar Sharma, M.A. [U of Toronto], Ph.D.  [Marshall McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology, University of Toronto], Canada

This version is for publication.

                              A Game of Chess

A Play in Three Acts based on Munshi Prem Chand’s Story “Shatranj Ke Khilari”

Original Script written by Dr. Jitendra Kumar Sharma, formerly of Toronto, Guelph and McGill Universities. Firsty performed in Canada at University of Guelph.

            Dr. Sayeed Alam’s  Stage  and Film Version

Reduced 104- minute Stage and Film Version prepared by Dr. Sayeed Alam, well-known Theatre Director, who will direct the film and the play. His version of the play shall be performed both in India and abroad, especially in Canada. Production arrangements are currently underway.

 

                            Persons in the play 

  1. Mir Roshan Ali     
  2. Begum Roshan Ali
  3. Mirza Sajad Ali
  4. Begum Sajad Ali
  5. Sitara , a maid and home companion  to Begum Roshan Ali
  6. A soldier

 

                     Time and Place of action of the play

 

                           Late eighteenth century Kingdom of Agra in India

 

                                           Afternoon on a certain day         

Act I, Scene  1……Mir Roshan Ali’s mansion on the outskirts of Agra City. The chess room and adjacent bed chamber  

                               The  following   day

 

Act 2, Scene 1.   A   drawing  room in Mir Roshan Ali’s mansion.

 

Scene 2………  Scene   is  the same as in Act 1, Evening

 

Act 3.   ………  inside a ruined mosque near the city of Agra

 

 

       ====End of Character and Scene  descriptions ====                  

 

                           Setting  of the Play

 Setting of the play is in the  capital city of the dwindling kingdom  of Agra  in the late 18th century India when the British East India Company was expanding its  commercial and political interests. The native rulers of small principalities were consuming the last drops of the aged wine of their cellars. The wine and song inside the palaces presented a contrast to the blood and boom of guns on the battle fields. The shrewd directors of the East India Company had now known the secret of the fabulous Ind. The prince and the pauper alike were drowned in the mood of drowsiness. It was the afternoon of a once glorious culture. It was the time of Wajid Ali Shah whose taste and palate had transformed life into a fine art. No people would ever explore the possibilities of leisure as did the Royal Wajid Ali Shah and his ‘loyal’ subjects.

 

The story here is of two such loyal subjects of the great king , Mirza Roshan Ali and Mirza Sajad Ali.The fabulous  oriental game of chess can devour hours, days, years and also homes and kingdoms. Mir and Mirza had discovered the power of chess, the time-killer. They lived for chess and literally died for   chess. 

 

                                      Act    One

 

The scene is laid  in a mogul mansion in the capital city of the dwindling kingdom of Agra. The mansion is an epitome of the decadence of the late eighteenth century India. As the curtain rises, Mir Roshan Ali is seen lying in a huge bed by the side of his wife. A maid servant is swinging a huge fan which hangs against the deep ceiling. His wife is asleep but Mir Roshan Ali is restless. Finally, he stops pulsating in bed and quietly leaves the bed and putting his fingers against his mouth tiptoes toward the next room indicating to the maid servant not to move nor stir.

 

In the next room on the floor, on a very low table, is set a half-finished game of chess. There are reclining big pillows and a golden pitcher of wine and some silver utensils. As Mir proceeds toward the centre of the room,he sees  his bosom friend Mirza, barefooted and tiptoe advancing toward the chess board. They rush toward each other and without any verbal expression embrace each other and together head toward the chess board, each pressing his fingers  against his mouth emphasizing the importance of keeping silence lest the wife of Mir Roshan Ali gets awakened from her afternoon siesta and spoils their game.

 

 

Mir [settling down on the rug and in whispers]: How did you get back into my house?

 

Mirza: Your guards seem to have  had   a good  dose of opium. They are in the seventh heaven and I am back here in the chess room [both warmly shake hands and let out   a big silent laugh ending into suppressed  silent  squeal; and, then suddenly become serious and get engaged in examining the chess board].

 

Mir: I wish I could find the men who invented the quilt and the chess. I will reward them with all my possessions.

 

Mirza: You are right , Mir. After quilt and chess, I wonder that this world still has problems. Man loves problems. Problems satisfy his pride.

 

Mir: The Quilt and Chess, great inventions!

 

Mirza: Comfort while asleep [points to the bed room] and endless curiosity   while awake [points to Mir and himself and the chess board]. What else does a man need?

 

Mir: The  quilt  and chess are like woman;  they always leave you unsatisfied. You always want more and more of them.

 

Mirza: Well said, Mir.

 

Mir: God made woman; man made the quilt and chess.

Mirza; Woman is good for solitude; as Omar Khayam says: A jug of Wine and a Loaf of bread and Thou/ Oh, what  was  wilderness is Paradise now!

 

Mir: Yes, in wilderness. But in civilization, we need more. Something more than woman,  Mirza. Comfort  while asleep, curiosity while awake. Endless comfort, endless curiosity, Mirza. Did you ever think of that?

 

Mirza: No, But I do know that chess sharpens the human wit [indicates a move on the board]

 

Mir: It is the best training for a young prince who wishes to be a good and successful ruler.

 

Mirza: If more rulers played the game of chess, there would be no wars.

 

Mir: All rulers must  make  chess playing compulsory for their subjects. Tell me why?

 

Mirza: There will be no uprisings.

 

Mir: You are absolutely right.

 

Mirza: Look, Mir, how our wits have sharpened!

 

Mir: This is all because of our devotion to chess, Mirza. Playing chess is a great sublimation of man’s ignoble instincts.

 

Mirza: It is good for the prince and the pauper alike.

 

Mir: If more people played chess there will be absolutely no problem of unemployment. The trouble with the modern world is that it does not know how to make use of leisure.

 

Mirza: People are bored and they cry for death.

 

Mir: How amusing? They cannot find even what has already been discovered.

 

Mirza: Nothing like a game of chess, Mir. No physical fatigue and total personal involvement.

 

Mir: Chess cements friendships.

 

Mirza: We are the living examples of that.

 

Mir: To chess we owe our common agonies and ecstasies, Mirza.

 

Mirza: When the entire country is torn with strife, we still can keep our peace of mind.

 

Mir: Thanks to chess.

 

Mirza: Chess is our life.

 

Mir: Chess is our youth.

 

Mirza: Chess is our wisdom.

 

Mir: Chess is the sum of our profit and loss!

 

Mirza: Chess is our everlasting inspiration.

 

Mir: Chess is our shield against all vices.

 

Mirza: Chess has made us good husbands and fathers.

 

Mir: Chess has made us love our homes.

 

[ On the other  part of the stage, Begum, Mir’s wife seems to have woken up. She summons the maid, Sitara, by a gesture of hand and in whispering tones gives her some directions. The maid  listens to her and then at once starts in the direction of the chess room. Mirza, who is seated so as to be facing the entrance door from  the Begum’s bed room sees her while entering and gets interrupted in his speech by her discomforting presence]

 

Mirza: Chess…..[cant utter further any word]

 

Sitara, [the maid servant, addressing Mir]: My Lord, Begum Sahiba wants  you  inside.

 

Mir: [ is busy  contemplating  his next move]. What? [ he says this to himself, ignoring the maid’s message and makes  his move and  says to Mirza] Mirza, it is your move.

 

Mirza: [keeps looking at the maid and Mir by turns]

 

Sitara, [the maid servant to Mir  once again says]: Begum Sahiba wants you inside, my Master.

 

Mir: I have heard you. Now go in and tell Begum Sahiba that I am coming. And, listen, do not come here again. Mirza, it is your move.

 

Mirza: I see, so here is my move [makes his move]

 

Mir [to Sitara]: Now go in and let me make up my mind for the next move.

 

[Sitara exits and  reaching  the next room whispers to Begum Roshan Ali]:

 

Mirza: Why don’t you just go in for a  minute. I am prepared to wait. Begum may have something urgent to say.

 

Mir: This is for the first time you have shown such a touching regard for my wife, Mirza. And, I know the reason!

 

Mira: And, what is the reason?

 

Mir [in a cunning voice]: You are losing the game.

 

Mirza [ rises]: You have a sinister mind, Mir [he stands rigidly erect]. I was only observing courtesy toward the Lady of the House whose generous hospitality makes me feel so humble, indeed.

 

Mir: And, indeed save your own Begum, Mirza [removes the queen from the chess board and makes a face at Mirza]

 

Mirza: It is not fair; you are taking advantage of my distraction

 

[maid servant Sitara enters  once again and makes a bow]

 

Sitara [ to Mir]: My Lord, Begum says she has a headache and would like you to come in.

 

Mir: Tell Bgum that I will be with her instantly. [maid exits]. [to Mirza]: It is your move, Mirza. What are you waiting for?

 

Mirza: Why cant you just go in and listen to your wife. I hope you  know  that women have delicate temper.

 

Mir: Particularly when Mirza is facing a delicate situation on the chess board.

 

Mirza: You seem to have absolutely no regard for your wife!

 

Mir: Why don’t you take your next move, Mirza. My wife has borne with me  full thirteen years  of most harmonious matrimony and nothing pleases her more than my beating you over a game of chess.

 

Mirza: I will not move. I do not wish to be the cause of destruction of your matrimonial harmony.

 

Mir: Oh, I cannot bear your sincerity, Mirza. Please make your move.

 

Mirza: I will not move till you go in and properly attend to your domestic duties.

I do care for my friends’ happiness much more than the mere pleasure of an  idle  game of chess.

 

 

[Sitara, the maid servant, enters once again]

 

 

Sitara: My Master,  Begum wants you in just for a moment.

 

Mir: Yes, yes, I shall be there instantly. Tell Begum that Mirza is in trouble. Mirza’s troubles are always good for Begum’s headache. That I know for sure. Go quickly, Sitara and tell Begum.

                           [Sitara exits]

 

Mirza: I warn you Mir; your malice against me will prove the ruin of your home. You go in and speak to your dear wife.

 

Mir: I am saying it for the last time, Mirza. [With anger], you make your move and leave my wife to me.

 

Mirza: And I too am saying for the last time that you go in before I make my move [with pretended anger]. I am capable of making sacrifices, Mir. I care for your happiness more than I care for my pleasure [he moves away from the chess board]

 

Mir: I will not go in till you make your move.

 

Mirza: [With very cool mind] Please, Mir, do not be so stubborn. This is no light matter. I do not wish to fall in your wife’s eyes. She has always had noble thoughts about me and now I do not want her to believe that I am keeping you from her. Even for a moment!

 

Mir: [Cynically] I know of her noble  thoughts  about you. You make your move.

 

Mirza: [Even with cooler mind and with extreme persuasiveness]  You are being childish Mir. I have seen homes ruined by flimsier things than chess and it is with a deep understanding of these matters that I beseech you to go in and listen to your gracious wife.

 

Mir: And with equal understanding of chess, I beseech you Mirza, to make your move.

 

Mirza: [pretending to laugh] Please  go in and we shall resume our game when you come back.

 

Mir: I know perfectly well why you are so eager  for me to go in.

 

Mirza: Because I am deeply concerned  about your welfare. What other reason can I have?

 

Mir: The other reason and the only reason is that one more move from you and I have the checkmate. So you want me to go in so that you can change the configuration on the board [in complaining tones].Mirza, you have played this trick with me many time but I will not allow you to befool me this time. I do not care if my wife has headache or not. You make your move.

 

Mirza: How low you can stoop? You can blow both friendship and domestic bliss to pieces in a single instant. You dirty soul, you are capable of hurting people   in their tenderest spots.

 

Mir: The only place I mean to hurt is your queen on the chess board and now if you will please make your move, for Heaven’s sake.

 

Mirza: I know my moves. Chess   has been a part of our family legacy. Our family has been playing chess for at least ten generations.

 

Mir: Do not drag family’s name, I request you, Mirza. Let the souls of our forefathers rest in peace.

 

Mirza: Why, I am proud of my family and its traditions. Chess has always been a special mark of the family of the Mirzas. The whole world knows this.

 

Mir: And a tradition does come to an end at some point in time.

 

Mirza: What are you suggesting?

 

Mir: Nothing in particular. Only an observation on the rise and  fall of traditions.

 

Mirza: You very well know that chess is synonymous with the honour of the Mirzas.

 

Mir: You are doing very little to uphold that honour at this moment, Mirza!

 

Mirza:You are only an upstart in the aristocracy of chess. Your forefathers never knew a knight from a pawn.

 

Mir:I warn you, Mirza. Keep this family business out of all this. I will not tolerate anything said against my ancestors.

 

Mirza: The lack of chess tradition in your family is betrayed in your lack of chess manners. The game of chess is a battle of wits, my friend. Wit is not something you can acquire in one generation. It takes at least five generations before the special chess wit begins to form. I do not blame you for being such a poor player. After all, your ancestors had so little regard for the royal   game.

 

Mir: You are definitely crossing the limits of decency.

 

Mirza: I am pointing out your limitations and certain causes of those limitations which a sincere friend may always be expected to do.

 

Mir:You may do that some other time. At this moment, you will oblige me by moving your knight or admit defeat.

 

Mirza: Generations of family chess have given me not only sharp wit but also patience. An impatient man like you can never be a good player of chess.

 

Mir: I will show you in a minute whether I am any good at chess or not if you make your move.

 

Mirza: You are incapable of being graceful while asking your chess mate for a favour. But that is not your fault. Your family….

 

Mir: [interrupting in anger] For God’s sake, cut that out, Mirza. I seek no favours.                                                                                                      I only ask for fairness.

 

Mirza: Chess manners like morals are handed down from generation to generation. It is not your fault, Mir.

                                                   

Mir: Mirza, I am determined not to let you make use of my temper. Many times you have made me lose the game by making me lose my temper. I will not let it happen this time. I am not going to kick off the chess board as you made me do yesterday, if this is what you are hoping for.  I am prepared to wait till eternity if you so wish. I will not leave this game till you have made your move. I will refuse to lose my temper even if you decide to smear me with the dung of the holiest of hogs.

 

Mirza: [with even temper]. For Allaha’s sake, what language, Mir! You do no honour to your family by using  such foul language, my dear Mir.

 

Mir: You are here not to take care of my manners but to play a fair game of chess. And this is the  last thing  I have to  say on the subject.

 

Mirza: You mean I have absolutely no right to remind  you  of your duty as a husband? I refuse to submit to your wish then, Mir. I must  insist  that you show  proper  respect to your wedded wife. I insist that you do not  implicate me in your  family dissensions. I insist that you do not make your playing with me an excuse for a perpetual neglect of your wife.

 

Mir: You are keeping me from my wife by not moving your queen. The game would have been over had you made your move the first time I had   requested you  to do so. I would have been with my wife and as a matter of fact we would have been set  for our next game by now.  You just cant avoid the checkmate any more; why cant you just admit defeat [there is  desperation  in his voice]

 

Mirza: [With extreme coolness] Mir, your wife has a headache and you must go in to prove  that you are a loving husband and that  her headache  has completely upset  you and you are  no longer able to play with me. I am giving you a lifetime’s chance to prove to your wife that you love her more than you love chess!

 

Mir: She seems to have headache only when I am about to win the game. An headache is not a serious matter, any way!

 

Mirza: A woman’s headache under certain circumstances can be a very serious matter, my dear Mir. You better go in [he says it  making a serious face]. Instead

of removing the pain of her head you are causing pain to her heart.

 

Mir: No force of your rhetoric will make me budge from my place. You make your move and then alone will I go in.

 

Mirza: And this is your final determination.

 

Mir: By God, it is.

 

Mirza: [ has seen the maid  coming once again. He looks  at Mir and smiles in a sly manner and then with a gesture of his hand amusingly  turns  Mir’s attention to the maid who is  advancing  toward them, Mir  being unable to see her  enter as he is having his back toward the bed room entrance]. May God grant you strength to fulfill your  determination.

 

Mir: [looks back and is completely annoyed  at the maid’s presence; he shouts at her even before she has begun speaking to him]. Why do you come here to disturb us? Didn’t I tell you not to come here?

 

Maid Sitara: My Lord, Begum says if you do not go in she will come to the chess room and…[she stops discreetly]

 

[There is silence for a while. Mirza begins tapping his fingers in contemplative amusement]

 

Mirza [Very politely and in even tones]: You remember the last time your wife visited the chess room, my dear Mir.

 

Mir [With desperation] Shut up.

 

Mirza: Only I wanted to revive your memory of the great event.

 

Mir: God, will you shut up?

 

Mirza: I wish to know if your wife is coming to the chess room. If so, I better run for my life.

 

Mir:[More desperately]. Do not mock at my fate, Mirza. I know there no  limit to your  meanness; I know you thrive on other people’s troubles. [to Sitara, the maid] Tell your Mistress I will be with her presently [the maid runs away; Mir now turns to Mirza]. Mirza [ with a very cool mind and  lowered  voice], Mirza.

 

Mirza: Yes, what  do you want to say?

 

Mir: Oh, never mind.. leave me  alone.

 

Mirza: You distrust me so, don’t you?

 

Mir: Oh, leave all this and listen to me.

 

Mirza: Yes, you can open your heart to me without any fear or suspicion, my dear Mir.

Mir [Very politely] Mirza, it appears I will have to go in

 

Mirza: This is what I have been telling you all along.

 

Mir: And I know why you have been telling me this all along.

 

Mirza: And, why?

 

Mir: Because you would like to make a few changes on the chess board.

 

Mirza: [Pretending to lose temper] Oh, you despicable, mean fellow. This much faith you have in my honesty and sincerity as a friend?

 

Mir: I have not questioned your honesty nor your sincerity as a friend, Mirza.

But  you always  like to win and for winning you will do  any thing!

 

Mirza: All right, then, sit right here. Let your wife come here and wreck our beautiful game. I know, you do not care if she insults me but I have no desire to listening to her abuse. Like a gentleman, I will withdraw [he gets up to go away]

 

Mir: [Holding Mirza’s hand and pulling him down] Mirza, please try to understand. I have never wanted you to be insulted. You  know my wife’s temper and after that  wine-filled apology I had thought you had  forgotten and forgiven.

 

Mirza: I am not complaining about anything.

 

Mir: Good, then what makes  you leave   my house in such indecent haste?

 

Mirza:  I do not wish to be a witness to a humiliating scene and much less be forced to take part in it. My presence will add wild fire to your wife’s fury. She thinks I am  the cause  of all your ills while  the fact is I am your best  friend  and the only friend.

 

Mir:  This is a fact, I do admit. Please stay a while. I shall set everything in its place. I can play chess with no one but you. What greater compliment of friendship can you expect from me? Now, listen, this urgent moment calls for all the sagacity  and firm resolve . And, I have  to ask you  to promise…

 

Mirza: What promise?

 

Mir: Something very difficult for you to do or probably…

 

Mirza: Come out with it.

 

Mir: Mirza, I  will have to leave the chess room for a few minutes. I must go in and see my wife or you know the consequences for both of us. I have to urge you, in the name of Faith and God, not to remove the positions of the chessmen.

 

Mirza: You definitely hurt me, Mir. But  if this is what is holding you  from your wife I  will only  be glad  to put all your doubts at rest   [offering his hands] .Tie  these  hands if you have no  faith in me.

 

Mir: Mirza, I am deeply moved and am on the brink of tears. I will not do any such thing. I feel ashamed of myself, believe me. Now I must go in for a moment [he sees the maid coming once again and cries to her]. Just a moment. I will be right there. [to Mirza] Mirza, my need is your opportunity. Summon courage and the purest spirit of  friendship to keep your promise. May help you God!

 

[ As soon as Mir  leaves the room, Mirza begins to contemplate changes on the chess board. He is alerted by Mir’s sudden reappearance the very next moment]

 

Mirza: [Intently looking at Mir] You do not trust me!

 

Mir: I do , I do. I come to tell you something which has just struck me.

 

Mirza: And what is that?

 

Mir: It has slipped from my mind as suddenly as it had come; I am sorry. I must go.

 [ coming  closer to Mirza  and imploringly] Mirza.. your promise..

 

[Mirza goes after Mir  and licking his lips with his  tongue says] Promise.

[ and now Mirza returns to the chess board  and makes a few tentative changes, sometimes lifting the chess pieces and then putting them back again. The lights in the chess room begin to dim while in the Begum’s bed room they begin to brighten. Mirza now says to himself]: Now you can come back , Mir. I am all set [he removes himself toward  the hookah lying  nearby and smokes from it]. I have, after all, reason to feel grateful  to your wife; she is a friend in need…

 

Mir: [Mir is seen with his wife in their bed chamber on the other side  of  the stage. Mir’s wife is lying in the bed and throws a frowning look at her husband as he approaches her and says to her]: Begum, , you look like the Champa flower when you get up fresh  from sleep!

 

Begum: I have been awake all afternoon and have had not a wink of sleep.

 

Mir: Oh, I did not realize that you were awake. I thought you were resting.

 

Begum: I sent the maid a hundred times to call you. I have a splitting headache.

 

Mir: The disobedient creature; she didn’t  tell me even once It is time we look for  another aid, Begum. Impudent creature, this Sitara!

 

Begum: Chess has made you deaf, blind and senseless. You no more care who lives and who dies.

 

Mir: I hope you are not angry with me, Begum. How could I stay away from you had I known that you were not feeling well?

 

Begum: I know how much you care for me. Mirza and chess.. chess and Mirza. I am really getting fed up with all this. You will ruin the family, home and everything.

 

Mir: This Mirza is the very soul of a devil. He wont let me come in. “Just  one more minute, just  one more move”[Mir mimics Mirza]. I will kick him off my place one of these days. He has rendered me completely useless [goes near his wife and tries to touch her forehead]. Where does it ache, now?

 

Begum: No where. And do not touch me. Go to your chess and Mirza.

 

Mir: Do you really think I care two hoots for chess and Mirza?

 

Begum: Why do you not turn him out, then?

 

Mir: I will; yes, I have to get rid of Mirza.

 Begum: Does Mirza not have a family and children? Has he  wiped  them all out or  have they turned him out  of his own his house? Day in and day out, he is always here.

 

Mir: He is a real chess addict. Is’nt he?

 

Begum: [teasingly imitates her husband] Is’nt he?

 

Mir: Believe me, it is not my fault. He forces me to play all the time. But I have definitely resolved to say “no” to him next time. I really have, Begum.

 

Begum: Why do you not throw him out? He thinks every body is an idler like him.

 

Mir: Look, Begum [tries to be innocent]. It is not so easy. After all he is my senior in age as well as status. I have to show him respect even if it is for the sake of form only.

 

[Mirza now in the other room has left his hookah and has come closer to the wall which divides the two rooms. He is trying to listen to the conversation between Mir and Begum by putting his ear close to the wall]

 

Begum: All right, then, I will tell  him myself what both you and I think of him [  she makes a move toward the chess room]

 

Mir [Frantically]: No, no, no. I will not let you go in front of a stranger. Anger  should never make us forget our manners.

 

Begum: I do not care for manners. This chess is no good  for our family.

 

Mir: How is your headache?

 

Begum: Do not change the topic [she  once again tries to move in the direction of the chess room] I am going  right now and right away shall tell him that the doors of  this house are forever shut  for him.

 

Mir: No, no, no. You will never do that. I promise I will tell him myself. I will make it clear to him once for all that he has no business to teach me evil things. That I promise.

 

Begum: I also know this Mirza. Your words will have  no effect on him. Let me  go [she struggle to be released. Mir holds on tight to her]

 

Mirza [Meanwhile, Mirza  has overheard the threat. He swiftly turns to the chess board, has a good look on the re-arranged board  and then jumps  toward the door leading to the bed chamber and raps on it and says]: Mir, I am going for a walk in the garden. I will be  back in a few minutes. Please do not change the chess board [ Mirza hurriedly makes an exit  from the other door]

 

Mir [ to Begum]: Begum, you  must not  do it [ she is still struggling with Mir]. Control yourself. You will ruin the honour of my family if you insult my guest.

 

Begum: You have to decide whether you want me or your chess. I can no longer endure your tyranny [ she stops struggling and calls the maid  by name] ; Sitara, come here.

 

Sitara: Yes, my lady.

 

Begum: Go into the chess room and bring the chess board here. Go, what are you waiting for? Go, I say. Do not stand here like a statue [Begum shrieks at Sitara].

 

Mir [looking sternly at the maid servant] Don’t you dare go in there.

 

Sitara: [Unable to move or stop]. No, my Master, I will not.

 

Begum: Will you do as I say or do you want me to send you where you came from?

 

Sitara: I will obey you my, Lady.

 

Mir: You will obey me as long as you are in this house.

 

Begum [to Mir} She is not your servant. My parents gave her to me because they knew you did not have enough servants.

 

Mir [retaliating]: I have more servants than all your four brothers put together have.

 

Begum: Servants or pensioners. Lazy beggars.Opium eaters who  cannot stop a dog  from urinating in their foul  mouths.

 

Mir: Your language tells me that you have been keeping too much of their company.

 

Begum [She burst into tears] Oh, my father, I can no longer bear it. You have no right to dishnour me like this!

 

Mir: And you have no right to insult my servants. They are very loyal men.

 

Begum: I am sending for my brother and I am asking him to take me with him [to the maid] . Go and pack up. We are leaving this hell just now.

 

Sitara: Yes, my Lady [leaves the scene]

 

Mir: What is the use of losing temper like this? No one can separate us [holds her hands]. In my bosom there is an ocean of love for you [very softly]. Don’t  you  know that, my heart, my life?

 

Begum [Sobs] Mirza and chess are all you care for. I will go away and then you can invite Mirza to live with you and play chess day and night. I will not let you insult me any more. I will send for my brother and you can settle with him.

 

Mir: Will you consider forgiving me for once?  I am really sorry. I am full of remorse. From now on I will not play with Mirza. But you have to promise me one thing, Begum.

 

Begum [Sobbing and smiling]: I will promise you anything if you will tell Mirza not to bother you any more.

 

Mir: Promise then?

 

Begum [forwarding her hands] yes,  promise.

 

Mir: Sure.

 

Begum: Yes, sure.

 

Mir:  Don’t be angry with me because I do not intend to make you angry.

 

Begum: Just tell me what you want me to do.

 

Mir: All I want is that…..

 

Begum: Yes, what is that?

 

Mir:  Begum, please, never again threaten me  with inviting your brother to our house. I do not like him.

 

Begum: All men love their brothers-in-law  but you…..

 

Mir [Interrupting her]: Yes, I know that saying , “the whole world on one  side, wife’s  brother on the other side always weighs more in the  balance……

 

 

Begum: Then, why do you not like my brother?

 

Mir: For one thing he is too proud of his physical strength and doesn’t hesitate  to use  it on the slightest  excuse. If I have learnt anything from the game of chess, it  is  to use your brains to solve  your problems. He has blind faith  in the efficacy of violence. I do not like such people.

 

Begum: Was he ever violent with you?

 

Mir: No, no. Yes, I mean. But you don’t have to worry about that. I can answer  him in his own coin if he prefers that way. Last time he came here to defend your rights we had a little plain ….well, talk.

 

Begum:  Now I know.. now I know…why you spent  two days in the Turkish bath when my brother  came  to visit  us last year. That broken back of yours was not  the result of a fall while playing polo [she come near him, almost  embracing]. I am sorry.

 

Mir: What do you mean? I fell from the horseback and broke a few ribs.

 

Begum: You did break a few ribs.

 

Mir: Yes, because I chose the wildest horse. I like to ride wild horses.

 

Begum: But you like no violence

 

Mir: As a good Mussalman and as an honest member of the Mir family, violence  and  valour are part and parcel of my personality. Mohamed [ Peace be on him], the Prophet, established the supremacy of Islam with his bright, shining and invincible scimitar ; the  first Mir, my great grand father, founded  his dynasty on the slashing strength of  his Shamshir [ he becomes grotesquely mock-heroic in gesture and tone]. Both my faith and  family  have taught me the virtue of physical courage. The blood  of the Mirs is never afraid of the edge of steel. I want you  to know  this truth; I also  want  your brothers  and your whole family  know it; I will not tolerate any insult  to the name of my family.

 

Begum: Who has ever insulted you in my family? It is you who keep reminding  me of my  family’s smallness of estate, fewer  servants and horses and  no elephants.

 

Mir: Yes, I do because  I know how  jealous  your brothers are of  my good fortune and our noble family name. They cant stand the fact  that I have the freedom of the Royal Household and that the King of Agra is a friend  of mine and that he likes to play chess  with me.

 

Begum: It is not true.

 

Mir {mockingly imitating  her] It is not true; it is not true.

 

Begum: What  do  my  brothers  care for a king  whose kingdom will very soon be confined  to his own  house. A king  who cannot  protect  his people. A king  who  has surrendered more than half of his kingdom to the white monkeys from England; a king who remains drunk with wine and gets  undrunk  only to drink more wine. This is the  last  King  Agra will have. Everybody knows it. The cunning White Resident who  pretends to be the king’s friend is  planning  a sudden  invasion. Everybody knows it. Everybody but you.  You know it too but you always advise the king  not to fight with the British so that you may not  have to go to the battlefield. So that you can  play your  chess undisturbed.

 

Mir: I know how your brothers have poisoned  your ears, Begum. They think I am a coward. They are spreading  all kinds of rumours  against my king and me. They  are jealous  that I am one of the trusted commanders  of the  king’s armies. They cant stand it.

 

Begum [Mocking]: A commander  with nothing to command. Where are the king’s armies?

 

Mir: Why are you so sarcastic? I have never been indecent  to you. Your brothers are doing  no good  to you  by poisoning  you against  me. A woman should care for her husband  more than anything else. Even more than she cares for her country.

 

Begum: I do  care for you. I only wish to remind  you that  you are supposed to protect  this land  from the foreigner and that  you should not tell the king  not to fight  against the  white monkeys.

 

Mir: And, you think I am a fool. Begum, I know when to fight and when  not to fight. Why do you think I devote so much  time to chess these days? Chess  teaches  how to  win battles. I want  to outdo those  white monkeys at their cunning and scheming.

 

Begum: Your craze for chess will prove  ruin for us all.

 

Mir: This is what your brothers tell you. Begum, they are jealous of my brains. None of them has any brains so none  of them has any interest in chess.

 

Begum: Oh, I am fed up  with this  talk of brains.

 

Mir: This is true. Your brothers are doing everything  possible to destroy my name.

 

Begum: What have they done?

 

Mir:As if you do not know.

 

Begum:  How am I supposed  to know?


Mir: You really don’t.

 

Begum: I don’t ….. I don’t….. I don’t…..

 

 

Mir: They have  nicknamed me  The Chessboard Knight. And  I am  the joke  of the entire kingdom now.

 

Begum [she cant control her laughter] Oh, that ….

 

Mir: Even you think it is a laughing matter. Every insult hurled  upon me is a pleasure to you. Isn’t it?

 

Begum: The Kinght of  the Chessboard [she laughs again]

 

Mir: You have no feelings for me. Do you?

 

Begum: You really feel hurt by that joke?

 

Mir: Yes, I do.

 

Begum: But it was you who started it all.

 

Mir: Yes, because I am capable of laughing at myself. I have  a sense of humour. I  didn’t know that  the evil genius of your brothers will turn a private  joke into a public ridicule. Every child in the street  now calls me a chessboard soldier.

 

Begum: I hope  it will make you know what  your people want from you.

 

[Meanwhile, in the chess room , Mirza has  come back and, on listening  to the altercation going on between Mir and Begum which is now a bit cooled, he  decides to  call Mir back to  the game. With this  intention he goes toward the door  leading inside of the house and gestures  with his finger to call the maid; the maid  comes to the chess room]

 

Mirza: [Plays  with Sitara’s chin  briefly, gently slipping his hand  round Sitara’s chin and cheeks] Tell your Master that I have  come back  from my walk.

 

Maid [Goes to the bed chamber and addresses Mir] My Master, Mirza Sahib  has come back from his walk.

 

Begum: And why has he come back?

 

Maid: To finish  the game of chess, my Lady.


Begum: Tell  him to go out of this house [Mirza in the other  room listens to this remark by putting his ear close to  the wall and he jumps with horror at Begum’s words]

 

Maid: Yes, my Lady [she turns  to go]

 

Mir [to the maid] Stop. Take  some  wine for Mirza Sahib and tell him I will be  with him  in a moment’s time.

 

Maid: Yes, my Master.

 

Begum [to Mir]: What does he want now?

 

Mir: Probably he wants me  to finish the game left  unfinished because of your headache. Didn’t you hear the maid?

 

Begum: You are not going to leave me.

 

Mir: Why?

 

Begum: Because I still have  headache.

 

Mir: Oh, this is maddening. You and Mirza  have decided to wreck my nerves. This is our last  game for today and I must go and finish it.

 

Begum: You will not go and never finish it.

 

Mir: Why?

 

Begum: Because I will go and finish both Mirza and  the game.

 

[Meanwhile, the maid  has reached the other room  carrying a jug of wine. She  finds  Mirza putting his ear close to the wall and overhearing  the  argument  between  Begum and Mir. He  eagerly looks  at the maid and the wine and running toward her picks up a glass and pours  himself a glassful  and gulps it down his throat and then with a hasty motion of his  right  arm and right hand he wipes his mouth; and then he addresses the maid]

 

Mirza: Tell your Master that I have gone for another  walk and would  be back shortly.

 

Maid [to Mirza]: Yes, my  lord!

 

[ In the bed chamber, begum and Mir are ready for another round of fight, a decisive one]

 

Mir: Why do you feel so great a hatred for Mirza? He always  has had  the  highest  thoughts  about you. In fact, it was he  who insisted that I  should  leave the game  and see you first!

 

Begum: You means you didn’t want to come to see me yourself!

 

Mir: You put your own meanings in my words. Cant  I expect a moment of  peace in this house?

 

Begum: You will have no peace until you  throw away the chess board  from this house.

 

Mir [ In firm tone] I will not  throw away the chess board from this house.

 

Begum [Equally emphatic]: Then  I will do it [she rushes  towards  the chess room]

 

Mir: [Tries  to stop her by holding  her arms] Don’t overturn the chess board, Begum. You will destroy my first chance of winning against  Mirza. I am really going to win this game.

 

Begum:[Struggling] You leave me alone.

 

Mir: You are bent upon humiliating  me before Mirza. He will tell it  to every one how  you treat me.

 

Begum: I do not care.

 

Mir: You have gone mad [he trembles with anger]

 

Begum: You have turned me into mad woman.

 

Mir: If you go into the chess room, you  will see my death.

 

Begum [Rushes  toward the chess  room; she stops on the threshold and  then seeing that Mirza is not there goes right  in  and kicks the chess board off the floor. The chessmen are scattered all over. Mir looks at the scattered pieces. He is completely silent. Begum feels completely satisfied and addresses  the maid]: Sitara, go into the dinning room and see if the children are being fed. I will join them shortly.

 

Sitara: Yes, my Lady.

 

Begum [Looks around and then laughs heartily and goes in saying]You can come in if and when you feel hungry.

 

Mir [Makes no answer. He walks toward the jug of wine and pours a drink for himself. As he is pouring  the drink, Mirza re-enters cautiously, making sure that  Begum Mir was no  more around and then coming  close to Mir says]

 

Mirza [ Observing the  scattered chess pieces] :What happened to our chessboard?

 

Mir [Avoiding the question]. Do you want some wine?

 

Mirza: Surely [They both sit down and for a while they are silent. Then Mir begins]

Mir: Mirza, would you mind it greatly if we change our venue for our chess meetings?

 

Mirza: No, not at all. But I had thought your place is very well situated. It is far  from the town and only  those who have urgent business would care  to walk  or ride this much distance. My own place being in the heart of the town is frequented by all kinds of unwanted riff-raff. My neighbours are especially wicked. To disturb me while I am playing chess is one of their sports. It gives them some peculiar pleasure the exact nature of which I am not able to understand nor describe, Mir. We should meet at a place which is serene like the heart of a lake.

 

Mir: You are right. But, my wife makes it impossible for me to play peacefully. It is not her fault. Her brothers seem to have filled her ears   with all kinds of malicious stories about me. She thinks I am responsible for advising the king against fighting with the British. She is convinced that our playing chess is the sole cause of the rotten condition of our kingdom today. After what she has done today, I don’t  see  any hope of peace in this house.

 

Mirza: I am sorry to hear that. But if my coming here has caused all this sad situation, as a good friend. I must refrain from visiting your home, Mir.

Mir: Mirza, try to understand the whole situation. I really need you. You know I cannot do without chess and you are  the  only one  with whom I have complete understanding in chess affairs. Many people play chess, Mirza, but few treat it as

an educative  experience. For most chess players, it is nothing more than a pastime. For us it is an intellectual attainment. It is not the game but the attitude toward the game that matters. You understand ,  Mirza?

 

Mirza: Life of full ten generations in my family has been devoted to this pursuit of education, my dear Mir. I am grateful  that you are one of those fit though few who have been  able  to appreciate this concern of  the Mirza  family for the highest invention of man.

 

Mir: I do appreciate   it. But we have to change   the place of our meeting, maybe only  temporarily. Do you have any suggestion?

 

Mirza: I have.

 

Mir: What is your advice, Mirza?

 

Mirza: Mir, how long is it since   your wife  visited her  parents?

 

Mir: Six months, about six months.

 

Mirza: Six months is a long, long time, my dear Mir , to keep an offspring from her parents. Don’t you agree?

 

Mir: What do you mean?

 

Mirza: Nothing, nothing. I am I am a bit worried these days. Mir, this town is becoming a dangerous place. Everyday the danger of British invasion is increasing.

 

Mir: So it is.

 

Mira: I  am so concerned about our families and children, Mir.  Suppose  a war  between the Indians  and the British does  really break out, what’s going to happen to our children and women?

 

Mir: If the king keeps accepting my advice, I don’t see why there should be a war.

 

Mirza: The king has many other advisers. But that is not the point. I think we should be prepared for any thing.

 

Mir: What can we do, Mirza?

 

Mirza: I have been thinking of sending my wife and children to my father-in-law’s house. I don’t think they are in any immediate danger and my family will be quite safe there.
[The conversation between Mir and  Mirza takes place as they begin to pick up the chess men  scattered on the floor]

 

Mir: This is a damned good idea, Mirza. I should pack my wife and children off too. Mirza, five generations of chess  in your family  have certainly  endowed  you with sharp thinking. You are always ready with new moves to fight the problems

of life.

 

Mirza: Thank you, my friend. Not five but ten chess playing  generations , my dear Mir.

 

Mir: Have  some  wine [pours].

 

Mirza: Thank you.

 

Mir  [Sipping from his glass]. What a wonderful idea. Wives off to  their parents [another sip] Oh, by the way, Mirza, do you remember  how the chessboard was set before my wife kicked it off.

 

Mirza: Was it your wife who did it?

 

Mir: As if you do not know.

 

Mirza:I really didn’t know, Mir. To avoid any temptation of seeing the chess board a little differently, I had gone for a walk in your garden.

Mir: Now, do you remember the positions of the chess men?

 

Mirza: Do you?

 

Mir: No. After the time I had with my wife, it was not possible to retain  anything  pleasant  in my memory.

 

Mirza: You do not worry in the least. I remember every detail of it, Mir.

 

Mir: Shall we start tomorrow then from where we left?

 

Mirza: As you like it.

 

Mir: But for at least tomorrow we have to find some other place

 

Mirza: My place is at your disposal, Mir.

 

Mir: What time?

 

Mirza: When do you get up?

 

Mir: I get up early these days. Mornings are so wonderful in the rainy season. I love rains, Mirza. There is something sweetly tactile about rains which puts you in direct  touch with Nature. Leaves and trees freshly   bathed invite you to touch  them and inhale their fragrance with your nose close to them. And flowers increase their fragrance during the  rains.

 

Mirza: But filth too enhances its smell during the humid weather, Mir. Bring with you a thickly perfumed handkerchief to cover your nostrils so that you do not faint before you reach my place. You will have your breakfast with me, Mir, and we shall start our game right over breakfast. Mangoes and  Milk.


Mir: We shall resume it tomorrow.

 

 

 

[They embrace each other and part as the curtain  falls]

 

 

 

=======The End of Scene  One, Act One – Words 8228==========

 

 

            

                                 Act   Two , Scene 1


[ A   drawing  room  in  Mir  Roshan  Ali’s  mansion. The  décor  and   style  has the eighteenth century mogul flavour. Begum Roshan Ali is breaking betel nuts with a gold-plated nut-cracker and depositing  them  in a silver tray. The maid servant Sitara announces the arrival of Begum Mirza, wife  of  Mir Roshan Ali’s chess mate].

 

 

Sitara: My Lady, Begum Mirza is here. I saw her getting off the buggi.

 

Begam Mir Ali:  I wonder what brings her here at this hour. Is she alone?

 

Sitara: Yes, my Lady. She seems to be alone.

 

Begum Mir: Show Begum Sahiba in.

 

Sitara: Yes, my Lady.

 

Begum Mir: [Quickly presses her dress with her hands and removes one or  two  wrinkles from her loosely flowing gown. In the next instant Begum Mirza enters

the room followed by Sitara, the maid; advancing toward Begum Mirza with her open arms and embracing  her]: How are you, sister? We see you only once in a blue moon. You have become invisible like the Eid Moon, dear sister. [to  the maid Sitara]: Bring some  sherbet and paan, Sitara

 

Sitara: Yes, my Lady [goes away]

 

[ Begum Mirza has worried and haggard looks on her face and utters her words in a mood  of desperateness]

 

Begum Mir: What’s the matter, sister?  Something  wrong?

 

Begum Mirza: Wrong? Ruin is upon our two houses, sister. We are ruined!

 

Begum Mir [with surprise writ on her face]: What has happened?

 

Begum MIrza: They are playing chess.

 

Begum Mir: Who?


Begum Mirza: Our darling husbands. Who else?

 

[Meanwhile, the maid has come back with sherbet and paan on a silver tray.  She  arranges them on the table and quietly leaves the room]

 

Begum Mir: Not my husband?

 

Begum Mira: Yes, your husband as well as mine.

 

Begum Mir: But he promised me only last night that he would play chess no more.

 

Begum Mirza: Since six O’clock this morning, my husband and your husband

 have done nothing but played chess. If you do not believe me you can come with

 me to our house and see them fixed before the chess board  yourself.

Begum Mir: But my husband left early in the morning to go to Agra.He told  me  that the king has called him in connection with some urgent matter of state. The king wanted his advice about the British Company.

 

Begum Mirza: That urgent matter of state was a game of chess, sister.

 

Begum Mir [Exasperated] The urgent matter was a game of chess, Oh, it’s maddening.

 

Begum Mirza: Sister, these two men have gone mad after chess. Since six o’clock they are locked in the chess room. Nobody is allowed to go in excepting the maid. Breakfast, lunch, dinner all in the chess room. Children have been sent away to our other house three miles away because they made too much noise. The king’s messenger came three times and each time was told that my husband was not home. Chess is the worst of all vices, sister. It will ruin our homes, it will ruin our kingdom!

 

Begum Mir: The entire country is in a state of turmoil and these men are living in fools’ paradise. We shall all be slaves  very  soon, sister.

 

Begum Mirza: Heavens protect us.

 

Begum Mir: These men have lost their manhood.

 

Begum Mirza: Chess is like a worm that eats life of plants. It has emptied their skulls.They can  think of nothing but chess.

 

Begum Mir: There is no one who could make them see their own ruin. Who would counsel them? [she slaps her thigh in despair]

 

Begum Mirza: They are supposed to counsel the public. They are the leaders.

 

Begum Mir [mocking]: Leaders.

 

Begum Mirza: If someone could only remind them of their duties.

 

Begum Mir:  I can see no hope, sister. Oh, I wish I were dead [she cries]

 

Begum Mirza: The entire town is talking of them. The Mirza and the Mir family have become mocking names.

 

Begaum Mir: And who can blame the people if they mock our names.

 

Begum Mirza: Every time I ride through the streets, I can hear people passing remarks in my direction. I have to clog my ears [ presses her palms against her ears].

 

Begum Mir: I sometimes wonder how luck plays tricks with our lives. Thirteen years ago when  my  father chose for me my husband he  called me and said:

 “Daughter, I am choosing  a gem  among men  for you. Rich,  healthy and handsome, completely free from any vice. Such a man is hard  to find when

times are seeing moral degeneration everywhere. Daughter, you will have reason to be grateful to your father and, God bless you, you will be happy with this man”. ..Little did he know that my husband would turn out to be a  chess addict.

 

Begum Mirza: And  my  parents think there is nothing wrong  if my husband plays chess. I am really annoyed with my father, sister.Last time  he came to visit  us, he  and my husband played chess for three days at a stretch and he  wont leave our house. Finally, my little brother who had come with my father fell from stairs and had to be taken home; then, alone did my father decide to leave our home. Since then I have never encouraged him to come back.

 

Begum Mir [With an air of superiority]: No one in our family plays chess. In fact, all my brothers hate chess.

 

Begum Mirza [Meekly] You are lucky, sister.

 

Begum Mir: Not so lucky.

 

Begum Mirza: But we must do something about our husbands, sister. That is why I came to you.

 

Begum Mir: I do not know about you but I have thought out a plan

 

Begum Mirza: Tell me of your plan, sister. It may be of some use to me, also.

 

Begum Mir: I am thinking of calling my eldest brother. He hates chess. He  may be able to set things aright in my house.

 

Begum Mirza: I would advise you against it.

 

Begum Mir: Why?

 

Begum Mirza: This will strain the relations between your husband  and  your  brother.

Begum Mir: I do not care what it does as long as it succeeds in stopping my husband from playing chess.

 

Begum Mirza: I don’t think it will help a bit, sister.

 

Begum Mir: You really think it wont  help.

 

Begum Mirza: I really  think it wont  help. I fact, your brother’s interference

would make  your husband more stubborn.

 

Begum Mir: Then  I should go to my parents. I can stand it no longer.

 

Begum Mirza: And, how long do you hope to stay at your parents’ ? After all, you cant leave your house forever. There must be some other way of handling this very bad situation, sister.

 

Begum Mir:  I don’t know; I am totally confused. I can think of no remedy. Unless…

 

Begum Mirza: Unless, what?

 

Begum Mir: Unless you tell my husband never to visit your house just as I told your husband never to come here.

 

Begum Mirza: They will find some other place. It is better for them to play in a proper home. If they begin to play away from home they will forget us and their homes altogether. It will render us utterly miserable, sister.

 

Begum Mir: Then you tell me what to do.

 

Begum Mirza:  Desperate ills have desperate remedies, sister.

 

Begum Mir: I will do anything to keep my husband away from chess.

 

Begum Mirza: Anything?

 

Begum Mir: Yes, anything.

 

Begum Mirza: Then let me ask you a question.

 

Begum Mir: What?

 

Begum Mirza:  Have you ever thought  why your husband is so abnormally devoted to chess?

 

Begum Mir: Because he has nothing else to do.

 

Begum Mirza: You are partly right.

 

Begum Mir: I can see no other reason.

 

Begum Mirza:  Let me tell you a truth, sister. If,  you do not mind.

 

Begum Mir: Tell me.

 

Begum Mirza: It is abnormal for a rich man not to have a vice. When I got married, my mother told me a secret of good married   life. A married woman  grows  old sooner than a married man, she told me. We are growing old, sister.

Begum Mir: I am not old. No one can   call  me old.

 

Begum Mirza: Yes, but after ten years of marriage any woman grows old, sister. It is a fact. And like an intelligent woman you must accept this fact.

 

Begum Mir: My husband has never given any indication that he is tired of me.

 

Begum Mirza: Then why does he find chess more amusing than your company?

 

Begum Mir: It is because your husband has completely ruined my husband’s wits.

 

Begum Mirza: Now, instead of understanding the facts of life you are being unnecessarily bitter.

 

Begum Mir: And what are the facts of life?

 

Begum Mirza: I have already told you; both of us are becoming old and our men need some way of amusing themselves.

 

Begum Mir: What you are saying surpasses my understanding!

 

Begum Mirza: Exactly.  You don’t seem to understand me. Let me tell you more plainly. Last time  I  visited   my mother she told me that my father has kept  mistresses for  last twenty years. She saw nothing wrong   in it; when we were children we never  knew  about it. My mother thinks it is  good  for a man to keep a mistress. It helps him take proper interest in   home and attend to his wife.

 

Begum Mir:  It is horrible; it is horrible, what you are suggesting is horrible.

 

Begum Mirza: Nothing horrible; only practical.  All I am suggesting is a practical way to get out of the mess you are in. I have asked a distant cousin to come and live  with us. Her parents are very poor. It will be an education for the poor child to live with an aristocratic family. She is very pretty.

 

Begum Mir: If my brothers come to know that my husband has a mistress they will call me home and never let me come back. In fact, I will myself leave   this house if such a day were to come.

 

Begum Mirza: It appears to me that your brothers interfere too much with your married life.

 

Begum Mir: I am the youngest of my brothers and sisters. They have always showered affection on me and care for me more than they care for their own children.

 

Begum Mirza: In other words, they have never let you grow up.

 

Begum Mir: Maybe; maybe I do not wish to grow up [irritated]. Look, sister why don’t you find a mistress for your husband and let my husband and me alone.

 

Begum Mirza: I know I am offending you but I came with very sincere intentions.

 

Begum Mir: We seem to be thinking in two very different ways but this does not mean you should not do as you feel.

 

Begum Mirza: But you just don’t seem to understand.

 

Begum Mir: Heavens, I do. [irritated].I understand that your husband needs a mistress and you are going to arrange one for him.

 

Begum Mirza: But it  wont work if my husband alone has a mistress.

 

Begum Mir:  Why?

 

Begum Mirza [Very coolly]: This is how it is. Either both or neither of them should have mistresses.

 

Begum Mir: Then neither of them shall have mistresses. I am disgusted at the whole idea. How dare you suggest a thing like that?

 

Begum Mirza: I was thinking more of your interest, sister. As far as I am concerned; it does not disturb me a bit   if my husband plays chess.

 

Begum Mir: I know whether it disturbs you or not. You don’t have to tell me. Your husband has been playing chess at our house for the last six months every day and I have not even once complained to you about it. And today, it is for   the first time my husband  went to your house for playing chess  and you  came  running here

to tell me that my husband is eating all his meals at your  house…

 

Begum Mirza:  This is very unkind. Should you say things like that, sister?

 

 

Begum Mir: I know it, sister, how time has changed the circumstance of many  respectable  families. Families who could boast of elephants yesterday cannot afford a couple of dogs today. Families who used to feed beggars by thousands to satisfy their souls cannot offer decent hospitality to even their private guests today. Only my husband is a fool. He thinks everybody is like him, burning the candle at both ends till it begins to burn in the middle by itself.

 

Begum Mirza: You are taking me wrong.

 

Begum Mir [Without directly answering or speaking to Begum Mirza] : Everybody keeps telling me that I am the cause of my husband’s unhappiness. Everybody keeps telling me that my husband avoids his own home because I am an unbearable wife.

 

Begum Mirza: Did I say such a thing?

 

Begum Mir [Again ignoring to reply]  Everybody finds fault with my husband. To

be a bad man is better than to have earned a bad name. But,   I will not tolerate any more anything said against my husband; I will…

 

[Suddenly, Mirza  and Mir  enter. They cough intentionally to warn the two ladies of their arrival so that they may pull their  veils over their faces and become completely silent before men]

 

Mirza and Mir [Together addressing their wives]: United we stand, divided we fall.


Mirza: It is good we have found you together here. There is an urgent matter which concerns us all. Mir, will you please tell these ladies what the king told you this morning.

 

Mir: Yes, I may as well make it short. The King of Agra informs me that the invasion of this town by the British is imminent and it may happen any day or night. In the circumstances I and Mirza Sahib have decided to send you and our children to our fathers-in-law. We have already dispatched messengers to your parents and in view of this urgency of the whole situation, you will be leaving early tomorrow morning [there is silence for a while]

 

Mirza [Very politely]: Ladies may go now to say their parting words.

 

[The two ladies go in with their faces veiled. Both Mir and Mirza look at their  backs as they disappear to the next  room and then Mir comes toward Mirza and takes his both hands in his as a gesture of their common success in implementing their common decision to send their wives to their parents’ homes]

 

Mir: So it is settled.

 

Mirza: I had never expected such a grave performance  from you, Mir. It was most effectively done.

 

Mir: I am a man of many talents, Mirza; all because of chess.

 

Mirza: I have no doubt about it. By the way, Mir, your wife may have a bad temper, but she has a beautiful face. I was able to have a glimpse of it.

 

Mir: You rogue,  you always seem to have an upper hand over me. I tried to see your wife’s face but it was completely veiled when I entered.

 

                               

                                =========Curtain Falls=============

 

                                                    

 

                                         Act Two, Scene 2

 

 

[Mir and Mirza enter together, one holding the chess board and the  other holding  the box containing chessmen]

 

Mir: Now that our wives are properly dispatched to the safety of their parental homes, we can hope to have a really peaceful game of chess, Mirza.  Can’t  we  [ he bows to Mirza in half-acknowledgment of the latter’s superiority as a manipulator of domestic situations]

 

Mirza: Certainly, certainly,  my dear Mir. Now you can have no excuse to leave the game in the middle to look after your wife’s headache.

 

Mir: I have never made any excuses; it is you who always force me to leave the chess room. But we will see how you would manage today.

 

Mirza: My morale was never higher, Mir. I am really set for a tough game. Morally, I am bound to justify my persuading you to send away your wife and children.

 

Mir: You don’t have to justify any thing, Mirza. It was my own decision, though I am grateful for the advice which I sought and you so generously gave.

 

Mirza: Thank you, Mir. I only wanted to reassure you that I have not the least bit of malice against your wife.

 

Mir:Mirza [Mir puts his hand against Mirza’s bosom] I value  your friendship. You must know it once and for all.

 

Mirza: True, very true. But I will never let my friendship interfere with your married life.

 

Mir: This compunction is absolutely uncalled for, my dear Mirza. And speaking of marriage, while we are on the subject I may be allowed to say something that I have recently discovered.

 

Mirza: [Alertd]: What is that?

 

Mir: It is my conclusion, Mirza, that  a witty man should never marry. Maybe, I was too witty to have achieved any success in marriage.

 

Mirza: Or maybe, your wit is as old as your love for chess; that is, since we met.

 

Mir [In anger]: Sometimes your wisdom is nothing more than conceit. It may be of some interest to you to know, however, that even as a child my wit was a matter of concern to my family. I was regularly punished by my private tutor for being too witty for my age. A witty child in our family was regarded as naturally impudent.

 

Mirza: So I was not entirely wrong. Your wit had been mercilessly suppressed by your family and after years of slumber your recent interest in chess has awakened it all. Mir, I never wish to hurt you where you are susceptible. I only wish to understand the cause and effect of certain events in your life. For example, the cruel memory of your childhood has completely explained to me your emotional attachment to chess.

 

Mir:  Thank you ,Mirza. I am sorry if I was rude to you.

 

Mirza:Not at all, not at all. Now why should we not sit down and set the board [he kneels  down toward the floor trying to arrange the small chess table [chowki] and places the chess board on it]

 

Mir [Stops him by holding by the latter’s elbow and making  him stand erect face to face]: Mirza, this is no ordinary day and this is going to be no ordinary game. I wish to celebrate…

 

Mirza: Celebrate, what?

 

Mir: My freedom to play a game of chess in my own house!

 

Mirza: By all means, my dear Mir.What  do the ceremonies include?

 

Mir: Nothing complicated. First of all, I have declared today a holiday for my household staff.

 

Mirza [Shrugging his shoulder]: You mean there is nobody in this house excepting ourselves.

 

Mir: Right. We and only Sitara. I kept her because the presence of a woman, I thought,would deepen the solitude.

 

Mirza: But, my dear Mir…

 

Mir [Interrupting him] But… my dear, Mir [ mimics Mirza ] . Why are you suddenly dispirited when the occasion calls for  all the zest?

 

Mirza : I hope you realize  these are  bad times we are living through. The British Company can no longer be trusted. You remember what they did to their trusted collaborators in Calcutta. They stuffed them all in the closed minaret of a mosque and let them die of one another’s foul breath.

 

Mir: You are unnecessarily afraid, Mirza.

 

Mirza: I am only being   realistic. Important men like you and me should never be left without body guards. And your big mansion is set in wilderness. Leaving aside the British our own kingdom is infested with outlaws of various description.

 

Mir: Do not worry in the least [looks amusingly at  Mirza]. You will forgive my indiscretion when I offer you a special erotic drink [ he claps his hands to call Sitara, the maid who  instantly appears with a fancy  looking bottle and some glasses on a golden tray]

 

Mirza: I need a drink very badly, Mir [ he sees the maid and almost jumps toward her and at once pours a drink and gulps it down before Mir is able to stop him]

 

Mir [In sheer agony]. Mirza, not like this, not like this. It is not to be drunk like a buffalo drinks sour milk. There is a special way of tasting this stuff.

 

Mirza [Who is quite satisfied with the way he drank it and has found the drink thrilling and potent]. What is this stuff called? I could feel its sensation from throat  down to the inside of my innards [he tries to put  another but is  stopped by Mir]

 

Mir: It is called Cognac. The director of the French Trade Company gave it to me.

 

Mirza: So you are carrying on a double game, Mir. You are supporting both  the  French and the British!

 

Mir: I am playing no game, Mirza. And, let me disclose a secret to you. If I were the King of Agra I would give trading rights to the French rather than the British.

 

Mirza: And, why so?

 

Mir: Because their food has taste and their wines have flavour. I will show you what I mean [pours a little doze  of  old cognac in  a glass and as he  begins to demonstrate to Mirza, Mirza himself pours a large drink and gulps it down. Mir, who thinks that cognac should never be  gulped down is really annoyed at Mirza’s boorish way of  drinking cognac]: Mirza, you have fallen in my  estimation. I had always thought you cared for taste and beauty but  you are not even prepared to  learn how to imbibe cognac]

 

Mirza: Mir, this stuff produces such ticklish sensation that I find it hard to resist. You will please excuse me.

 

Mir: All right. Now see [he explains the procedure for imbibing cognac]. Pour a small amount of cognac in the glass. Try to look into the bottom of the glass and while you are looking into the bottom of the glass, slowly, very slowly bring the mouth of the glass close and closer to your nostrils. Let the flavour pass into the nose and then the entire face gets enveloped by the blissful vapor; now very gently bring the edge of the glass to the outermost point of your lips and let  your tongue very slyly touch the body of the  cognac…..[ he fakes to swoon overpowered by the cognac aroma]

 

Mirza: [ growing a bit  impatient]. These Frenchmen seem to be great lovers of life [gulps down another goblet of cognac].

 

Mir [Very annoyed] Mirza, you are absolutely rude and crude with your cognac.

 

Mirza: I cant help it. I cant help it.  It is the fault of this strange drink. Tell me something more about the Frenchmen. I haven’t met any of them yet.

 

Mir: They like our ways more than the British do.

 

Mirza:  For example?

 

Mir: For example, the director who sent this bottle of cognac to me evinced a great admiration for our spicy food. I am sure it was genuine.

 

Mirza: What did you serve him with?

 

Mir: It was Tandoori  chicken .

 

Mirza:  Rajputani chillies and hot spices and everything?

 

Mir: Yes, exactly as we eat. I told him, food not worth touching is not worth eating.

 

Mirza: It must have been quite an experience for the white rogue.

 

Mir: It was, indeed. The next day he sent  me this bottle and in his note of thanks wrote: Sir, Indian food is the only food I know of  which one can taste twice; I tasted it when I ate it with you, my whole  body perspiring and my bald head sweating as if swollen from inside. But this morning I tasted your hospitality once again when I made efforts to bring out what I had eaten with you last night. Ah! I tasted it when I took in; I tasted it even more when I brought it out from  mouth below This time, not my head but my piles and anus were swollen. That was the double taste of India.

[ Mirza and Mir both laugh loudly in guffaws]

 

Mirza: Did you not serve any thing  sweet?

 

Mir: I did. The white ass  got drunk on our Arrack and kept asking: “ But tell me how you put honey in your Jaa -li -bee?

 

Mirza: I must meet your French friend. I never knew these bloody Europeans too have some sense of humour.

 

Mir: This is my main objection against the British, Mirza. They feel convinced that a grim face is the only sign of earnestness in a man.

 

Mirza: They think it is bad manners to laugh in front of their superiors. So they do  not laugh in front of us Indians, Mir

 

Mir: And one more thing. They do not like to touch the food they eat. For the British, eating is neither a tactile nor an olfactory   experience. They like to see it, though.

 

Mirza: You are right. I noticed that, too. They like  to observe things and from a distance.

 

Mir [Tasting the cognac delicately in his goblet with the tip of tongue] Now you know why I am all for the French.

 

Mirza [Gulping down another drink of cognac]: Yes, you have very good reasons for your preference but don’t you think both the French and the British are keeping us from our chess at this moment.

 

Mir: You are right! Let us get started, Mirza.  [To Sitara]: Sitara, bring  your sarangi and play some music as we play chess.

 

Mirza [To Sitara]: Wait. [To Mir].  Music will be a distraction, Mir.

 

Mir [ As if confounded by this statement]. Mirza! Some brutalizing influence seems to have been at work on you lately.

 

Mirza: Why you think so, my dear Mir.

 

Mir: You seem to know so little about the effect music has on men of senses.

 

Mirza: And what effect does music have on men of senses, Mir? I only wanted serene, peaceful, quiet atmosphere for a perfect  game of chess which we intend to play today.

 

Mir: Yes, me too. Music will only depen the  silence of  this very peaceful house today. Mirza,  I had never thought  that absence of my wife would bring so much quiet in this house.

 

Mirza: If you wish to have music on sentimental grounds, I should have no objection.

 

Mir: Not sentimental but for aesthetic reasons! Now tell me, if you have any objection.

 

Mirza: None at all. Do as you like. I will not interfere with your celebrations, Mir.

 

Mir: Thanks for your very kind consideration, Mirza. [To the  maid]. Bring your sarngi, Sitara and fill this house   with the air  of music. And bring the new Sandalwood chess table I got from Kashmir yesterday. Mirza, oh, you should see how it breathes fragrance. And  the intricate woodwork on it, amazing. The poverty and poetry of Kashmiri people is engraved in their art, Mirza.

 

Mirza: I hope the British would spare the Kashmiris, at least.

 

Mir: You are really worried about the British taking over India, aren’t you?

 

Mirza: As a matter of fact, I am. But, Mir, you seem to be forgetting our immediate purpose.

 

Mir: Not at all, not at all. As soon as Sitara brings her sarangi and the Sandalwood

 [ low table] chowki, we shall be set for our finest  game of chess [ he motions Sitara to go and get the table and the musical instrument.  She  returns  with the two articles. Three of them begin   to  settle down and as Mir is bending toward the floor he stops half-way and in  the stooping posture almost implores Mirza]. Mirza, this is going to be our  finest game  and I have to ask you for  a promise.

 

Mirza: If it is about our game, you may ask anything, Mir!

 

Mir: Will you please promise to play a fair game of chess today? Please do not take it ill, Mirza.

 

Mirza: I promise that I will be fair. I have never been otherwise but if you insist I will promise.

 

Mir: Mirza, you are the very soul of generosity.

 

Mirza: Thanks.

 

Mir [As they settle down for the game] And one request more!

 

Mirza: Say I, Mir.

Mir: I will take  the white chessmen  today. We should break conventions.

 

Mirza: Why are you so keen on breaking  conventions.  I have always taken the white chessmen and you never had any objection against my doing so ever since we started playing together.

 

Mir: It is not an objection I am raising, my dear Mirza. I am only expressing a desire. Suddenly, I have taken fancy to the white chessmen.

 

MIrza: This is a very childish desire. I see absolutely nothing wrong with your sticking to the black chessmen.

 

Mir: Please, Mirza, remember: this is going to be our finest and fairest game.

 

Mirza: But I do not see how your playing with the white chessmen is going to make this game fine and fair, Mir?

 

Mir: Will you oblige me in the name of friendship?

 

Mirza: But it is puerile to make such flimsy requests. Or, probably, you have become superstitious!

 

Mir: Call me what you will but I like to play with the white chessmen today.

 

Mirza: So do I.

 

Mir: Cant you make a little sacrifice for a friend, Mirza?

 

Mirza: My dear Mir, may I tell you that a true friend never would put his friends to cruel tests.

 

Mir: Are you incapable of making such a small sacrifice even?

 

Mirza: If you like to put it that way. I have always played with white chessmen and I see no reason why I should be deprived of that privilege today.

 

Mir: I just cant play with the black chessmen today. I just  cant.

 

Mirza: Chess has made you witty as well as stubborn, Mir. More  stubborn than witty.

 

Mir:I just cant play with the black ones I have told you.

 

Mirza: Then don’t play [rises to go. Mir does not stop him. Mirza stops and looks back]. You are turning me out of your house. This is what  it  amounts to. Do you realize this?

 

Mir: I am not dong any such thing. Moreover, I know you will not be ever so indiscreet as to leave this house. The wilderness and the outlaws, Mirza!

 

Mirza: You think I am a coward.

 

Mir: No, but you are not indiscreet. That’s all.

 

Mirza: So you have contrived a circumstance in which you can impose conditions upon me.

 

Mir: No, no such thing.

 

Mirza: But you cannot arbitrarily ask  me  to surrender my rights for the sake of your whim.

 

Mir: Would you like to suggest some other procedure to disentangle these issues, Mirza?

 

Mirza: All right, Mir. Let us ask Sitara to be our referee. Sitara, be as  sober as a judge and  decide  which one us will play with the white chessmen.

 

Mir: Agreed.

 

[They both rush toward her]

 

Mir: Me, Sitara.

 

Mirza: Me, Sitara.

 

Mir:  I will give you a necklace of pure pearls, Sitara. Me.

 

Mirza: I will give you a necklace of most genuine diamonds!

 

Mir:  Besides the necklace I will give you my villa on the lake.

 

Mirza: I will give you my two houses on the hills including the servants.

 

Mir: All my servants and this house are yours from tomorrow. I was going to say from today but the servants are away for the day as you know, Sitara.

 

Mirza: I will choose you as my eldest son’s bride,  Sitara.

 

Mir: I will choose you Sitara my youngest son’s bride and ……

 

[Sitara who is baffled between Mirza and Mir’s outdoing competitive bids to win her judgment manages to squeak and addressing  Mir says]: But, my  master,  the young Mir is only three years old!

 

Mir: [a bit taken aback,  looks with some anger toward Mirza]. You liar! Are you really going to marry your eldest son to Sitara?

 

Mirza: Yes, I am going to do exactly that…[ he smiles slyly].

 

Mir: All  right, all right. If so, I will marry you  myself, Sitara.

 

Mirza: No, my Lord, no. My mistress, your Begum, will kill me.

 

Mir: My wife is away and she shall remain away; don’t you worry, Sitara.

 

Sitara: But her brothers shall surely kill us both, my master! If they hear about our marriage, they shall kill us both.

 

Mirza: Sitara is right. Your wife’s   brothers will not let her live even for a day beyond the auspicious wedding ceremony. You may wish to sacrifice your life for chess, my dear Mir but have pity on the poor girl.

 

Mir: You rascal, you manipulator, I know now why you wanted Sitara to decide about the chessmen.

 

Mirza: You agreed to my nomination. Didn’t you?

 

Mir: Yes, I did.

 

Mirza: Then what is the complaint about?

 

Mir: Oh, how you disgust me. Take your white chessmen and never speak a word to me. I will spit at you if you prolong this talk.

 

Mirza  [Putting his finger at once to his mouth, he acts out a pantomime and with a gesture invites Mir to sit down for a game. Mir looks on. He does not move.  Mirza then addresses Sitara]: My dear would-be-daughter-in-law, will you kindly inform my friend Roshan Ali Mir that I am ready for the game.

 

[Sitara looks on. Mir sits down against the chess board and addresses Sitara]

 

Mir: Sitara, play some music.

 

Sitara: Yes, my lord.

 

Mirza: As a matter of protocol, my would-be daughter-in-law need not address Mir as  “My Lord”. Sitara, you are our equal now and I would like you to feel as our equal, absolutely our equal and our near and dear one.

 

Sitara: Yes, my lord.

 

Mirza: My daughter-in-law, show your talent to my dearest friend, Mir.  In fact, Mir is just like my own brother. Treat him as your respected father-in-law. Obey him as you would obey me as your father-in-law.

 

Sitara: Yes, my lord.

 

Mir [incensed]:  Sitara, you must not forget that you are my maid as long as you are in this house and you need not obey any one but me.

 

Sitara: Yes, my lord.

 

Mirza: Sitara, you must no forget that all the dignity and honour due to the Mirza family is also due to you now onwards. I would like you to conduct yourself as a lady worthy of the hand of my eldest son.

 

Sitara: Yes, my lord.

 

Mirza [To Sitara]: Tell, Mir, it is his move. I have already moved [moves a pawn].

 

Mir [To Sitara]: I have seen it. You go there and play some music.

 

[Sitara moves to the corner and begins to play a sweet tune on the sarangi. The chess players make a few moves quickly and then Mirza says to Sitara]

 

Mirza: Sitara, tell Mir that his was a stupid move [ he removes the queen from the board].

 

Mir [Completely absorbed]. Not so stupid. Checkmate.

 

[There is heard a knock at the outer door of the house]

 

Mirza: What? It cant be.

 

Mir [To Sitara]: Tell the champion, it is a checkmate, Sitara.

 

Mirza: Sitara, did you not hear a knock at the door…[ with his mouth agape].

 

Mir: There is no knock at the door, Sitara. Tell your respected father-in-law, it is not a knock at the door but a knock down on the chessboard for him.

 

[Sitara keeps playing the sarangi]

 

Mirza [ turning his ear toward the door as the knocking at the door becomes louder. He now has a worried look]: Some one is knocking at the door. We must find out who is it?

 

Mir [ To Sitara]: Please, Sitara, tell your respected  father-in-law I will attend to the visitor and he kindly attend to the checkmate.

 

[The knock is heard even louder now]: Good Heavens, I had thought my wife was the only disturber of the peace of the chess room.  I better go and see who the hell has found his way across this wilderness, defying the hot sun and open sky [he rises to go to the outer entrance door of the house, then  looks to the chess board and stops to address Sitara]

Mir: Sitara, it will be better if you go to see who is knocking at the door. I have to keep a watch on your respected father-in- law and the chess board.

 

Mirza [To Sitara]: Sitara, tell Mir, it is no joking matter. I can smell danger in that knock. He should himself go and tell him to take  his sword  with him, too.

 

Mir: Sitara, tell Mirza, not to worry at all. It must be one of our servants who forgot something or the other and has come back to pick it up.

 

Mirza: Sitara, tell that Mirza is very well experienced in judging and distinguishing the knocks at a door. It is not at all a servant’s knock [the knock  now becomes  a  furiously thudding noise]. It is a bold knock. It is a rude knock.

 

Mir [ Hearing the knock, Mir  also shows some signs of worry on his face]: Sitara, tell Mirza that I respect his experience in the matter of knocks and agree with him that it is a bold knock, it is a rude knock. Tell him that I seek his advice.

 

[Sitar looks on. She has stopped playing the sarangi]]

 

Mirza [To Sitara]: Tell Mir that I advise that you should go on the terrace and try to see who it is and  report to us on the appearance  and demeanor  of the unexpected and uncalled-for  visitor.

 

Mir: Sitara, go on the roof and identify for us the un-called for visitor.

 

Sitara: Yes, my lord.

 

Mirza: Do not forget to put on your slippers. The hot roof will burn your tender feet, my little girl.

 

Mir: Yes, put on your slippers. Put on my shoes [points to her his shoes].

 

[ Sitara leaves the room. Both Mirza and Mir get up and go towards one of the walls of the room and try to listen to the knocks which are becoming ruder with every thump. They face each other with varying expressions of worry and concern and fear and helplessness. Then suddenly Mir addresses Mirza]

 

Mir: Seems to be a rough fellow [ Mir instantly realizes that he was not supposed to speak to Mirza]. I am sorry. I am sorry. Let Sitara come…

 

[Sitara re-appears and she walks back and with gestures advises extreme caution to Mir and Mirza. She comes very close to them and in whisper, says]: It is a messenger from the King, my lords!

 

[Both Mirza and Mir stagger back in opposite dislocations and slump into the two diwans that are lying in the chess room. They gaze at each other from the opposite sides of the room. Mir tries to assemble himself and addresses Sitara]

Mir: Sitara, tell Mirza I wish to enter into a temporary truce with him. Tell him I wish to speak to him.

 

Mirza: Sitara, tell Mir he can speak to me.

 

Mir [ Walks toward Mirza and very politely addresses him]:  My dear Mirza, how can we avoid the King’s messenger?

 

Mirza: We cant.  We cant avoid the King’s messenger, Mir.  If there were servants in the house I could have devised some way out. But, now I am helpless. He is bound to break open the door if you do not gracefully receive him. It is  a  checkmate, my dear Mir for both of us. You better ask Sitara to open the door and let the messenger come and see us here.

 

Mir [Hurriedly]: Sitara, do as Mirza says.

 

[ Sitara runs down to open the entrance door]

 

 

 

Mirza: Mir, the days of  our  kingdom are numbered. It will be soon a relic of the past. The glory that was Ind!

 

Mir:Mirza, I am in no mood to leave the game unfinished though I am quite prepared to shed my noble blood in the service of my motherland after we have  finished this game.

 

[Enters a giant size  soldier  with a scroll of paper in his hand. He is fully armed with sword, shield and a lance] followed by Sitara who seems to be frightened out of her wits]

 

The Soldier [offers salutations  bowing  and stretching  his arms]. My lords, His Majesty the King of Agra, the Protector of  His people and Messenger of Allah,  Head  of Mussalmans, has charged me  with the urgent duty to inform you that our fair kingdom has been invaded  by the treacherous, ungrateful, and cruel directors of the British India Company. My Lord and King  has sent his word of courage in this our of peril and has commanded you both to assemble your armed men and shed  the last  drop of your brave manhood to uphold the honour of our Land and  pride of our Crown.

 

Mirza [ In a trembling voice] You are welcome, messenger. You can assure the King that the white monkeys will find Indians more than a match to their treacherous behaviour. We are determined to fight to the last man. We will oppose the enemy tooth and nail. And, by God, our teeth shall be the fangs of snake as the enemy shall soon discover.


Mir: I join Mirza Sahib in expressing our grim determination, messenger. We are all readiness. You can assure the King, messenger, of our unflinching loyalty and our unshakable will not to give in,  come what may!

 

Mirza: Mir, tell Sitara to bring our   weapons and the armour.

 

Sitara: My lord, they are too heavy for me to carry.

 

Mir: Never mind; the brave soldier   [points to the messenger] will help us [ to Sitara]: Show him to the armoury.

 

[ The soldier and  Sitara  make  their exit]

 

Mir:  Mirza, shall we leave the game unfinished?

 

Mirza: Do you think this fellow is going to leave us alone!

 

Mir: I guess, not! But tell me, Mirza, how serious do you think the situation really is?

 

Mirza: There is no situation any more. It is all over. I can see things from the eye of my mind. It is all over and gone with the wind. Our going to the battlefield is not going to make any difference, Mir.

 

Mir: Do you really think so. Our going to the battlefield is going to make no difference!

 

Mirza: Yes, this is how I look upon the whole thing.

 

Mir: Then, why are we getting armed? Where are we going, Mirza? Should we not tell the King’s messenger the truth of the whole matter? I don’t see why we should give up our little game when……….

 

[Mirza sees the soldier coming back and diplomatically interrupts Mir]

 

Mirza: Not a little game, Mir; it is going to be a big, very big game. The   foreigner will be tamed, subdued and driven out [ he thumps his shoulder by crossing his arms]. My arms are impatient to earn the glory of the battlefield.

 

Mir: The pride of the Mir family will be tested in the field of battle, Mirza. The spirit of my grandfather will accompany me to the gory  battlefield where his ancient sword will taste the blood of the pink beasts from England.

 

[ The following dialogue takes place as they are being helped  by the soldier and Sitara in getting into their battle gear]

 

Mirza: O, Mir, this reminds me. Please keep in mind that we must stop by my house before we depart for the battlefield. I would like to ge  my  grandfather’s sword as well.

 

Mir: I will keep it in mind, Mirza.

 

Mirza: Thank you, Mir.

 

Mir [To the soldier] Will you hook the belt properly from the back as I help Mirza Sahib with his belt? [To Sitara]:

Sitara, bring some wine for our guest.

 

Soldier: No, my lord, I am under oath not to drink a drop of wine till I have killed at least fifty and one British soldiers.

 

Mir: My special wine is a very good morale booster. It will impel you to kill one hundred and two white devils, Soldier.

 

Soldier: No, my lord, I am oath bound.

 

Mir [To Sitara] All  right,do not just stand. Bring some wine for Mirza Sahib.

 

 

Mirza:I hope you will join me, Mir. I never drink alone.

 

Mir: Always ready to oblige you, Mirza. [To Sitara] Just a moment, fix that knife here [points the place on his uniform] exactly as I am fixing this one [shows the small knife] on Mirza Sahib.

 

Mirza: Thank you, Mir. I can see how keen you are to show your valour, indeed.

 

Mir: Rarer are becoming the opportunities for excelling in physical courage, Mirza. We are one of the last generations who will value honest, hand to hand fight as a clean way of settling down disputes which cannot be settled by any other means. Cunning is fast replacing courage on the battlefield. We must not be untrue to the code we were born to as did our forefathers, Mirza.

 

Mirza: You inspire me, Mir. By the way, how I look with all this paraphernalia on. I have not adorned  an armour for  about twenty years.

 

Mir:  You inspire real awe, Mirza!

 

Mirza: Do you have a good  size  mirror some where in the house?

 

Mir: What do you mean, Mirza? Things have not come to that pass yet, Mirza? Tell me, how many mirrors do you want?

 

Mirza: I am sorry, I didn’t  mean it that way. I need only one mirror and a big one. A mirror big enough so as to make us see both of us together at the same time.

 

Mir [To the soldier] Soldier, could you carry from the armoury two good  shields….No. No. Just a moment! First bring the large mirror from the dressing room, please.

 

Soldier: Yes, my lord.

 

Mir [To Sitara]: Sitara, show him where the mirror is [ as she is about to leave] and listen, bring some wine.

 

Sitara: Yes, my lord [ she leaves along with the soldier].

 

Mir [As soon as  Sitara and the Soldier leave] My dear Mirza, this armour is quite heavy.

 

Mirza: The heavier an  armour, the greater its protective power!

 

Mir: Your armour is not so heavy. I was about to tell the soldier to put that one on me but he had  already begun to fix it on me.

 

Mirza: You always seem to think that I get a better  deal.  I didn’t even notice which one of the two armours was heavier.

 

Mir: I am only telling you that your armour is not as heavy as is mine.

 

Mirza:Do you want to exchange it? I am always capable of sacrifices.

 

Mir: I don’t   want that. All I wanted was to let you know  that my armour is heavier than yours. That’s all. And now kindly do not speak so loudly.  He [pointing in the direction in which the soldier went] will hear it.

 

Mirza: I am not talking aloud.

 

Mir: Thank you. Oh, yes, just one thing more. Shall we take Sitara with us to the battlefield?

 

Mirza [He sees the soldier returning]. You are a perfect fool. Leave that question to me.

 

Mir [Nods] yes.

 

Mirza [to the soldier] Thank you, soldier. Put this mirror right over there [points out].

 

Soldier: Yes, my lord.

 

Mirza [ To Mir]: My dear Mir, come here. Let us stand together, hand in hand, in front of this mirror and in this fleeting moment recall the highest points of our friendship. This may very well be our last meeting.

 

Mir: My dear Mirza,  I can look back with pride on the years of our comradeship. In rain and sunshine we have stood and sit by each other. Our friendship has been the most uncalculated of human relationships.[To the soldier turning toward him]. Soldier, let us read the King’s command.  Which battlefields have been assigned to us? [ the soldier hands over the  scroll of paper. Mirza takes it from him   and after reading silently announces]

 

Mirza: My dear Mir, you will lead the armies in the North East sector of the battlefield of Agra. I am to command the Western sector. We are supposed to converge to the fort of Fatehpur; if victorious and  God willing, we shall meet in Fatehpur.

 

Mir: My dear Mirza, this is a glorious moment.[ To Sitara] Sitara, bring us the wine [he pours wine into two glasses. One he keeps for himself and the other he gives to Mirza. Then they sip a drop each and exchange their glasses, actually drinking  from each other’s glass while holding the same glasses. When they have emptied the glasses they place the glasses aside and put their hands on each other’s shoulders and shake each other vigorously].

 

Mirza: Mir, this is our finest moment.

 

Mir: Mirza, we are brothers in soul.

 

[ Seeing this emotional scene, Sitara  starts crying]

 

Mirza [To Sitara]:  Do not cry, little child. We have not forgotten you.

 

Mir [To Sitara] You have been a witness to our common agonies and ecstasies. We will not leave you like this. Your safety is uppermost in our minds.

 

Sitara [ Kneels down, and without words cries even more]

 

Mir: Courage, my child.

 

Mirza [ Holds Sitara up and kisses her on the forehead affectionately. Mir follows him, kissing her slightly on the cheeks]. You will be safe, child. And, we shall be victorious.

 

Mir: Mirza, let us not prolong the ceremony of parting. I cant stand the emotional strain. This child’s tears are too much for me. So [ he jumps toward Mirza and embraces him and in a heavy voice addresses him], Dear brother, if we lived we shall meet again or  let us say this parting is very well made.

 

Mirza: Yes, my dear brother, if we lived  we shall meet again or let us say this parting is very well made. [To the soldier]: Soldier, we have to charge you with an onerous duty pointing to Sitara]. For us, this tender child is the emblem of India’s womanhood. We charge you to protect her at all costs. The city of Agra is soon to be besieged by the enemy. So it will be wise for you to take this child on the spur of this very moment in the direction of Lucknow. About fifteen  miles from there is the fort of Rajgarh where Mir Sahib’s family is living  with his father-in-law. I would like you to take this child there where, God bless her, she will be safe and with her  dear mistress. And soldier,  give our respects to Mir Sahib’s father-in-law.

 

Soldier turning to both  Mirza and Mir] I will protect this child till I have been left  with any strength in my strong sinews, my lords. I will cut the hand  that  dared rob her honour and I will gouge the eye that dared cast  an evil glance on her fair face.

 

Mir: Thank you soldier. We do not expect anything less  from your brave self. Please do not forget to saddle the horses before you leave.

 

[Mirza and Mir both give some gold coins to Sitara and  a few to the soldier]

 

Sitara [Kneeling on both legs]: I will remain your humble servant forever, my lords.

 

Soldier[ Bowing and kneeling  on his left leg and saluting with his right hand ]: May this  base-born serf remain worthy of your lordships’ trust.

 

[ Sitara and soldier exit the scene. Mir and Mirza begin to pace the room up and down, each one absorbed in his own thoughts. Then, suddenly, Mir stops Mirza as they cross in the middle from opposite directions]

 

Mir: Mirza, do you know what is wrong with this world?

 

Mirza: And what do you think?

 

Mir: There are too many wars going on in this bloody world. One cannot even  play  a peaceful game of chess. I am completely disgusted.

 

Mirza: So am I.

 

Mir: By the way, that   was ingenious—the way you got rid of the King’s messenger.

 

Mirza: But that is not the  last  we have heard  from the King, Mir!

 

Mir: I know. May I suggest something?

 

Mirza: You may.

 

Mir: We must finish our game before we are forced to go to the field of battle.

 

Mirza: Yes, we should never leave things unfinished.

 

Mir: Then, shall we sit down?

 

Mirza: The King is bound to send more messengers, my dear Mir, and it is impossible to play here.

 

Mir:  Do you know any other place?

 

Mirza [After a little musing ]. Yes I do. Not quite as comfortable as your home, Mir

 

Mir: Who cares for comfort in the midst of an ugly war, Mirza? We need just a safe corner away  from the  King’s messengers.

 

Mirza: There is ruin of a mosque about fifteen miles from here. Many times I have gone there to remember God whenever domestic tensions have told on my nerves. Even in this strife-ridden hour, I do not think any one will dare break the silence of that holy forsaken place of God. Besides, we shall have the protection of the Almighty, Allah’s Peace Be On Us,  there!

 

Mir: Mirza, once again I feel humble before your ingenuity. We will kneel in prayer before we start our  game  there.  Let us hurry, Mirza. My own house frightens me now!

 

Mirza: yes, to the House of God where there is no fear. Take one or two carpets along. Horses are waiting for us.

 

 

                                           [             Curtain        ]

 

 

                         ====End of Act  2 ====

 

 

 

                                    Act   Three

 

The scene is laid in a portion of a ruined mosque. There is a cave-line atmosphere. It is damp inside and pale dark. There is a hole, an aperture in one of the cracked walls from which one can see the goings-on outside. As the curtain rises, Mir and Mirza have just arrived and they are seen inspecting the new-found haven. They are talking while sweeping the place.

 

Mir: Mirza, I must confess it is my first pilgrimage to a house of God in five years, almost five years.


Mirza: You can thank chess for bring you to God.

 

Mir: Yes, I do thank chess. One must not forget God, Mirza. God is Supreme, Mirza!

 

Mirza: I was trying to recall the lines from the poet who says:“ Do not call him a man… who..”

 

Mir: Yes, yes… a very apt quotation, Mirza. I know how it goes: “Do not call him  a  man who……..”. God, it seems to have slipped from my memory too.

 

Mirza: I must recall those lines. I just cant  proceed  to do anything till I have recalled that couplet. It is funny, now I seem to forget it altogether. I must recall it.

 

Mir: Let us tidy  up  this place a bit before we settle down.

 

Mirza [ Holding  a  carpet in his hand which he wants to spread on the floor and trying to remember those lines of poetry]: God, I just cant spread this carpet even till I have recited those lines [ he huffs and then takes a deep sigh..]  Those lines are in honour of God and I have always kept them in my mind.

 

Mir: They will come back. Sometimes, a thing slips from one’s memory and then suddenly it comes back.

 

Mirza [ Scratching his head]: But this is the first time I am unable to recall those lines. It is not a good omen. Try to recall those lines, Mir. I must have recited that poem to you hundreds of times.

 

Mir: Yes, I know. It   goes  something like this: “Call him not a man, however great…”

 

Mirza [Interrupting]:Stop  it,  stop  it.  I  got  it  now. “Call him not a man, howsoever, great he be…………[he pauses]. Good Heavens, my brains seem to have become really soft. The King’s messenger has left a very bad effect on my mind, Mir.

 

Mir: Have some wine [ offers the bottle taking it out from his side]. Drinking helps; it urges  the  memory like the goad urges the elephant to move.

 

Mirza [Drinks from the bottle]: Yes, this time it has come back; it is like this:

 

                               “Call him not a man, howsoever, great he may be

                                  Who forgot his God  in  the  pursuit  of pleasure

                                   And, who lost the fear of God in a fit of temper”

 

Mir: Very good, Mirza. I hope we have never done anything to offend God.

 

Mirza: Now I can do anything you will ask me to do. In God we trust.

 

Mir: Let us kneel down in prayer, Mirza. This place has filled me with the fear and love of God. There is peace here that transcends the strife and stress of Man’s world.

 

Mirza: I also feel  drenched  in the harmony of the Moon and the Stars under this roof of Allah, Mir. Let us kneel down in earnest prayer and ask forgiveness of God for our sins.

 

Mir: I don’t think we have done any sin against God, Mirza but still we should ask for His forgiveness.

 

[Both Mirza and Mir kneel and perform Sajdah as good Mussalmans are supposed  to do. They say the takbeer of Sajdah, place both knees first upon the floor, then place both palms, touch their noses to the ground, and then the foreheads; they recite 3 times Sub’haana rabbi-yal a’laa and together get up from  Sajdah,  first lifting the forehead, then the nose, then the hands and then the knees and  sit  calmly with the chess board between the two].

 

Mirza: Let us spread these carpets and settle down, Mir.

 

Mir: Yes, Mirza.  Chess and God are our only rescuers from the ugliness of the world.

 

[ Suddenly, they  hear the footsteps of marching  armies in the distance. They pause, hear the rhythmic beat of the marching soldiers and behold each other with awe and then together run toward the aperture in the wall]

 

Mirza: I can see nothing. Do you?

 

Mir: No. I can see nothing, Mirza. You seem to be nervous and afraid.

 

Mirza: I am not at all nervous, nor am I afraid. You are delaying our game just for nothing.

 

Mir: Why not settle down, then? To me this place seems completely safe.   [They settle  down  in order to start their game ].  And, Mirza, once again you have the usual honour of inaugurating the game since you have the white chessmen.

 

Mirza: I am tired of your taunts about the white chessmen,  Mir. You take them this time.

 

Mir: You feel unnecessarily annoyed, Mirza. I was only kidding.

 

Mirza: I know you were only joking but I cannot stand the same joke over and over again. You take the white ones.


Mir: This is hardly the way to start; this is contrary to the divine peace and harmony of this blessed mosque; I don’t want the white chessmen.

 

Mirza: No. I insists you  have them.

 

Mir: I will not.

 

Mirza: You always like to make trouble before starting a game, don’t you?

 

Mir: It is no time to  be  angry, my dear Mirza. I will  do  as you would like me to do.

 

Mirza [ All right; he scatters the chessmen]: I  want you  to take the white chessmen.

 

Mir [Looks on for a while with a wry smile and then says]: Mirza, you probably do not realize that there were at least two other ways of exchanging  the chessmen, and  I may also add, each one of them would have involved less time and effort.

 

Mirza: I am sorry.

 

Mir: It is for the first time, as far as I remember, that you have tendered an apology to me.

 

Mirza: I am really sorry, Mir. I didn’t mean to be rude to you.

 

Mir: It is perfectly all right, Mirza. Now would you like me to show you the other two ways in which the exchange of white and black chessmen could be accomplished?

 

Mirza: I admire the way you appear to be completely oblivious of the external pressure of events. All right, show me the other two ways.

 

Mir: Perfectly simple. All that we had to do was to change our places. You could have occupied the position I am occupying  now  and  I would have  occupied the position you are occupying now.

 

Mirza: But I didn’t want to leave the  place  I an sitting on now. The floor is softer here[ he points out].

 

Mir: Objection sustained, Mirza. But the second procedure I have in mind is till simpler  and  even much less strenuous.

 

Mirza: Yes, go ahead. Show me you genius.

 

Mir: Here it is; so simple, indeed. [ Demonstrates by doing]. We could have turned the chessboard about.

 

Mirza: Mir, I genuinely admire your wits this time.

 

Mir: Thanks.

 

Mirza: Mir, do you think there is something odd in the atmosphere today?

 

Mir: Only the air is a bit damp and instead of Sitara’s sarangi there is the song of mosquitoes [kills  one  with a clap].

 

Mirza: You don’t smell any thing in the air?

 

Mir: By God, I do, Mirza. At some point in time, I believe, this place has been used by stray donkeys to answer the call of nature.

 

Mirza: You may be in a very light mood, Mir, but it is different with me. I do not feel like laughing. It occurs to me that we have laughed too much in our lives.

 

Mir: You worry too much, Mirza. Old times yield to new ones and history must fulfill itself.

 

Mirza: This is the beauty of the whole thing,  Mir. I am the least bit worried and yet the mood of despair threatens me. I just feel like crying today.

 

Mir: Once we begin to play, all your despair shall disappear.

 

Mirza: There is something fatal about the game we are playing today.  I can see these things without spying them.

 

Mir: Not fatal but fateful is this game, my dear Mirza.  Old order shall  yield  to  new. I mean to gain  a  clear  victory over you this time, Mirza.

 

Mirza: And, I am  determined  not to surrender my supremacy.

 

Mir: All right, then; let us see! I move [ moves a  pawn].

 

Mirza: I move.

 

[ They both move chessmen quickly and after a few moves slow down]

 

Mir: A…..n……d; I remove your bishop.

 

[There is heard the sound of galloping horses]

 

Mirza [Before Mir is able to remove the bishop from the board]: Listen, listen… this time  the sound  of galloping  horses tells me that the British forces are coming.

 

Mir: I better remove the bishop before the British Army comes upon us [ removes it  mischievously ]

 

Mirza: I can see, they are coming in our direction. We should keep a watch. Let us stand and see from that hole in the wall.

 

Mir: You make your move  and then we  shall stand and watch, if you like.

 

Mirza: They have artillery with them. There must be five thousand of them, at least five thousand!

 

Mir: You are unduly distracted. Why not make your move?

 

Mirza: You are a strange fellow. Our city is  besieged  by  the enemy and you can think of nothing but moves. Do you realize we   may not be able to get back home?

 

Mir: I will realize that when the time to back comes. Now is the time to make moves.

 

Mirza: All right,  here is my  move [ moves a chess piece]

 

Mir: Thank you.

 

Mirza: Mir, what arrangements do we have for the dinner tonight?

 

Mir: Are you already getting hungry? [ Keeps examining the chess bard].

 

Mirza: No, but I was wondering if you got something arranged.

 

Mir: As a good Mussalman, you must know that it is the month of Ramadan.

 

Mirza: Is it?

 

Mir: Yes, and in the month of Ramadan, Mussalmans keep fast [makes a move]. So it is a fasting day today, my dear  Mirza.

 

Mirza: I wonder what is happening in the city?

 

Mir: Absolutely nothing. As usual, non-Muslims must have had their dinner and should be preparing to go to bed. Muslims should be watching the crescent moon.

 

Mirza: Mir, I have an awful premonition.

 

Mir: You firs make your next move and then I will listen to your premonition.

 

Mirza [Makes his move]: I have an apprehension that the King of Agra has been taken captive by the British.

 

Mir: Your prophesies, particularly the bad ones, generally do not come true, Mirza. But here goes your knight [removes from the board]

 

Mirza: Mir, wait a while. My  heart  goes out to our King. I am feeling out of sorts.

 

Mir: I too am sorry  for  the King , Mirza. [Mirza looks toward Mir] Why are you looking at me like this, Mirza? You have not made your move.

 

Mirza: Every one of us has good and evil days, I suppose, but the King must be in a very painful condition.

 

Mir: I believe you are right.  Have  you moved , Mirza?

 

Mirza: By God, Mir, you are a heartless brute. The great tragic moments of history do not  move  you at all. It does not pain you to know that our King is in the cruel hands of the treacherous enemy. Poor  King  Wajid Ali Shah!

 

Mir: If you care to save your king first, I may consider to join you in the royal mourning.

 

[Mir lights up a candle and puts it near the chess board; he also mumbles and whistles  a tune and cracks his knuckles. Mirza deeply concentrates on his weakening position on the chess board].

 

Mirza: Will you please  stop  whistling? Not only is it bad manners to whistle but a definite distraction to the man sitting opposite you.

 

Mir: I will be perfectly silent. I am very sorry.

 

Mirza [ Just after he has moved]: I have already moved. Why do you take so much time?

 

Mir [Alerted]: Oh, already moved! I dint realize you have moved [he lifts one of the chessmen and begins  to meditate on his next move]

 

Mirza: You are not supposed to hold the chessmen in your hands.

 

Mir: Oh, I am sorry [he at once puts back the chess piece on the board]

 

Mirza: You have placed it on the same block from where you picked it up. You were expected to move it.

 

Mir:  I am sorry, I am very sorry [ he puts his hand  on the chessman]

 

Mirza: What the matter is with you? Now you are putting your hand on the chessman. You are not supposed to touch the chessman till you have decided to move it.

 

Mir: Sorry, again!

 

Mirza: Yes, you ought to be sorry. You should pick up the chessmen only when you want to move them. This is a basic rule of the game.

 

Mir:  I will keep that in mind, Mirza. In future.

 

Mirza: Yes, you must not touch the chessmen till you  have finally thought out your move.

 

Mir: You are right.

 

Mirza: Now you are taking too much time to move.

 

Mir: If you will let me think for a moment,  please  Mirza!


MIrza: What do you mean? You do not need my brains to think out your move. Now, do not waste time and move.

 

Mir: Just a moment, I am about to move.

 

Mirza: After this move there will be time-limit for each new move. Neither of us will be allowed to take more than five minutes for his move. You  are taking at least half an hour for your moves.

 

Mir: Here, now I have moved. Please Mirza.

 

Mirza: From  next time, if a move is held up  for more than five minutes it will result into  automatic defeat.

 

Mir: Agreed. Now it is your turn.

 

Mirza: I can anticipate your moves while you are fluctuating between decision and revision; so I do not have to wait when my turn comes. Here is my move [he quickly puts forward the chessman and then instantly brings it back with an expression of excited relief]

 

Mir: You have already made your move; now!

 

Mirza: I have not completed my move. As a matter of fact, I didn’t move at all.

 

Mir: According to the rules set by you yourself, you have completed your move. Now let your knight stay where you moved it.

 

Mirza: I will not put my knight in that block, never. I never left the knight from my hand.

 

Mir: If you decide not to leave the knight from your hand till the Judgment Day, would it mean that you never moved?

 

Mirza: I am not so stupid as to overlook an obvious danger to my knight.

 

Mir: When you saw my pawn taking your knight down, there was no way out but cheating.

 

Mirza: It is you who always cheat. I have known in life that victory and defeat  are  a matter of luck. Cheating does not pay at all.

 

Mir: So luck has made you face a defeat in this game!

 

Mirza: That day is yet come when Mirza  shall be defeated over a game of chess.

 

Mir: Then why not put the chessman where you put it first.

 

Mirza: Why should I? I will not.

 

Mir: You will have to; I will make you do it.

 

Mirza: I know you are a stubborn mule. In fact, that is the character of the family of the Mirs.

 

[All through the scene the noise of the distant battlefield can be heard and the noise of the passing horsemen sometimes makes the two chess players speak louder than is normally the case]

 

Mir: Mirza, I am in a grim mood and will not tolerate any insult. I must warn you.

 

Mirza: Mir, aristocracy does not consist of a few acres of rich land; it is a noble and  generous attitude and  a brave heart that make one an aristocrat.

 

Mir: I quite well know of the nobility of your family. Everybody knows that your great grandfather was a cook in the royal household.

 

Mirza: And, your grandfather was a grass-cutter; everybody knows that too.

 

Mir: Your brain is a devil’s workshop; nobody will believe you. My family has always been next only to the King’s clan. Everybody knows that.

 

Mirza: Everybody knows you as a boastful braggart.

 

Mir:  Hold your tongue, Mirza or the consequences will be bad.

 

Mirza: What will be the consequences, you coward?

 

Mir: I am not used to listening to the kind of things you are barking at me.

 

Mirza: I have to warn you Mir for the last time.You misbegotten litter of a swine.

 

Mir: I dare you speak a word against my family, you minion of devils.

 

Mirza: Your family started with an illegitimate union of two low caste converts.

 

Mir [Interrupts him and jumps toward his sword]. Mirza, I will let you pick up your sword, if you have any courage.

 

Mirza: Many times you have sought to test my courage in the name of chess. This time I will not fail you.

 

Mir: There are certain things that only  the sword can settle.

 

Mirza [Picking up his sword]: If you knew the sword so well, why did you run away from the battlefield?

 

Mir: It was your cowardly self who made me deny the most valiant death  I could  have had.

 

Mirza: I will give you the most deserved inglorious death, right here and now; don’t you worry about that.

 

[ They fight furiously for a few minutes and  kill each  other]

 

[ After  awhile, enter the big soldier followed by Sitara]

 

Soldier: Come in Sitara, this place seems to be safe. The city is besieged and we have no hope to escape tonight.

 

[He lights up a match and sees the two dead bodies and half-finished game of chess]

 

Sitara [Gives a shriek upon seeing the bodies of Mirza and Mir]: Oh, my God. Protect us.

 

Soldier [Comes close to the chess board]. How proudly these two kings seem to rule over their kingdoms [he points to the Kings facing each other on the chess board]

 

 

                                     ==Curtain==

 

 

=The End of Act 3==The End of the play, A Game of Chess by Jitendra Kumar Sharma=

 

==  Feb 29, 2012= total words, including directions and  descriptions 20257==Revised Version=====

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Blue is my Sapphire by Jitendra Kumar Sharma There was a knock at the door!“At this hour”,I said to myself as the old grandfather clock struck twelve.Sudhir was unlikely to visit me.I had left him only an hour ago.No one else knew my new address.This old house in Mehrauli at the edge of the tediously turning,twisting Metcalfe lane,overlooking the hilly terrains and sprawling jungle below.A relic of the British Raj.

 

                   How Blue is my Sapphire

                   by Jitendra Kumar Sharma

All of us live with our past.All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past.I think that is who I am…..

Enveloped in such thoughts I slipped into my bed.That February First night was wintry and dark.The benign embrace of the Indian quilt brought alive Eliot’s line,“Winter kept us warm”, and I twirled and turned in its cozy warmth.

There was a knock at the door!“At this hour”,I said to myself as the old grandfather clock struck twelve.Sudhir was unlikely to visit me.I had left him only an hour ago.No one else knew my new address.This old house in Mehrauli at the edge of the tediously turning,twisting Metcalfe lane,overlooking the hilly terrains and sprawling jungle below.A relic of the British Raj.

Mercifully,there was no knocking.I was now fondly curling,clinging,cuddling and in womblike bliss descending deeper into the unknown when the unblessed knocker struck again.

This time knocks were bolder,more determined and instead of the old wall clock’s chiming,a jackal responded with a deep,long howl from the jungle below.The sound pierced through the thick silence of the winter night.I got up in a huff and involuntarily threw off the warm quilt.

“The mid-night knock?” 

Elections had been declared but the Emergency was not lifted. Anyone could be arrested or detained any time.Many friends and colleagues were in jail.

Impulsively,I leaped to the side room where my socialist comrades had stacked three boxes of dynamite sticks but the incessant knocking at the door made me shriek,“Who is it?”There was no reply. A pause and the madly desperate pounding resumed.

I scrambled for the torch under my pillow,flashed it and moved to the entrance gate where the deviling knocks were coming from.It was an old haveli like gate with a long heavy sliding wooden bar to shut and open it.It had remained unused for considerable period of time and needed extra effort to slide it to unbar its one door,more effort to open the other door.

I had to unbar both the doors because it was Piara Singh Panjhazari,the tall,hefty,khadi-clad Rajya Sabha Member of the ruling party whom Nehru had once described as“that fat ugly man,with ugly face and ugly ideas” but his daughter Prime Minister had nominated him to Rajya Sabha for the third time in a row!

He pushed himself in and greeted me with the words,“Oh,doctorji,how lucky I am to finally find you”.

I switched on the lights and he thumped into an undusted sofa scattering slight plumes of dust that invaded our nostrils with particles of past and future history.

Panjhazari placed on the dusty table a bottle of Black Dog and a copy of my just released book,India Unbound,Essays in National Consciousness.

“Panjhazari Ji,you know I do not drink.”

“Yes, but you know I drink”and he added,“I also know you do not keep and read your own books”.

“How did you find my address?”I inquired.

“From Sudhir,Sudhir Gupta,Agriculture Minister’s junior most typist.”

“He gave my address to you?”

“Doctor Ji,not before I parted with Rs.10,000/- and a bottle of Johnnie Walker”

“Really!”

“Please get me some water.I am sure you have no fridge,nor a bottle of soda.”

Panjhazari downed two measures of neat scotch, then drank a full glass of water and uttered, “Many thanks, doctor ji.”

He picked up my book and said,“Look doctorji, I have not come to you for getting drunk but to awaken you and keep you awake”.

“Panjhazariji, I am too tired and in need of deep sleep”.

“This is not the time to sleep. We, practical politicians call it the night of the slayers. Tickets of both Ruling Party and the United Opposition are on sale and I want to be both a Ruling Party and Opposition candidate for the Lok Sabha elections”.

I laughed but Panjhazari was serious.“You have called me Fortune’s Minion but I don’t take chances. Situation is not clear. I have already made sure of Ruling Party ticket. In fact, this is the copy of the final list, duly signed by the Prime Minister, but the Ruling Party has no chance after twenty-one months of Emergency, docotrji.”

He opened my book, India Unbound and read ,“The curtain that divided the ‘free’ men in prison and the ‘unfree’ outside the prison walls was lifted up. The transparency of Indian history gave them a common vision.”

“What meaning do you find in these words?”

Quite the opposite of what you believe, doctorji. In your own words: “Indian Freedom is not merely political; something undying and spiritual has gone into its making.”

“Was Gandhi not spiritual?” I averred.

“Yes, doctorji, but he never contested elections. When it came to politics of conflict, he was a pucca baniya, doctorji. He knew political conflict generates money. In South Africa, he learnt the politics of conflict from his mentor Jan Christian Smuts and practiced it in India. In Africa, he made little money as a lawyer, but he had no dearth of funds for his political conflict. Same in India. He lived on political money all his life.”

“Please go on”, I urged.

“Both the Ruling Party and the Opposition see Elections as Indian Freedom and want Money to win them. Money is their common vision, doctorji. Ruling Party has loads of it. I know it because I am Party treasurer. As I see it, the Opposition has the Votes but no Notes, hence no heart to fight these Elections.”

We rambled over Indian politics from Mahatma Gandhi to Indira Gandhi. I was now as awake and alert as Panjhazari wanted me to be. We simply ignored the jackals’ howling and birds’ twittering. But then there was a high-pitched noise which brought a smile on Panjhazari’s grim face.

“O, doctorji, you have mongooses in your ghost house. They are giggling and making love”.

Then he continued, “Prime Minister is scared of a split in her Party. She suspects the Agriculture Minister is getting over ambitious. I know, you are very close to him and have been seeing him after resigning as Director of the Political Training Centre. Prime Minister says, it was on your advice she declared elections.”

“Nice of her to acknowledge the Training Centre’s contribution to declaration of elections because newspapers have been crediting Intelligence Bureau for convincing the Prime Minister that she is at the peak of her popularity”.

“Yes, you know, PM is a shrewd Lady. IB has never said, she was unpopular at anytime. You, on the contrary, wrote she could “regain” [he repeated regain] her popularity by lifting the Emergency and declaring the Elections and catch the Opposition unprepared”.

“But why did she not lift the Emergency simultaneously with the declaration of Elections? I doubt if she can now win the elections. All that is required is one good resignation from the Ruling Party, and the Opposition shall unite, rally around on a common platform and smash the Ruling Party to smithereens at the hustings”.

“That is why I request you to take me to the Agriculture Minister. He is virtually No.2 and can bring the house crumbling down, if he resigns.”

“By the way, when did you see me last?

“Why doctorji, I clearly remember when I spotted you driving near Raisina Road, stopped you, sat with you letting my driver follow us and asked you to drive to Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet Mujibur Rehman.Later, you wrote the article “The Tragic Hero” in our weekly, Socialist India.” 

 In party meetings you also called his colleague, Mushtak Ahmed Khondokar, “shifty, Cassius-like”.  And he turned out to be the Prime Conspirator against Mujib, doctor ji.

“Are you not committing a Freudian slip?”

“What’s that, doctorji?”

“Never mind, where were you on the afternoon of June 25,1975, Panjhazariji?”

“What a memory you have,doctorji? Of course, we were both at Prime Minister’s House; leaders were coming and going, PM flitting between her house and the crowd under the shamiana, all waiting for SSRay to return from the Supreme Court. Then Mrs. Gandhi, in crumpled, off white sari, her eyes popping out from sleeplessness and anxiety went in with SS Ray, remained closeted with him, both came out on the verandah; Sidharath Ray gave a very positive interpretation of Justice Iyer’s verdict, then suddenly the crowd started dispersing…”

Panjhazari stopped. I rejoined,“and you said, come aside, doctor, I do not know what is happening here, I do not know, you are a spy or am I a CID, then as I started walking with the Defence Minister, now Agriculture Minister, you gave me a slip and disappeared till your knocking at my door a while ago.”

Suddenly, a mongoose sprang into the cluttered room, started frolicking intermittently pausing and sitting on its haunches to watch us intently.

“Didn’t I tell you, doctorji, you have mongooses in this place?”

“You were right”.

“A good omen,doctorji. We can learn from this little animal how to live and survive among snakes. He appears very familiar with this house.”

The mongoose’s frisking  disrupted our conversation and changed the topic.

“Do you believe in Astrology, doctorji?”

I mused and said, “I do believe in Astrology but not in astrologers”.

“How intelligent you are, doctorji!”

The mongoose disappeared. The clock struck four.

“Seeing a mongoose early in the morning is a good sign”, joyfully bubbled Panjhazari and joined both his hands to thank the mongoose for visiting us and added,

“You may have a hidden treasure in this spooky house, doctorji”.

I gave out a long laugh but the mongoose came back and jumped on our table, almost upsetting the liquor bottle. Panjhazari eagerly grabbed the bottle into his lap.

 

The gentle animal comfortably sat on the table, spied us both raptly, then emptied from his little mouth a Blue Sapphire-studded ring and ran away.

“Did I not tell you, doctorji, you have a treasure in your house?”

There was something supernatural about Panjhazari,“that fat ugly man, with ugly face and ugly ideas”.

“There was reason for Indira Gandhi to get Panjhazari elected to the Upper House three times and keep him as the Ruling Party’s Treasurer”.

Suddenly, I came under Panhazari’s spell. He picked up the Blue Sapphire, examined it, compared it to several diamonds in the rings on his fingers and pronounced, “Rare, real blue sapphire, deeper blue than mine”; he held both for my observation.

I said, “You wear it”. He said, “No, today you need to be Fortune’s Fool instead of me, luckier than I for both our sake, doctorji”.

After toilet and bath, Panjhazari suggested breakfast at a wayside dhaba, “Avoid big hotels, newspaperwallas lurking there!

We drove to the Agriculture Minister’s 6, Krishna Menon Road House. It was 8-15 a.m. Sudhir was already there. He was weeping all alone in the verandah.

“Why are you crying Sudhir?”

“Babuji has resigned”.

“But you typed his one-line resignation. I myself dictated it to you last night”.

“I did not know, I only typed.”

“So you made the Agriculture Minister resign. My hunch was correct”, said Panjhazari.

Sudhir said, “Babuji is calling you inside, doctor sahib.”

I turned to Panjhazari,“Come with me, you want to meet the leader”.

“But he has already resigned. I will meet you at my 8,Kushak Road Bunglow, just behind. I know you are fond of walking. I shall wait there for you.”

A little later, I was with Panjhazari again,“Why did you change your mind. Babuji is the best Prime Minister………”

Panjhazari interrupted and completed the sentence in his own way, “India shall never have. You understand politics, poor me sniffs politics, doctorji.”

“You are a true political animal”.

“Yes, like a dog, I smell politics and have one Master at a time”.

“Babuji would have welcomed you.”

“My instinct says, he will not be the boss. Take me to the Opposition Party President. But before that, I must show you something”.

Panjhazari took me inside. We moved from room to room stacked to the ceiling with bundles and boxes of 500/-rupee notes.“This is more than enough for the Opposition to fight elections as grandly as the ruling party.”

“Enough dynamite I have to set ablaze this cursed house of corruption” but Panjhazari’s satanic stare shooed away the rising spectre of socialism from my mind as he said, “If President Shashi Singh accepts me, all these notes belong to the Opposition. This is their election money”.

“Do you know, what opinion Opposition President has of you?”

“I do. But when he sees these roomfuls of notes, he shall love this ‘ugly fat man,with ugly face and ugly ideas”.

“Not the  Shashi Singh that I know.”

“Yes, he has written Preface to your India Unbound. He is hard to flatter. You and I were with him in the Central Hall [he was then in the ruling party] when I happened to say, ‘you and I are alike’.”

“Yes, I remember, how crassly he had retorted, “The day I become like you, Panjhazari, I should drown myself in my village well.”

“Indira Gandhi was always polite. She wanted to give you Rajya Sabha but you preferred to be Director of Political Institute.  She said ‘you can be both’.You said,“No.” Party building first, power politics later. You wrote the Ruling Party Manifesto and resigned. Now, President Singh will want you to write the United Opposition Party Manifesto.”

“No, I want to contest election.”

“Let’s see if SS gives you ticket?”

We sank into big sofas and sleep overtook us. When we woke up, Panjhazari suggested we met the Opposition Prez SSingh. We drove to 3 A South Avenue. He was meeting the crowd, sometimes walking and talking with eager ticket-seekers. He accepted our greetings and also my suggestion to sit in my car and drive around, “Yes, that’ll be a relief.I am hungry. We drove to Panjhazari’s nearby 8 Kushak”.

Panjhazari showed him his 500-rupee note packed rooms.“All yours, fight the elections , boss. Funds,  no worry.”

“Shashi Singh tightly embraced Panjhazari and turning to me  said,“This is a real coup, doctor!”.

I complained, “State Prez Chandram is selling tickets for Haryana 50,000/- each”.

“Rajniti Sadhuon Ka Dera Nahin Hai [Politics in no hermitage], doctor Sahib. By the way,you do not figure in Babuji’s list of 28 candidates. You start working on the Manifesto.”

Panjhazari looked at me cynically, then, turned to the Opposition Prez,“No,both doctorji and I shall contest as Opposition candidates”, he declared while handing over the keys of his currency notes-laden government bunglow .”

“Done”, said Opposition Prez and shook our hands in a threesome.

We left SS at his residence, drove to my ghost house. Panjhzari picked up a Highland Park Single Malt Scotch Whisky and food at Claridge’s and we sat for a long session. I was no longer a teetotaler after the day’s politics.

 

When we were inebriated, the Mongoose came. We offered him drinks but he turned down our offer and skipped around.

I took off the Blue Sapphire, “Panjhazariji, now you keep it”. He did not reply; instead poured another drink.

Sudden, simultaneous sounds of Panjhazari’s booming fart and shattering snore rattled the amiable mongoose who was fixedly watching Panjhazari with curiosity. Regaining composure, the little animal turned slowly toward me, shyly removed the blue sapphire from my palm and snugly hopped back to his hideaway.

“The Mongoose has been asking us”, Panjhazari drunkenly stammered, “How Blue is my Sapphire?”

The grandfather clock auspiciously chimed, “Very Blue,Very Blue, Very Blue….Twelve O’clock.”

==The End