Category: Plays

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]






=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=====