King or Pawn

KING or PAWN

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

William Shakespeare

Did you know that chess is our gift to the world? Some 1500 years ago! Our predecessors played this game to devise war strategies. In the 6th Century during the Gupta Empire time, it was known as Chaturanga, which translates to four divisions (of the military): the infantry, cavalry, elephantry and chariotry. They evolved into our modern-day Pawn, Knight, Bishop and Rook. From India, the game travelled to Persia and was a part of Persian nobility. When Arabs conquered Persia, the game travelled its way into the Muslim land. For the Arab Muslims, the word ‘ch’  and  ‘ng’ were negative terms and thus came into being our present-day name ‘Shatranj’. ‘Shah’ means king in Persian and Mat means ‘helpless’; the king is helpless and thus defeated; this term is used even today; ‘Check-mate’  in English and ‘shah aur mat’  in our country. 70% of our country men play this game. No, no; relax. I belong to the remaining 30%.

Despite instigating an ill feeling and acting as a catalyst to many fights, I always preferred to play Snakes and Ladders and shied away from Chess. My chances of winning this game were never in question; how badly and how miserable would be the loss and how I would salvage my bruised ego, these were the worries.

I tried hard to feign interest whilst my siblings waged war; 64 squares of black and white and the power struggle to trap the King. It never was a quick game though (like it is said that it used to be in the good old olden days); some tactical maneuvers and a ‘check-mate’; game over; that would have been to my liking. Rather, it went on forever, a long- drawn strategic planning ensued; my clever siblings continued to plot and scheme and bore the audience to death with their tortuous thinking and eyes boring a hole into the board, willing to burn the opponent’s King. Yet, I persisted. The more I watched the more the game revealed itself to me. I realised that the most powerful piece around which the whole game revolved, the king, verily, happened to be the most powerless piece. The queen had all the powers, could move in any direction, any number of squares and a force to reckon with. If the queen is trapped and ousted from the game, a quick closure was imminent.

The Queen, Knights (horse) and Rooks (elephant) and the Bishops (camel) all are powers to protect the king and help their Queen trap the opponent King. Yet, they are confined to that singular power vested on them; a horse cannot play the role of an elephant and the bishop cannot jump two and a half squares like the knight. They all are forced to play their part, die their part; trapped in it unto death. A bit better than the life of the helpless King; nevertheless, a handicapped life. The surprise super powers in the game though, were the Pawns; the soldiers. The queen if dead, she was out of the game, the knight the elephant could play just their part, they did not have the power to become a queen, or any other power. But a pawn, had the potential to become a queen, the most powerful piece in the game, give a losing game a fighting chance and a victory too, maybe. A pawn trudges, inches its way slowly up to the opponent’s side, 6 squares away from either protecting his own King or on the way to becoming a power player!

 

What Shakespeare says reveals itself in this game. The powers have greatness thrust upon them; the knight, bishop and rook. But for some unknown reason the game is designed thus; it symbolises these powers as animals, lower forms of creation. They are born to a nature, very early in life, adapt to their intrinsic nature but the growth stops there. That’s why animals function the same throughout their life cycle. That’s their boon or curse (whatever one chooses to consider it as). The greatness thrust upon these powers in chess is the same, don’t you think so?

Same goes for the King! He is born to greatness, by virtue of birth, the King’s first born ascends the throne and wears the Crown. Likewise, the poor queen is also unwittingly caught in the game. By virtue of being the king’s wife; she has greatness thrust upon her and she too must play her part. Both may suffer or enjoy their part, yet they have to live up to the role they have been assigned. Now, where is the handicap, you may ask. Can the King ever be anyone other than a king? No! They are unfortunately born to that nature and will die within that nature itself. That is there fate, greatness which they were born with and will die in.

Some achieve greatness: is those Pawns, the soldiers in the game, standing in the frontline; guarding the powers. Both, my sister and brother were easy to sacrifice the pawns in the first half of the game; but as they started to lose their powers; the focus shifted. They kept a close watch over the remaining soldiers; slyly inching the corner most pawn up and up into the opponent’s side; hoping they could revive the dead queen; regain power. The pawn has the potential to become someone great; someone who he is not born into, a garb not thrust upon him, can be earned by this pawn. Is this not the same for us; the middle class; or the common man? We all are born to a nature, yet, only we have the ability to transcend our nature. We may fail; yet we can aspire for success. Like pawns, we are born to a nature, but need not leave this world in the same garb; we have the power to choose, aspire to become someone worthwhile. We are a few steps away from our cherished dreams and aspirations; and step by step, we move closer to achieving our aspirations.

The unnoticed pawns in this game fought by powers and super powers; working their way up, from the periphery; and having the potential to come out a winner; achieve greatness. Fascinating game; intricately woven craft, daring us to seek out the simplest truth!