‘The Chess Players of Lucknow’ – based on a classic story by मुंशी परेमचंद

-By Jitendra Bhojwani

The chess players (Based on the drama version of Munshi Premchand’s famous classic novel)

 It was the Lucknow of Wazid Ali Shah. Wealthy and filled with the best lifestyle option, Lucknow was so beautiful and wealthy that people of other states started feeling jealous about the wealth of the city. There lived 2 landlords too- Roshan and Meer Sahib. They were fond of chess and would go to length to win. One day…..

Maidservant: Meer Saahab, Begum is feeling an intense headache. She wants you to get her medicine from the nearby Hakim

 Meer (annoyingly): What? Oh..Hmmm….well, I will get it after completing this session/

 Maidservant went back to Begum and told her the Meer’s words.

 Maidservant: Begum. Meer Sahib is telling me that he will get you the medicines after completing the game session.

 The anger got the better of Begum. How could it be? The game session was closer to Meer than Begum’s well-being! Poor maidservant had to bear the brunt!

 Begum (shouts): How can it be? I am suffering from a severe headache and Meer Sahib wants to complete his game session first? Didn’t you tell her how badly I need medicine? Go and tell him again.

 Maidservant went again, this time she was also angry at Memsahib. “This man is more interested in completing his chess session with that useless Roshan khan while Begum Sahiba is suffering from a headache. And why should I be the one to bear the Begum’s anger?”

 Maidservant went to Meer. Meer was busy playing with Roshan. The game session was ell interesting, it was one of the best game sessions that he was playing. Best of all he liked the flushed face of Roshan as Meer was getting better at him.

 Maidservant: Meer Sahib, Begum is saying that she needs to have medicine, now!

 There was some authority in Maidservant’s voice that alerted Meer!

 Meer (looking at maidservant): I just told you that I am coming after completing this session. Don’t you have any patience

 Maidservant: Meer Sahib, I am just playing a messenger to Begum Sahiba.

 Roshan was not interested in continuing that session as his defeat was inevitable. So something sprang up in his mind.

 Roshan: Oh, Meer Sahib! Women are very sensitive. Why don’t you better go and bring her the medicine? How long will it take? The chessboard will not run away.

 Meer: Hmmm it won’t, but the position of pawns could be changed.

 Roshan (a bit louder): So, you are telling me that I am a cheater! See Meer Sahib, I respect you but then Chess has been in the very blood of our family. My great grandfather had defeated the Nawab of Lucknow in a chess game and won the 1/10th portion of Lucknow. I can’t bear anyone doubting my integrity as far as chess is concerned!

 Meer smile a bit. There was a reason. This Roshan Sahib always used his great grandfather during such situations. Especially when he was losing the game, he would somehow force his great grandfather to descend from the high heavens and would tell a tale or 2 about him. That Lucknow nawab tale was his favorite though! But he was not very good with the numbers. The last time he said that his great grandfather won 1/4th portion of Lucknow in the chess game. Today he sounded a little more believable.

 Meer: Oh Pardon me! What I meant was that I am about to win the game shortly. After that, I will go to buy medicine!

 Roshan: Don’t be in chimera Meer Sahib! I have planned such fantastic steps that starting from your elephant everyone will start fleeing away from the battlefield! The king will be the most miserable….just a hint!

 Meer: Oh, Roshan Sahib! By now I have shooed away both of your horses, have finished off more than half of your foot soldiers, an elephant to has now retired! Where you were fantastic steps till now. The truth is that you don’t have any!

 Roshan: How will you understand Meer? The clever players love to allow their opponents a flurry of tiny victories just because they want to enjoy the game. But in the end, they changed the entire scenario just with a step or two! That is enjoyment, you know!

 Meer didn’t like the sudden confidence on Roshan’s face. He didn’t even see his face while the latter was talking. As Meer gargled the Hookah to bust his stress, he noticed that the maidservant was still standing. Roshan also noticed that.

 Roshan: Oh Meer Sahib, Why do you break your Begum’s heart? Just go, get her medicine, and then we will continue.

 Meer (With Determination): No, Now I would not budge before summoning the victory.

 Maidservant: So, what should I tell Begum

 Meer: Tell her that I will not budget before I win the session, come what may! She can take some rest.

 Maidservant went to Begum and added a little spice before delivering the message.

 Maidservant: Begum Sahiba, Meer Sahib said that he won’t budge before winning the game. Even Roshan Sahib persuaded him but Meer Sahib is adamant today to win the game first!

 Begum Sahib’s anger went up several notches. How come, Begum was suffering from a headache and Meer Sahib was taking it so lightly. She went to Meer Sahib. She…..herself! And she knew what to do. If a husband’s friend had to request him for taking proper care of her wire’s well-being that was the limit of negligence and revenge was on its way! She thundered into the parlor, walked straight up to Meer Sahib, looked into his eyes, and flipped the chessboard….pawns and all… at once! Luckily, Roshan Sahib had gone outside to have some water. He saw the scene from the window and silently went to his house. He didn’t want to meet the fate of a poor chessboard.

 Meer Sahib: What have you done Begum Sheba? It was such an interesting session.

Begum Sahiba: The session cannot be more interesting than my head! I burden myself with all types of chores and you won’t even get me a medicine that I need so badly. The entire day, you are playing chess with a useless fellow! Tell me are you going to get me medicine or…..

 Meer Sahib immediately ran from the house and stopped at Roshan’s house.

 Meer (to Roshan Sahib): Oh Roshan Sahib! You just fled away like a small child.

 Roshan Sahib: And what did I ought to do! Did you see your Begum Sahiba when she flipped the chessboard? I belong to high gentry and this trifling treatment I cannot bear!

 Meer Sahib: Ok, this session you owe me. But tell me where we will play from now onwards.

 Roshan Sahib: Why I have this huge mansion for what? From tomorrow onwards we will start playing here only.

 Now from the next day, Meer and Roshan would start playing at Roshan’s house. This Roshan’s wife was somehow happy that Roshan’s entire day was spent playing chess. But for some reason best known to her, she didn’t want him to play the game in the house. She didn’t want him to remain in the house. Now As Meer started visiting their houses daily, the wife started feeling the pinch. Every day, there would be extensive sessions of chess. There would be a quarrel between Meer and Roshan, fights and tales of Roshan’s great grandfather, and the Nawab of Lucknow whom he had defeated. Many times Meer would leave the game in the middle and go back to his house swearing never to play again. Roshan would also warn him not to play with him as he did approve of cheating. But the very next day both the friends started playing chess, telling jokes and sharing laughs. On one such day, Roshan saw someone near the window and shuddered.

 Roshan (To Zahoora, his servant): Zahoora! Go out and see who is there. If that fellow asks after me, tell me that I am not in the town.

Zahoora went outside. There was a horse rider standing at the main gate. Zahoora spoke with him for 10 minutes and then came inside.

 Zalora (to Roshan) Roshan Sahib: He was a royal messenger. He said that as Divan

Sahib and honorary commander, you are needed in a battle that is going to start next week, He also told that he has the order to take you to the Nawab’s palace if you don’t come by yourself. Roshan’s heart started thumping.

 Roshan: Oh! On the battlefield! Ok, Zahoora you can go now, (To Meer Sahib) you see, they want to call me for the battle, but it has been a long time since I carried the sword last time around. Now they want me. I practically involve myself in the battle.

 Meer Sahib: Yes Roshan Sahib! That would be disastrous! Even I’ve forgotten how to ride a horse! I am also an honorary commander by 2 villages that I own. Now, this royal horse messenger will not leave us. He will come again tomorrow and he may carry us forcefully. You know our Nawab, right?

 Roshan Sahib: Now what’s the solution?

 Meer Sahib: Not very far from here lies the Gomati River. That is a far-flung area where no one lives. Let us start playing there tomorrow.

 Now the friends would wake up early in the morning and go to the Gomati River.

On its banks, stood a huge mosque. Huge but deserted, the mosque attracted neither devotees nor prophets. Both the players would occupy their positions in the morning and would continue the chess till late evenings.

 One day as they were playing, Meer noticed the British forces asking outside the mosque.

 Meer (to Roshan): Roshan Sahib just sees there. So huge, this battalion is. I think at least 5000 people should be there. Just seeing their red faces, I feel frightened.

 Roshan Sahib: Leave these things Meer Sahib. As you are about to lose the game now you start diverting the attention.

 Meer: It isn’t like that Roshan Sahib. I am just telling you. Don’t you feel concerned about your city?

 Roshan Sahib: Don’t worry Meer Sahib. Our city is safe. Here goes my queen and……checkmate!

 At lunch, Meer said to Roshan: Let us have something to eat.

 Roshan Sahib: I ate a heavy breakfast today, won’t need the lunch now. Seems that you get hungry frequently

 Meer Sahib: No it’s not like that. But having some food as lunch always helps.

 Roshan Sahib: Just leave thinking about food and start thinking about chess instead.

 In the evening both Meer and Roshan saw the same British army going back. The Nawab Wazir Ali Shah had been arrested and it was perhaps the first time in Indian history that a ruler had been arrested by foreign forces without shedding even a droplet of blood. No, it wasn’t the non-violence but the cowardice at its worst. The ruler of Lucknow was being carried as a prisoner by the British army and Lucknow’s business was going on as usual!

 Meer: Oh, see Roshan Sahib. That the royal palanquin of Nawab Wazid Ali Shah! Poor Wazid Ali Shah. The British have arrested him and taking him to their place

 Roshan: Don’t think about Nawab Wazid Ali Shah. Better, think of your own Nawab! How ill you safeguard it now, tell me.

 Meer: You are so heartless Meer Sahib. Our ruler has been arrested and you are talking as if nothing has happened.

 Roshan: Then let us pray together for his well-being.

 Meer suddenly started analyzing the game. Today too the things were not fine for him. But he was adamant to win today. Now the evening is darkened and bats have started making noises in the mosque.

 As Roshan was winning the game, he was in high spirits telling jokes and reciting famous poems. Meer tried to act normally and even appreciate his jokes and poems. But after some time of his poor chances of winning, he started being annoyed. Now he had also started to make the false moves and take the help of open cheating or won the game.

 Roshan: See Meer Sahib, you are now playing tricks.

 Meer: Which tricks?

 Roshan: Why did you make your horse go diagonally? That’s not how a horse is supposed to move.

 Meer: What? How come you are telling this now. You didn’t speak when I played this step

 Roshan: Keep this pawn in the same box Meer Sahib. That’s not how chess is played.

 Meer: Oh now you will let me know how the chess is played!

 Roshan: Yes of course!

 Meer: I took the offense Roshan Sahib. No one ever dares to speak with me like that

 Roshan: Speak like this? Do you think that you are a well-established player? You have

just joined the aristocracy out of sheer luck. Your great grandfather was a cook at

Nawab Hyder Ali’s court.

 Meer: Cook? Who? My great grandfather. Be careful Roshan Sahib! Our family line has been eating “with” Nawabs since generations.. as esteemed special guests.

 Roshan: Especially guests? Oh, I know you people didn’t have a permanent roof above your head before Nawab As if he gave you a small house to live in.

 Meer: Small house! That huge mansion stands even today. Would you like to have a look at it/

 Roshan: Ok N you have started losing that why you speak like that.

 Meer: I am not losing Roshan Sahib. But you a cheating

 Roshan: Cheating: How dare you to accuse me of cheating. I am not letting you.

 Meer: Not like us? SO, am I the cheater?

 Roshan: Of course you are.

 It infuriated Roshan and he took out the sword.

 Meer also took us his sword. Both of them started fighting. The fight was fearsome and no mercy whatsoever was exercised. The floor soon turned red with blood and the bodies of two chess players got drenched in the blood. 

At the end of the day, both of them were lying unconscious on the floor. No signs of life!

 Those players didn’t feel pain while their Real King, Nawab was being arrested but to take care of their “chessboard king,” both of them started fighting and sacrificed their lives.


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