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So we’ve taught Nicky to play chess.
I’m not sure if it will help him in life, or if it’s any good for us. Sarah worries that we’ve created a monster: “One more game! One more game!” he choruses. It’s not so much a request as a demand. We went into the Grand Sindhi at three o’ clock, and didn’t come out until nearly ten.
“This very interesting game,” Nicky said. “Very quickly the time is passing.” He played right until he had to chalo his house. A wedding passed by: the groom and his band processed up and down Main Bazaar, but Nicky hardly looked up from the board. Amar came in and suggested we see the new movie down at the theater, but Nicky said, “Why waste your money? Movies everyday the coming. But chess is not coming.”
I am amazed. Despite the language barrier, despite his low frustration threshold, despite the subtlety and complexity of the rules of the game, Nicky was a very eager student, picked up the ropes quite quickly.
“I telling you,” he said, “two, three times in Goa I ask the tourist people if you can a teaching the me, but they say ‘No, no, no, we have no time. You chalo your place!’ I berry happy you a the teaching it me.”
With a few reminders of the rules, a little advice, and the freedom to rethink his blunders, Nicky won one and a half games out of four with Sarah. Then he challenged me.
“Don’t tell me the moves,” Nicky requested. “I only want to think it.”
I didn’t go easy on him. I handily trounced him game after game, checking to make sure he wasn’t getting frustrated after each round. But my unrestrained expertise seemed to only fuel his desire to master the game.
I more or less stopped playing chess in high school. My pursuit of academic, social, and spiritual activities gradually crowded out the hobby, and my vicious competitive spirit always made playing more stressful than it should have been. But chess provides a unique opportunity to create social space: it gathered a crowd in the high school cafeteria, and it seems no less attractive in India.
Half the wallahs roving street and every souvenir shop will sell you a chess board, but almost no one knows how to play properly. To see a board in action is compelling to Indians passing by who have a free moment, and many of them express a desire to learn.
We bought a chess board to see what would happen. We don’t know what else will happen, but it does seem to be a promising experiment.