Gooseberries and chess bring to me disparate memories. Perhaps, this is the second story I might have crafted on the theme of chess, the first one unpublished. I had written two, at the best I think so, or I had wished to write about the game of chess. First of all, let me tell you my interest, privilege, affiliation or authority or lack of all these, to write such a one, except being a whimsical storyteller-
From childhood, say from the age of ten, I played or observed this game, first played with interest but observed with little enthusiasm, as I had other passionate activities at this stage with the local kids… I have observed the games of Petrosian, Paul Morphy, Bobby Fisher, Capablanca, Mikhail Botvinnik, Kasparov or the moves of Anatoly Karpov or some other master. But I have not seen the new contestants, because by that time, my interest in this game shrivelled to such an extent that the very thought of it brought to me mixed feelings of loss and struggle…Still, I would like to write about the game as it has some tie into certain members of my immediate family because my younger brother who met with a tragedy was a champion of this game.
May I tell you with tremor and a feigned puissance, conceivably a wrong one, the remaining of the anecdote? In my fifth class, I got access to an exclusive club called Civilian Club of Masters because of dad’s standing who was a notable civil servant in the British era as well as Free India, and our home then was in Nasik, a town in the western part of the country. We lived in Nasik and Deolali for a handsome number of years and it was where my younger sisters (twins, younger to me by five or six years) were born and also died. My mother was half British and half Indian and she was a stenographer in British service till she wound up to settle herself as a housewife.
I still remember how I blubbed in that midday, a lad of six, alone under a gooseberry tree, over the loss of his sister. As for gooseberries,(just based on my memories, not scholastic) they are of two types. – I am not checking Google to find if this is true- The first type has strong rough inner flesh and tastes bitter in the beginning but on further chewing turns sweet and the second type of gooseberries are soft and fleshy and sour and sweet and changes colour as it ripens. This tree’s branches are not as strong as the first type, and I was sobbing under this second kind and now a middle-aged lady who was our family friend came with her hubby and told – ‘Raju, you have another sister. Don’t weep my brave boy’, or something similar to that. But that sister also died within a few weeks due to a similar disease of the type of dysentery and these were twins, and my mother’s condition plummeted to depression. But she was not the one to give up…
After my mother’s passing, my father bereaved for three years but later married a remarkable lady in his workplace who became my stepmother and the greatest force in my life behind all my endeavours. She hailed from a middle Travancore village. She gave me a sister and a brother for me…
My brother in turn became a genius chess player. I was in a habit of drawing animals. And my dad saw that I would not make a good chess player. And I painted though I had a delusion in those eras that a painter’s life is not a grand one. And my brother and myself pkayed the game of chess whenever we got time, and ince in Denver after a play tour, we played two days at a stretch. In my youth, a major tournament took place in Reykjavik between Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky and the interests of the youth in our boondocks turned to that play and we both as a rule immersed in the game. My younger brother had a coach, and I recollect him arriving to our apartment in the evening saving for the weekend and he was paid per hour, and though it was my sibling who was playing the game, I was evenly engrossed in the game ensuing my curiosity in it tower that I matched a rival to him. This happened in a larger space, I grew a competitor to him in the rooms of life as well on the chessboard. His tutor was a college senior who participated in the National and had a graceful squint on his left eye and was gaunt with a pleasant stamp. He arrived in an auto cart that was parked till waited till the session was over. The coach was paid on an hourly basis by my dad though he did not play the game he applauded good players. Once the coach came with a little boy who was to become later the national champion. Both of us, my brother and I became masters of this game playing most of the time, and on the journeys we took frequently, we played, in railway compartments with people who knew the game and we carried in our satchel, a chessboard and the pieces. This was a game sometimes I imagined callous or fun and deep focused, and sometimes vexatious and during our stopover at Rezaabad, I noticed people playing at the doorsteps of their dwellings