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The Chess Players

Picture of Munshi Premchand This is only a feeble translation of "Shatranj ke khiladi" by Munshi Premchand. Better translations are available. The story is about two friends - Mirza Sajjadali and Mir Roshanali - who lived in Lucknow during Wajid Ali Shah's reign. People in Lucknow lived a luxurious and carefree life because all the wealth from the rural parts was siphoned off and conveyed to Lucknow. Thus, Lucknow was immersed in pleasure while the rest of the kingdom suffered. The kingdom was in heavy debt to the British East India Company, and the British were looking for an opportunity to annex the kingdom. The two friends enjoyed large properties bestowed upon them by the king, and thus had an obligation to serve the king. The two are ardent chess players, and, having no work to do, spend their days playing chess. Initially, they used to meet at Mirza Sajjadali's house to play. But, Mirza's wife could not put up with her husband playing chess the whole day; she, in fact, felt it was Mir's fault. One day Mirza's wife gave vent to her anger and threw off the chess board. The friends thought it prudent to now play at Mir's house. Mir's wife, for reasons of her own - probably a secret love affair - had been quite happy with the previous arrangement when Mir used to stay away from home the whole day. But, now, when the two friends began meeting in Mir's house, her independence was curtailed. One day, a royal officer comes in search of Mir purportedly to conscript him in the army. A conversation between the officer and Mir's wife seems to suggest that the two had connived to scare away Mir into playing chess somewhere else instead of in the house. Whatever the case, the two friends are indeed scared and decide to play in a ruined mosque far away from their homes. One day, while playing, they see British troops taking away their king as a prisoner. Although under an obligation to serve their king, the two continue playing chess as if nothing had happened. During the course of their game, a disputed move of the queen on the chess board results into a quarrel between the friends. The quarrel takes up a violent form and the friends draw out their swords and engage in a duel. Both are killed! The two friends who had not lifted a finger to defend their own living king, cross swords and are killed while defending the lifeless king pieces on their chess board!

(This story is being republished)

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Bovine wisdom!

Funny picture of dog wearing a hat Since childhood I have been told by knowledgeable persons, including my mother and other elders, that animals are better judges of people. Animals instinctively know whom to trust and whom to avoid! If a dog runs up to someone wagging its tail, that person must indubitably be of very good character. If the dog, on the other hand, takes a dislike and snarls and bares its fangs, the least said about the person the better. That is what I have been given to understand since my childhood. Animals have an uncanny ability to sniff out a person's character. They can see through any kind of hypocrisy! Well, as I sailed along in life, there have been numerous instances when dogs, complete strangers to me till that point of time, have come running up to me wagging their tails nineteen to the dozen, and I have said to myself, "How true, I am the most saintly person; the dog recognizes it." There have been an equal number of instances when dogs have strained at their leash to snap at me. "Something wrong with the dog; this is what happens when a dog is owned by a crabby master," I have then said to myself.

(This story is being republished)

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What's the time?

Picture of hourglass This is all about hour glasses. Okay, okay, I know we don't measure time using hour glasses anymore; this is about the period in time when hour glasses were in use. Once upon a time there was a king. The king enjoyed his food (we all do!). The cook had to be careful that he cooked everything to the king's liking, else he was likely to be punished. The king, of course, did not behead cooks who failed to prepare food to his liking; there would be no cooks willing to cook for him if he went about beheading them. He however punished the cooks in other ways - every time the cooks prepared something that was not to his liking, their wages were deducted (some things never change). One day, the king asked the cook to boil few eggs for exactly nine minutes. But the poor cook had two hour glasses - one which could measure seven minutes and the other which could measure four minutes. How is he to measure nine minutes? Please help him.

(This puzzle had been carried before and is being republished)

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  • Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
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  • Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
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  • Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
  • Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
  • IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
  • Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
  • Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
  • Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
  • Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
  • Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu