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4

The two friends continued to play and it was soon 3 O'clock. It was Mirza who was in dire straits at this point of time. The clock tower announced 4 O'clock and troops could be heard returning. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah had been taken a prisoner and was being taken to an unknown destination. There was neither any uproar in the city nor a drop of blood shed. Not even a drop of blood had been shed! There could not have been any past incident when the king of a free nation was captured so peacefully, without a drop of blood being shed! This was not the non-violence which would have pleased the gods. This was cowardice; that sort of cowardice over which even the biggest cowards would have wept in shame! The king of a great nation like Awadh was taken a prisoner but the city of Lucknow was sunk in a pleasurable slumber. This was political degradation of the worst kind!

Mirza said, "Sir, the oppressors have taken the Nawab as a prisoner."

Mir: "Maybe; here mind this, check.

Mirza: "Sir, stop a while. I don't feel like playing; poor Nawab must be shedding tears of blood."

Mir: "He has reasons to weep; how will he receive the same comforts in captivity? Check!"

Mirza: "There are so many ups and downs in life! It is a pitiful situation."

Mir: "That's true; here, check once again. This is checkmate, you have no way out."

Mirza: "Oh my god, you are so heartless! Don't you feel even a pang of sorrow at such a big calamity? Poor Wajid Ali Shah!"

Mir: "First save your king, and then grieve over Nawab's situation. This is curtains for your king."

The last of the troops disappeared from sight, taking the Nawab with them. Immediately thereafter, Mirza readied himself for another game. The pain of a defeat is hard to bear.

"Let's recite a dirge to mourn Nawab's capture," Mir said.

But Mirza's patriotism had evaporated following his defeat and he was getting impatient to get even.

Dusk had fallen. The bats in the ruined mosque raised a din. The swallows returned back to their nests. But the two players remained firm in their places like two blood-thirsty adversaries. Mirza had lost three games in a row and the fourth game was also not going in his favour. Everytime he would resolve to win and that made him extra cautious. But despite all caution a single bad move would turn the tables against him. Following every defeat, his desire to take revenge would intensify. Mir Saheb, on the other hand, was in high spirits. He was singing "ghazals" and from time to time clicked his fingers as if he had discovered some hidden treasure. Mirza found the "ghazals" very irritating but expressed his appreciation nevertheless in order to camouflage the rising anger. But as he continued to lose, his patience deserted him so much so that he even made his irritation evident. "Sir, do not take back your moves. This is ridiculous that you should make a move and then take it back. Make a move and that should be final. Why do you keep touching the pieces? Until you have decided your move, you should not touch the pieces at all. You take half-an-hour to make a move! This is not permitted. Whosoever takes more than five minutes to make a move should be considered as having lost. There, you have taken back your move once again! Keep that piece back in its place.

Mir Saheb's queen was in trouble. "When did I ever make a move?" he asked innocently.

Mirza: "You have made your move; please place that piece on that square."

Mir: "Why should I keep it there? When did I ever release that piece?"

Mirza: "If you do not release the piece till the day of judgement, would that imply you have not made your move? You are cheating because your queen is in trouble."

Mir: "It is you who cheat. A win or a loss is a matter of fate, no one wins through cheating."

Mirza: "Then, you must accept defeat in this game."

Mir: "Why should I accept defeat?"

Mirza: "Then you put your piece on that square where you had placed it earlier."

Mir: "Why should I place it there? I will not do so."

Mirza: "Why will you not place it there? You must."

The war of words intensified. Both held their grounds and no one was willing to yield. The talks took a turn for the worse and subjects irrelevant to the game of chess began to be mentioned. "One can know the rules of chess only if it has been played in the family for generations. Your family has always been engaged in cutting grass, how can you play chess? One does not become an aristocrat just by inheriting an estate."

Mir: "What! Your father must have cut grass. In our family we have played chess for generations."

Mirza: "Pshaw! You have spent your life working as a chef for Gaji-ud-din Hyder and now you are acting high and mighty. It is not a joke to be an aristocrat."

Mir: "You are besmirching your ancestors, they must have been chefs. In our family we have always dined with the king."

Mirza: "Stop it you grass-cutter, don't talk rubbish."

Mir: "Hold your tongue; else the consequences will be bad. I am not used to hearing such nonsense. If someone gives me dirty looks I would not hesitate to gouge out his eyes. Do you have the guts?"

Mirza: "You want to test my guts, do you? Let's have a duel unto death then."

Mir: "Who is afraid of you?"

Both friends drew out their swords. It was a royal era; everyone carried swords or daggers. Both were pleasure-seekers but not cowards. Their political sentiments had been deadened; why should they die for their king? But both of them had abundant personal valor. Both took up positions; the swords glinted. There was the sound of steel clashing against steel. Both fell down injured, and both died while writhing in pain. The two had not shed a tear for their king but sacrificed their lives defending the queens on the chess board.

It had grown dark. The chess board was laid for a game; the two kings on the chess board, seated on their respective thrones, appeared to be crying over the deaths of the two braves.

There was a deafening silence all around. The collapsing vaults of the ruin, the crumbling walls and the dust-coated minarets watched over the corpses and swayed their heads in grief.

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