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Showing posts with label naveen karthikeyan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label naveen karthikeyan. Show all posts

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Stunning Chess Novella: Lucknow's Romantic, Historical Legacy of Chess

Chess Club Black & White's Zainab Raza Undulusi caught up with Fide International Arbiter Naveen Karthikeyan to chat about his latest part-fiction, part-historical novella, 2. Zih-e-Lucknow#. Since we last met him two years ago, the twenty-something has not changed. He is still reclusive, still extremely shy and still in love with chess. That love has, however, grown!

Q: So, this is your fourth book and you've covered pretty much four different genres through chess — philosophy, children, fiction and history. What's the strategy?
A: Actually this is my fifth book. The first never got written that I began with in 2020! So much for planning. Just like for the rest of the world, everything has been tumultuous since Covid happened. I ended up in cities I had not thought of and in empty rooms talking to myself. I'm no guru or writer. The books happened as therapy in solitude.

Q: Your latest book has a huge and fascinating canvas. What is it about? Chess, history, love, Lucknow, kids, food, youngsters, humour... Senior citizens, culture...?
A: All. It's all linked through chess people! "Zih" happened specifically because of the chess players I met in Lucknow thanks to my contact with Chess Club Black & White (CCBW). I was surprised to hear about the deep cultural connection that Lucknow has with chess. It just had to be told. I still feel more could be written.

Q: How did you build the narrative? Are the characters real?
A: No author can be totally delinked from his human experience. That said, somewhere in the book, I lost track of all the characters. The fictional, historical, and the imaginary, all became too real. I enjoyed the process. I hope my readers do too. I sought permission from the real people to put them in the book as they are. It was essential to Karthik's journey. Initially, though, I had set out to only create a kind of historical record of chess players in Lucknow. My only intention was to make a website listing the names and a little about them. I just lost control. The book happened. Then, the surprising part is, it all also connects to India's Freedom Struggle. I found that super special and felt every chess player should know about this link.

Q: Both your novellas have women protagonists. Is there a reason for that? Is this a sequel?
A: Only one. Leila is one woman protagonist. In Zih, Karthik and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah are the male protagonists in the two separate timelines. The two books are not related. The numbering is just an idea based on chess notation.

Q: The bridging of 1856 and 2020 timelines — How did that happen?
A: Chess is so much a part of the Lucknow consciousness. Mention the word "shatranj (chess)" to a random stranger on the streets, and even if they have never touched a real chess set, they will immediately remark about Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, Premchand's iconic short story and the great Satyajit Ray film based on that. For me, the quirky personal connect happened when I found out that the Nawab was exactly my age when the British took over the Kingdom of Awadh in 1856. Then, back to the present, most of the children were whom I had met online during the lockdown. By some mysterious grace the characters and the novella just came to be.

Q: And, the Urdu poetry?
A: what can I say. That's not just about Urdu. You see, it's about the Lucknow air. The thing is either Lucknow makes everything romantic for you from having tea to meeting people or, it rejects you totally. Lucknow is a living city that embraces you with its passion if you are brave enough. Urdu is part of that passion. This I really cannot explain. (Smiles) Read my book, go to Lucknow and play a CCBW tournament!

Q: Both your novellas — 1. Leila# and 2. Zih-e-Lucknow# have free-spirited characters and you examine love, marriage and relationships in the non-traditional way. You project that love and relationships are not for keeps. Is that your observation of what is happening today?
A: I wouldn't say that's the correct interpretation. (Smiles). I do agree that I have witnessed a lot of fragile relationships around me. After all, relationships and career seem to be the focus in everyone's teens and twenties. However, what I want to say is, true love and committed relationships exist rarely because everyone's confusing physical or material attraction as love. I've tried to reach some kind of a definition for what is true love. I'm not sure I've succeeded. As my mentors say, I need to explore and study more and read more and I don't have any time to waste. I'm only a student. I need to work harder.

Q: Your mentors?
A: One is surely influenced by the people one meets. These can be through books we read, movies we watch or real people. International Master Akshat Khamparia, from Indore, is my teacher on and off the chessboard. Not only did he get me started on my Fide International Arbiter title, but his clarity of vision as an organiser is truly inspiring. No one can lead a team of polar opposite people as dynamically as he does. His Indore GM Open is going to be one of the great tournaments in the years to come like Moscow, London, Havana, St Louis, Hastings etc. His chess reflects that sparkling clarity as well. Then, GM Jonathan Rowson's books have had a profound impact upon me. GM Rowson's 100-year-project, Perspectiva, which is a collective of scholars, artists and activists working on "the pickle" through insight, praxis, realisation, and emergence is mind-boggling for me. I struggle to understand it but he's my modern philosophy hero. I hope I can be somewhat like him in the years to come both in chess and in thought. But, right now, I just have to study.

Q: And, cook?

A: (Laughs) Yes, as I say, in all my books. I think I was born to be a chef. The last letter just turned from "f," to a double "s" somehow. I do want to explore every single cuisine of the world. Again, I feel, I could have written more about the food in Lucknow.

Q: So, what next?
A: Hopefully, more studying, more writing, more chess, more meditation and more cooking.

*The book is available online for purchase in hard copy at all leading book stores for Rs 500. Ebook version coming soon. (Amazon, Flipkart, Clever Fox Publishing. Author website has an additional discount.)

Previous interview of the author. 
All books by the author:
— 18x64: Chess Class with Bhagavad Gita Shlokas
— Just eight pawns: A short story book for children - of all ages
— 1. Leila#
— 2. Zih-e-Lucknow#

Monday, January 17, 2022

"Take Advice, but Play YOUR Own Move in Life!"

Indian chess found a literary and philosophical voice recently. Black & White catches up with Chennai-born engineer chess player-coach, and author, Naveen Karthikeyan. Zainab Raza Undulusi convinced the shy young man to step out of his shell for a bit.

Title: 18x64 - Chess Class, Life Lessons with Bhagavad Gita shlokas

Availability: Amazon, Flipkart, Publisher website, author website, select brick 'n mortar bookstores (discount link at end of article)

"Sit anywhere and have whatever if you wish to," smiles the lanky author pointing to a tray of tea and coffee sachets as you enter his study.

Part amused, part charmed you take off your mask and sit down.

"Freedom. I believe in Freedom," says Naveen Karthikeyan sounding apologetic, "I didn't mean to be rude according to Indian traditions of welcoming a guest."

Q: Indeed. Isn't there a whole chess and life lesson link to the idea of "Freedom" in your book?

Karthikeyan explains, "Everyone likes to control someone else's game of life. We are constantly told what move to play particularly when making the most important choices in life. Not that people want to harm you when advising. It can be well-meaning friends or family members but they may have no clue who you really are as an individual. It can be society looking at generalising everyone or prejudices etc. Just that freedom of individual choice is restricted or missing. It's your life, your game. No one else has the right to play it. Take advice and take decisions your way. Young Indians truly need to do that. Like in chess. It's worth the struggle to be you - the original you - and take responsibility for being you."

Q: So how do you know your decision is right?

"I don't know. Please don't project me as a guru. I'm not one. I don't have any answers," he's quick to reply.

There's a silence between us. I decide on the tea.

Karthikeyan continues, "This monk once told me that the decision has to feel right for you in your heart region. You try to sense honestly the energy there. 

"That's why we read, discuss, travel etc to cultivate ourselves, to have the knowledge to take good decisions for ourselves. It's not about me versus someone or society. It's about me versus the old me." 

Some fans picking up the book at a meet-the-author event
at Dubai Expo recently.

Q: You've already been apologetic twice about your thoughts here

"Maybe, I want to protect your freedom of not getting influenced by me," he smiles.

Such life lessons combined with super-strong chess studies make Karthikeyan's book a delight to read.

Karthikeyan says, "The 18 chapters of the Bhagavad Gita and 64 squares of the chessboard hold spiritual secrets. Isn't it amazing that we talk of two battlefields and the message is construction, not destruction."

"I have also tried to explore the concept of meditation in my book. It's state of flow. The world's best sportsmen, musicians, creative artists all go into a zone that is defined by a timelessness. Somehow, we can access creativity or, what I would call, a higher consciousness. We, as Chess players, feel the state of flow or meditation during our games." 

Karthikeyan adds, "I want the book to be a beginning of philosophical analysis among chess players and a beginning of Chess for non-players."

18x64 is written in simple English structured in carefully thought-out 22 chapters. Each chapter consists of a shloka (in Sanskrit), followed by a literal translation, scene setting from the Kurukshetra battlefield, a life philosophy interpretation and a thought for chess players. There are a total of 108 chess studies in the book which are sure to raise your playing strength.

Q: How did the book happen?

"Dr Junaid Ahmad (former chess champion of Uttar Pradesh) is a senior Indian chess player and chess club administrator. I was visiting him for my chess sets business at his club. I had no clue that a short trip would extend to so many days. The virus happened. There were no return flights. I was forced to spend time in his extensive library. My father had changed worlds a few months back. I was already emotionally at my weakest. The library kept me afloat. I was reading the Bhagavad Gita and I was studying Chess. By some grace, it all came together."

"The beauty of Chess is that you don't have to be a professional player to benefit from what it gives you. I'm no expert. I just want to share what I gained during my own healing process and while studying Chess," he says.

Q: An engineer by profession, Naveen Karthikeyan is also a chess coach and Fide arbiter. How's that?

"I started out by playing actually. I had to switch to teaching to earn during my father's illness," he says. "I hope I can return to playing, but my greater satisfaction now will be even if one person benefits the slightest from the content of my book - in life and in chess." 

*Hot seat Rapid Round*

Favourite world champion: Bobby Fischer

Favourite chess player: Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson (also my hero. I want to think, play, and write like him.)

Favourite openings: 1.e4, Caro Kann, King's Indian

Favourite city: Really can't say one please so that's Chennai, Lucknow, Berlin, Barcelona and Amsterdam. 

Favourite food: Dosa evermore 

I am happy when: the kids in my class fall in love with chess 

Future plans: all adventures entrusted to destiny 

Girlfriend/Partner: too personal to tell 

Life is: a game

Chess is: Life

India is: the best

Meditation is: Power

Workout: Yoga and Qi Gong

Chennai has so many GMs because: It's in the air

Other interests: learning languages, reading everything, gardening and cooking

Favourite book: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Pets: Cat lover

Life philosophy: Freedom. Individual liberty and free societies.

The book can be purchased on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions.
If you purchase the paperback book on author website, use code BANDW for a Rs 100 discount.



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