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.
"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 the author website, use code BANDW for a Rs 100 discount.