World Chess Day

Freedom. The word hung in the air as I walked out of the Dachau Memorial Site, the first concentration camp, in Germany. There was no will or wish to click photographs, except an anxious heart attempting to unburden the pains described in the many documents preserved in the museum.

Curiosity should never be overcome. Floating memories of the pictures from the memorial site replayed. The memorised image of a chess board returned as a piece of information,  and I was on my own arm-chair research.

The simple squares, not sure if it totalled to the visible number of 64, or black and white, but the hand drawn, probably etched with a metal or glass piece behind what looked like a plate/bowl meant for food, could have been a deviation from the hard facts of less hopeful times.

There was also a chess set, hand-carved from wood by an “unknown prisoner”.  The chess board had two colours for the squares, one appeared off-white and the other a faded shade of black to my eyes. The English description provided at the memorial museum confirmed that game of chess was popular in the camp, and tournaments were held time-to-time was common knowledge.

Common! To me it was a new information.

Chess an Interactional Tool

Chess for many prisoners already had a “history” and meaning before they came to the camp. It was as part of their social practices among family, friends or colleagues. Playing chess in camps offered several layers of identification and stabilization…… Chess meant interacting with other inmates on an already known ground, where one could develop a foundation to communicate.” Words of Daniel Logemann in Playing Chess in Concentration Camps an article that appeared in my online search.

Fact Is, Chess….

Absolutely! Chess has had a long history – tracing its roots (chaturanga) from India to its branching   world over. “Whatever its precise origins, the evolution of Chess throughout the hundreds of years it has been played provides an excellent example of the transmission and interpretation of aspects of different cultures in multiple directions along the Silk Roads. In each case, elements of the game were altered to fit the various specificities and tastes of its new locality, particularly in terms of the forms the various pieces took. However, in each case, it retained enough similarities to constitute a variation on the same game.” (UNESCO website)  

Chess and Mind

In fact, along with a cultural influence, chess has a way with our mind. In one line: it is one of the best games to help build concentration and a solution to keep one´s mind active.

Summarising from the newspaper articles: an ideal game for a full brain exercise. From decision-making,  problem-solving abilities and critical thinking,  to focus and concentration, to raising the IQ level to reducing the risk of Alzheimer,  playing chess has its benefits.

Chess-mate in Pandemic

As per media reports,  the game has had a favourable growth during the covid pandemic, a stretch of time most people like to associate with restricted freedom, and health challenges at mental, emotional, psychological and a cumulative physical paradox. A stage where confusion crept in our lives having been left to discover by ourselves self-understanding, and methods of surviving the unchained chains of suffering and helplessness. 

It was only a matter of wading the ways and digital world had some respite for the unforeseen. The survival tactics led many to learning and upskilling, and the art of mastering online chess games offered a recourse.

Before Checkmate

A chess lover needs no special day or reason to celebrate. Nevertheless, the game is celebrated internationally on July 20, the day marked by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Whether it is a board game played by two players with 16 pieces including king, queen, pawns, bishop strategically or logically, we have our own association and fascination for the game. Once again, I am drawn to Logemann ´s article about chess and concentration camp. “…. chess players often tried to describe their real life as combinations of chess maneuvers or understood the game as a metaphor for life.”

A metaphor for life it is then; and I sign off on that note my Dachau Diary.

© Deeya Nambiar