Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Life is a game; Play it with God - a chess champion's journey_Part 1

Life is a game, play it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is love, enjoy it.
  • Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

There is no doubt that the greatest game to have ever been created is the game called Life. No other game can beat it in its ability to stretch the mind and body, in the variety of outcomes it offers, in the infinite opportunities available for comeback and, most importantly, in the fact that every player can emerge a winner. However, if one had to pick a distant second best, my choice would be the game of Chess.  Chess seems to be the game which comes closest to mirroring life, rich in its metaphors for human experience. Right off the top of my head, I can think of a few:

  • Sacrifice: You must be willing to give up the things you love the most to be able to come up trumps at the end.
  • Forethought: To succeed in the long-term, it's crucial to plan well in advance
  • Equanimity: It's vital that you never suffer or celebrate in the middle of the game which could lead to lapses.
  • Valuing time: The end-time of the game is already fixed and you better ensure that you achieve fulfillment before the timer runs out.

Chess, like life, gives hope for the lowest to rise to the highest level.
I am sure that spending a little more time and thought, one can come up with many more. It was only after listening to the story of a little Chess champion that I realized how Chess could help one attain the Ultimate in life too - that too at a tender age. Having been born in 2005, it is not as if she has dozens of years of experience under her belt to justify her attainment. But then, that is another specialty common to Chess and Life - the smallest pawn, with perseverance and faith, can become the most potent piece on board, the Queen. Maybe, that is also one of the major differences between Life and Chess. In Life, as Swami puts it, with faith and perseverance (Shraddha and Saburi), one is able to become the Ultimate (the King piece) also!

With that introduction, it is time now to dive into this magnificent story that spans a decade and is still being written by the Divine Script Writer.

Start Early

When a baby girl first opened her eyes to the world on the 24th of April, 2005, the parents were beside themselves with joy. The father, T.S.Ravi was an International Master (IM) in Chess, having played many times with the Indian legend Vishnwanathan Anand. The mother, Sai Meera,  was a Women’s International Master (WIM) in Chess. They both felt that they had made their best moves in life to get an angelic daughter.

“It is only by the grace of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba that this child has been gifted to our family”, proclaimed the maternal grandfather, a sworn devotee of his Swami. To signify the watchful protection Bhagawan Baba under which the baby was born, she was named Rakshitta.

Father Ravi carries little Rakshitta as they pose with Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand. 
Rakshitta took to Swami the way a fish takes to water. She also took to Chess in the same way! Even as a 3 year old, she would pester her mother for stories of Swami on a daily basis. She also began to play and win Chess games against some people in the family by the same age! That was when the mother decided to sacrifice her own career to build one for her daughter. More importantly, inspired by the importance Swami gives to motherhood, Sai Meera felt that her little Rakshi should not miss out the Avatar of the Age. So, she spent all her time and energies in fostering Rakshi’s love for swami through stories and bhajans. Rakshi did not need much assistance in any other thing as she turned out to be a sincere and brilliant student at school and a silent and mature child at home!

By the time she was four and half years old, Rakshi was playing open Chess tournaments in the city of Chennai. Her mother would accompany her to the venue and prop her up on several pillows so that she would be in a ‘level playing field’, at least in height if not in age! In 2010, much to the delight of her mother, Rakshitta Ravi became the under-8 category champion in Chennai District! Walking to her mom with the trophy in hand, Rakshi possibly expected a warm hug from her. When she got just a confirmatory nod, she asked
“Mother, will you not congratulate me? This is the first tournament victory of my life...”

A proud mamma's darling daughter.
How could Sai Meera tell her daughter that she was extremely happy, proud and excited about her achievement but was keeping a sedate face as she was also part of the organizing committee? But she could understand the reason for her daughter’s question - unlike her husband Ravi, she had always been a very excitable and passionate person. She was also vociferous in her praise and criticism. Little Rakshi had definitely ‘inherited’ her mother’s passion for the game (and Swami) but had taken over her father’s ice-cool attitude and straight face - whether she won or lost.

That night, Rakshi dutifully asked for her ‘Swami story’ of the day and Sai Meera embraced her. She told her how proud she was of her and congratulated on her victory. Rakshitta Ravi had truly started off early - not only in her Chess but also in the greatest quest of life - Swami.

First darshan - last darshan

Towards the end of 2010, especially after the 85th Birthday Celebrations of Baba, darshan sessions began to get fewer and farther in between. In retrospect, one realizes that Swami was preparing everyone for a time when the Divine connect would have to be made sans the physical frame. It was around this time that the mother felt Rakshitta should have a darshan of the Lord she worshipped daily though Shravanam (Listening) every night and Vandanam every morning in the altar. So far, her hectic schedule between school and Chess had not allowed even for a darshan.

Sai Meera thought that it would be best to visit Prasanthi Nilayam for the Makara Sankranthi celebrations (also the Prize Distribution Day) on the 14th of January. Thus, Rakshi landed in Puttaparthi with her parents, late in the evening on the 13th of January. That day, the students from the Prasanthi Nilayam campus of the University had put up a drama - Bhagawathamu - in the divine presence because of which Swami was still in the mandir. The trio rushed to Sai Kulwant hall and five year old Rakshi, sitting in the arms of her father, had a fleeting glimpse of her most adored form in Orange returning to Yajur Mandir.

“Ah! By Swami’s grace, we got a bonus darshan,” exulted Sai Meera, “and now we are assured of  darshan tomorrow because it is Sankranthi.”

Nothing makes Rakshitta as happy as Swami does!
With God, nothing can ever be taken for granted. In spite of her best calculations, Meera had made a mistake - Sankranthi was celebrated on the 15th of January in 2011! Aggravating the extent of her mistake was the fact that Swami did not grant darshan at all on the 14th. She was crestfallen but there was nothing to be done as Rakshi’s calendar was tight. The trio returned being forced to be satisfied with a glimpse that Rakshi had got. Little did they realize that it would be the only darshan Rakshitta would be having of the Avatar in physical form!

On the day of her 6th birthday, Rakshi’s home was shattered with the news of Swami’s Mahasamadhi. While Sai Meera wailed and made immediate bookings to travel to Puttaparthi, Rakshi walked to the altar with her eyes wide open in disbelief. Somehow, she could not reconcile or understand how her God could ‘die’.
Amma, how can He die? He is God right?”
Sai Meera had no answers. She was in a state of brutal shock and she left all alone to Puttaparthi. Rakshi saw the coverage of the Mahasamadhi on national television at home.

“The TV people may say that He died... but He cannot die...” she said in all calm. Rakshi was not the least perturbed. She was convinced that the ‘game’ could not be over even as it was just beginning. Her faith did not go unrewarded. 2011 marked a turning point in Rakshi’s life in every sense and it all possibly boiled down to the simple, straight and sturdy faith of the innocent child.

Swami becomes Rakshitta’s Raksha

In 2011, Rakshitta once again won the Chennai district tournament which got her qualified to play the Tamil Nadu state tourney. Emerging in the top four there would guarantee her a place in the National level tournament. However, Rakshi came 6th there and thus, did not qualify. That was when she walked up to her mother and calmly pleaded,
Amma, please give me one chance. Swami is with me and I will do well in the Nationals...”

The calm and conviction in her voice was too much. It was as if a mature person was speaking through the lips of a 6 year old. Sai Meera did something that she had never done before in life - she pushed Rakshitta through via the ‘donor entry’. (Since Chess is not as sponsored as some other games, say Cricket, in India, people who are ready to make sizeable donations were allowed a wild card entry. The practice has been discontinued since.)

Rakshi was now a participant in the Nationals at Pune and soon, was on her way to her first match. She was playing an opponent much senior to her in age and exposure. Her mother was nervous and she kept pacing outside the venue as Rakshi played. The match went on for five hours! When Rakshi finally came out, Sai Meera strained hard to see the expression on her face. Rakshi had an absolutely straight face and she walked to her mother without speaking a word. Meera knew what had happened and so, she didn’t ask anything. Mother and daughter sat in an autorickshaw and headed towards the room. It was during dinner, three hours later that Rakshi said,
“Mom, I told you Swami is with me. That is why I was able to win...”
“What! You won?? Rakshi! How could you keep silent?”
“You were also silent... I thought you knew...”

Meera did not say anything to her daughter. She had ‘known’ but this wasn’t the result in her mind. She excitedly called up her husband to convey the news. Ravi was not too attracted to the Sathya Sai form but he had given his family complete freedom in their spiritual life.
“That is good. As long as Rakshi plays well, it does not matter whether she wins or loses.”
He seemed to have achieved the spiritual height of equanimity without being a ‘devotee’ of Swami!

The next day, during the second match, something happened that blew Meera’s mind away.

As was her practice,  after ensuring that Rakshi was settled in the venue, Meera called up Ravi to inform him that the match was in progress. That day, she noticed something amazing in her cell phone display. Since location services in her mobile were on, under the network operator’s name appeared the name of the place the cell phone is located in. Today, instead of the locality in Pune, the phone displayed - SATHYA SAI. Her heart spontaneously leaped in joy but soon, her logical brain kicked in.
“Maybe, there is a Sathya Sai Center or temple nearby..”, she thought.
But then, why did it not appear the previous day. She went to some other people and asked to see the display in their mobile phones. Many obliged her strange request and Meera’s jaw dropped down when she realized that her phone was the only one displaying the name of her Lord. She remembered the popular TV ad,
“Wherever you go, our network follows”. Swami’s network indeed seemed to be reassuring her. Intuitively, she felt that Rakshi would be winning the match and that is exactly what happened. In the night, she narrated everything to her family back home and all were thrilled.

This ‘bizarre’ happening continued on a daily basis and Rakshi won all the eight of her first eight games.
“Ravi, Shirdi is very close to Pune. Looks like Rakshi is going to win the Nationals if things go on like this. I would like to take her to Shirdi and offer the trophy there.”

The ever-equanimous Ravi responded like a sage,
“Why only offer the trophy? Whether Rakshi wins or loses, go to Shirdi and offer yourselves there...”

The next day, during the match, Meera’s cellphone displayed a new area. It read SHIRDI SAI! She knew the answer and was sure that Rakshi would make it 9/9. 

That is precisely what happened. Rakshi was now two games away from being the national champ.

The virtue of equanimity

Speaking to Arjuna in the Bhagawad Gita, Lord Krishna says that a true devotee is one who has equanimity. Joy and sorrow, victory and defeat, profit and loss - these are all inextricably intertwined in the world of duality. The wise one realizes this and remains unaffected by both. Such a wise one is qualified to be called a devotee of the Lord. That wisdom makes the devotee put in all efforts without the slightest expectation because any result is equally welcome.

During the next game as Meera whipped out her phone, to her greatest dismay, she saw the locality name appear in her mobile instead of her Lord’s name. She sat crossing her fingers in great anxiety. She was relieved when she saw the calm face of Rakshi as she came out of the match.
“Congrats Rakshi. Just one more game and you will be champion...”
“I lost Amma...”
That was when Meera realized that Rakshi’s face never changed, whether she faced victory or defeat. She also realized that what her husband had said the previous night proved prophetic.

Rakshi came second in the Nationals but she visited Shirdi and paid her obeisance to Baba there. Meera was pleased by the fact that her daughter had qualified for the Asian Youth and World Youth tournaments to be held in 2012. She was excited for her daughter whose career seemed to be flowering. What she did not realize then was that Rakshi’s incredible connection with Swami was also slowly flowering and that she would be a champion in more than one way in the years to come.

to be concluded in Part 2 at the link below:

For all the readers:

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  1. Inspiring....God's love can take us to the greatest heights....Rakshita is not just a prodigy but also a true bhakta and that at such a tender age is amazing! Some lessons for adults like us☺

  2. Great!
    Bhagwan Baba is present to support and guide us if we surrender ourselves to HIM.

    Thanke for this wonderful story.

    Kusum L

  3. Thanks for the wonderful story...
    Eagerly waiting for 2nd part...
    Jai Sairam

  4. Sairam Aravind......wow...what an experience and matching narration....waiting to read part 2 of the narrative. Thanks a lot for sharing...Best wishes and love...
    Madhusudanvithal Nori

  5. Nice, comprehensive narration on biography with cohesive spirituality :)

  6. Sai Ram Aravind, thank you for this wonderful story. At a tender age little Rakshi demonstrated equanimity and you have portrayed what it means simply and effectively.
    Chandan aunty.

  7. Very nicely explained. It is no wonder that Swami appreciates equinamity more than other virtues.A fine rendering in your nice style.

  8. A nice rendering ofgame of chess which we play in actual life.


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