Thursday, 9 August 2012

One more chess story....

I have been spending the last few days doing something which lately, I've become quite unaccustomed to: writing about chess. "What?" I may hear you say, some with glee and some with dismay. Why are you again writing about chess? Are you getting your column back?

No, the reality is far, far from it. I am not getting my column back. Period. That part of my life has ended. For good, I would believe. This would just be a one-off story that I had been asked to do as a favour for the organisers of this year's Malaysia Chess Festival which starts on 20 August 2012. I have been writing for the organisers since possibly its inception several years ago and it has become a tradition of sorts that I contribute something for their souvenir book.

So here I am again, trying to wrack by brain over the topic. The problem was, you see, ever since I stopped writing for the newspapers in March this year, chess has taken more of a back seat with me. But don't get me wrong. I am still interested in the game. For example, in May I followed the world chess championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand fervently. And every now and then I would still log into the Internet Chess Club to observe the live games from the high-level tournaments. I am still very much into the game although I now keep a distance from the local activities.

But what should I be writing about this time? I tell you, it was an agony thinking about it for the past fortnight. I felt that above all, the topic should be unique and relevant to the readers. I thought about rehashing one of my old newspaper stories but then decided against it at the last moment. Don't know why. I just decided firmly: no.

Then with the deadline looming, I decided to just sit down at the keyboard. Let the inspiration come but it had better be sooner and not later. I sat down and stared at the keyboard and the monitor. Nothing came to my mind. It strayed. I fired up the web browser and began reading the news of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Don't quite knew how long I read but eventually I grew tired of reading too.

Steady, old chap, close your browser. Concentrate on the work at hand, no matter how unpleasant or challenging it has become. I can tell you that the first few paragraphs were so like shit. No substance at all. Nobody would understand it, much less read it. I deleted everything and tried again.

Eventually, the framework for my story formed. Finally, I had an inkling of what I would write. Only then did the muse start to flow. Ideas formulated in the mind. My fingers flew on the keyboard. One by one, words then paragraphs appeared on the monitor. And finally, the story was complete. Exhausted, I saved it up and then sent my story to the organisers immediately.

But I was still rusty. I had a sense that I had missed out on something but for the life of me, I couldn't figure it out. I looked through the story again but couldn't uncover anything amiss. Several hours later, one of the organisers call me.

"Seng Sun, your story lacks a title," he told me. Alamak, so that was it. No title. How can I write something without putting in a title? "Would you want to let me have the title now?" he asked. How could I, when I was now a little unsettled. How to think up a title on the spot? No, I told him, I would have to think about it for a while before letting him know.

And eventually, I did get back to him. Without disclosing what I wrote for the Malaysia Chess Festival souvenir book, I can at least say here that I shall be calling my mini-opus "So long, and thanks for all the fish."

I know that the title is not original but many people are still surprised by it. In particular, I found the organisers were not familiar with it at all, despite one of them being an avid bookworm. For those who knows this title, I've to say that in my younger days, Douglas Adams' books (and others) were great companions to me when I killed time crossing the Penang Channel on the ferry service.

Inexplicably, the title of one of his books has left a deep impression with me. All these years, I've always interpreted it as a great lesson in life. It is so true that if you give fish to a man, he won't go hungry for a day but if you teach him to fish, he won't be hungry forever. I didn't go fishing; in my case, I learnt to write. That is, write about chess.

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