Javed Akhtar

This nazm by Javed Akhtar (from his book of poems ‘Lava’) captures the notion of existential angst through the metaphor of a game of chess. He questions the contradictions of life, of social oppression and injustice through his thoughts about the rules of chess.

The poem and its English translation has been taken from the book “The Taste of Words: An Introduction to urdu Poetry”, edited and translated by Raza Mir.

Ye Khel Kya hai..
Mere mukhaalif ne chaal chal di hai
Aur ab
Meri chaal ke intezaar mein hai
Magar main kab se
Safed khaanon
Siyaah khaanon mein rakkhe
Kaale safed mohron ko dekhta hoon
Main sochta hoon
Ye mohre kya hain

Agar main samjhoon
Ki ye jo mohre hain
Sirf lakdi ke hain khilone
To jeetna kya hai haarna kya
Na ye zaroori
Na vo aham hai
Agar khushi hai na jeetne ki
Na haarne ka bhi koi gham hai
To khel kya hai
Main sochta hoon
Jo khelna hai
To apne dil mein yaqeen kar lon
Ye mohre sach-much ke baadshah-o-vazeer
Sach-much ke hain piyaade
Aur in kea age hai
Dushmanon ki vo fauj
Rakhti hai jo mujh ko tabaah karne ke
Saare mansoobe
Sab iraade
Magar main aisa jo maan bhi loon
To sochta hoon
Yeh khel kab hai
Ye jang hai jis ko jeetna hai
Ye jang hai jis mein sab hai jaayaz
Koi ye kehta hai jaise mujh se
Ye jang bhi hai
Ye khel bhi hai
Ye jang hai par khiladiyon ki
Ye khel hai jang ki tarah ka
Main sochta hoon
Jo khel hai
Is mein ir tarah ka usool kyon hai
Ki koi mohra rah eke jaaye
Magar jo hai baadshah
Us par kabhi koi aanch bhi na aaye
Vazeer hi ko hai bas ijaazat
Ke jis taraf bhi vo chaahe jaaye

Main sochta hoon
Jo khel hai
Is mein is tarah ka usool kyon hai
Piyaada jab apne ghar se nikle
Palat ke vaapas na aane paaye
Main sochta hoon
Agar yahoo hai usool
To phir usool kya hai
Agar yahi hai ye khel
To phir ye khel kya hai
Main in savaalon se aane kab se ulajh raha hoon
Mere mukhalif ne chaal chal di hai
Aur ab meri chaal ke intezaar mein hai

The English translation is below:
What Game is Is?

My opponent has made a move
And now
Awaits mine.
But for ages
I stare at the black and white pieces
That lie on white and black squares
And I think
What are these pieces?

Were I to assume
That these pieces
Are no more than wooden toys
Then what is a victory or a loss?
If in winnings there are no joys
Nor sorrows in losing
What is the game?
I think
If I must play
Then I must believe
That these pieces are indeed king and minister
Indeed these are foot soldiers
And arrayed before them
Is that enemy army
Which harbours all plans evil
All schemes sinister
To destroy me
But were I to believe this
Then is this a game any longer?
This is a war that must be won
A war in which all is fair
It is as if somebody explains:
This is a war
And a game as well
It is a war, but between players
A game between warriors
I think
If it is a game
Then why does it have a rule
That whether a foot solder stays or goes
The one who is king
Must always be protected?
That only the minster has the freedom
To move any which way?

I think
Why does this game
Have a rule
That once a foot solder leaves home
He can never return?
I think
If this is the rule
Then what is a rule?
If this is the game
Then what is the name of the game?
I have been wrestling for ages with these questions
But my opponent has made a move
And awaits mine.