Thursday

Scrabble-- My Passion




Papa!! ‘PERMUTE’ is not a word!! I shouted. I challenge! I took hold of the Oxford dictionary lying next to me and started scanning its pages for the word. Lo and Behold!! There it stood with clear letters: ‘Permute—change the order or arrangement of’. Sad faced, I looked at my father. My father gave me a sly smile. He had gained 61 points for that word in the game of scrabble we were playing. For a six year old, he was a very tough player. But I took it in my stride and smiled back. That day, I had not lost a challenge; I had won a new word for my ever increasing vocabulary. I used to learn new words and even use it in my day to day conversations. At 7, I used to tease my friends with, ‘Hey, you are looking preposterous today!’ The response was equally amazing. They used to thank me for my obnoxious comment. I laugh when I think of it even today. No doubt, people used to call me ‘Miss Oxford’ at school. I used to enjoy it when my essays were praised and I loved all the attention showered on me for my creative writing. My audiences were swayed by the way I wrote. The inception for all this was my beloved game ‘Scrabble’.
The game of scrabble was introduced to me by my father. When my father was in Saudi Arabia working for ARAMCO he used to play with international players. He started playing 30 years ago and when he came back to India he had no one to play with. Unfortunately, scrabble is still not a recognized sport in India. But my father loved the game. He taught Mom how to play and started playing with her. I was around 4 years old when I saw them playing together. I also had an interest in the game. Eventually I started playing too. At 6 years I could calculate the scores and play fairly well. This game not only increased my vocabulary, it also developed my mathematical skills. It made my brain sharp as it is a strategic word game. Now, for those who have still not heard about scrabble, let me introduce the game to you. Scrabble consists of a board, 4 racks and a bag of letter tiles. Minimum 2 people have to play the game and a maximum of four people can participate on one board. You have to remove seven letters from the bag randomly without seeing, and place it on your rack. You have to make sure that your opponent is not able to view your tiles. Every letter has a face value. For eg; A,E,I,O,U have a face value of 1 point. Z, Q have a face value of 10, X, J =8 and so on…

Me at Bayer national scrabble championship.
You have to make valid words from the rack in front of you and place it on the scrabble board. The scrabble board has ‘double letter’,’ double word’, ’triple letter’, ‘triple word’ cells which fetch you extra points. If you place a ‘Z’ on a ‘double letter’ cell you would get 20 points. Once a word is played, the opponent has to join the placed word and make valid words. The game starts from the middle cell. The game involves a lot of strategies. A ‘BINGO’, i.e., a seven letter word gives you a bonus of 50 points. This is how my journey for my passion had commenced.
Me with Phaneesh Murthy at the felicitation ceremony of inter-corporate scrabble tourney. 
With my opponent at Bayer national scrabble championship.
I loved the game of scrabble and continued playing the game till I was in my high school. One day I told my dad, ‘I want to be a professional scrabble player.’ My father laughed at me. He said, apart from cricket, no sport is recognized in our country. Constant discouragement veered me away from the game. I was lost. I wanted to represent my country at the international league one day. But I knew I could not earn my bread and butter this way. Scrabble is a game of luck too. 30% depends on the tiles you draw from the bag on which you have no control.  For 4 long years I did not touch the game. I forgot all the intricacies of the game. It did not matter anymore. Although somewhere deep down I still wanted to play and be the best at it. I just wanted some opportunity. I just wanted a reason to start playing again. After four years this wish finally became a reality…

One fine day, My College HR called me to her cabin. I went to her cabin and she showed me a circular. It said IGATE Global Solutions Inter-collegiate scrabble competition. I could not believe my eyes. I was not even sure as to why Vandana Ma’am had chosen me out of 2000+ students for representing my college at this event. She looked at me and said, ‘Zeba, since you are pretty good at English, do you think you could go and play this game?’ I was staring at her incredulously. I could not speak. The feeling was overwhelming. I had finally got the chance I was waiting for. I asked her when it was. She said day after tomorrow. I was a little taken aback. I told her she should have informed me earlier. She said, she was not sure if anyone knew this game so she did not put it on the notice board. Last year she had ignored the circular. I could not believe it! She had not even bothered to post it since she thought nobody would participate. I was sad but now equally ecstatic about the chance I had grabbed. I said I’ll give it a shot even though I knew I had no time to prepare. To top it, I had to arrange a partner too and this was a very tough task. People were seriously not aware about the world’s most popular word game. Finally I took an incognizant partner and went for the tournament. I was surprised. The turnout was good and some of the players were really proficient since they had participated last year too. Yet, I emerged as the top two best teams there. But due to some ugly circumstances I could not go to Bangalore for the finals. I knew if I had to participate next year, it had to be through corporate.

 I was not sure which company I would join or I would still get an opportunity to play professionally. I left the thoughts of scrabble. But destiny had other plans. I joined Mastek and I was spotted by the people who had represented Mastek in the inter-corporate scrabble tourney. My exuberance started all over again. The Scrabble Workshop initiative that the HR team had planned was headed by me. I took the session on the game and enlightened the enthusiastic people who had come to learn the game. I was a part of the organization team who organized indoor sports too. I was also the winner in the intra-corporate scrabble tournament in the singles as well as doubles category. The runner-up lagged behind by more than 350+ points. I was the declared champion of scrabble in Mastek which automatically made me the representative of Mastek in the inter-corporate scrabble tournament held by IGATE. 

I was enraptured. I was a good player but I had lost practice. I was not aware of the international format too.  I played the game with Oxford dictionary all my life. The scrabble dictionary was also a new concept for me. But all this did not deter my spirits. I had to team up with the runner-up to represent Mastek at the inter-corporate level. My partner was a novice, so I knew I had to teach him and also coach myself on the international format. I had the task of going through the inconceivable huge list of scrabble words (Scrabble word-list consists of words which are not English too, for eg aia, aua, qin, bhai , etc are some valid words allowed in scrabble) too. I prepared myself and went ahead. Mastek emerged the best team in Mumbai and qualified for the finals that were going to be held in Bangalore. I was rhapsodic. We had won an all paid trip to Bangalore and the opportunity to meet the world class players. I could not contain my fervor. I am not sure when I had been so felicitous. I fell in love with my organization. I was glad of my decision to join Mastek of all the organizations. Mastek had given me more than I had bargained for. My dying passion was revived. I was being appreciated for playing the game. People came in and lent me hands of support and words of encouragement. Sometimes, I was lashed for my ebullience too. But they were incognizant of how much all this meant to me. I ignored the skepticism and concentrated on the positivity.

It did change my life. The Bangalore experience was worth the entire wait. I met the world champion Nigel Richards. What an amazing personality he was. He blew me away with his aura. I had the best conversation with him. Since I will be writing an entire article on him, I am not stretching this one any longer. I am thankful for the opportunity I got to all the people at Mastek who supported me and appreciated me. I did win the third position in the finals, battling 87+ corporate teams who had participated.  I narrowly missed the first position thanks to some of our negligence and unawareness of the international format. We were still the team with the highest wins and we were leading till the last round. A margin format dropped us to the third position. The corporate which secured the second position had already lost to us with a margin of over 70 points. So, even though I was happy for my achievement I was a little sad for having lost the first position after almost winning the tournament. The world champion witnessed my game and told me that I can play internationally after grooming myself a little more. Now, I had finally procured the reason for keeping my passion alive. Even though I know I cannot make scrabble my career due to lack of cognizance regarding the game, I can still play the game in collimate with my professional life. If I continue with this with determined efforts and concentrated focus, the day seems not far when I will be sitting opposite Nigel Richards representing India internationally!!