Monday, August 28, 2006

Snakes and Ladders

Hat tip: Alex Stein

This excerpt is taken from Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushide [Rushdie, my edit]:

“The moment I was old enough to play board games, I fell in love with snakes and ladders. O perfect balance of rewards and penalties! O seemingly random choices made by tumbling dice! Clambering up ladders, slithering down snakes, I spent some of the happiest days of my life. When, in my time of trial, my father challenged me to master the game of shatanj, I infuriated him by preferring to invite him, instead, to chance his fortune among the ladders and nibbling snakes.

All games have morals; and the game of Snakes and Ladders captures, as no other activity can hope to do, the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner; and for every snake, a ladder will compensate. But it’s more than that; no mere carrot-and-stick affair; because implicit in the game is the unchanging twoness of things, the duality of up against down, good against evil; the solid rationality of laders balances the occult sinuosities of the serpent; in the opposition of staircase and cobra we can see, metaphorically, all conceivable oppositions, Alpha against Omega, father against mother; here is the war of Mary and Musa, and the polarities of knees and nose…but I found, very early in the life, that the game lacked one crucial dimension, that of ambiguity - because, as events are about to show, it is also possible to slither down a ladder and climb to triumph on the venom of a snake…”

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