More than a grain of truth here...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The game of chess is widely acknowledged to have originated in India during the Gupta Empire of the 6 Century AD where it was known as chaturaṅga. Legend has it that the inventor of the game who presented it to the king was asked what he would like by way of reward.

The gamester responded: “I would like one grain of rice for the first square, two for the second, four for the third, eight for the fourth, 16 for the fifth, and so on until all 64 squares are covered.”

The king was only too glad to comply because he was not very smart (as is the case with most rulers), until his treasurers began carrying out the stores of grain, and discovered that 2 to the power of 64 grains of rice was more than the entire production of rice in the world at the time.

(By my calculation, that’s 500 billion tons of rice.)

When the king discovered that the price of paying his debt was too high, he had the gamester’s head cut off rather than admit that he had been taken.

(Schabir? Are you reading this?)

Each and every one of us had two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, 16 great grandparents, 32 great great grandparents, and so on and so on.

If we go back just 64 generations (using the 64 squares on the chessboard as an analogy), there were 9 223 372 036 854 780 000 separate nights or days of passionate encounters between man and woman that resulted in the creation of you so that you could be reading this right now.

And if, for one split-instant, one of those encounters had been unduly interrupted, you reading this would never have come into existence.

The truth is that no matter how much we might ponder around the notion of predestination or God’s Will or whatever you want to call it, each of us is an infinitely complex probability matrix as much shaped by chance as by will.

I mention this because I have been in a ruminative frame of mind over the past week. You see, because of an infinitely improbable series of events, Osama Bin Laden changed my life.

I was driving in Cape Town after picking up my daughter Aura from aftercare when I heard the report of the first plane hitting the Twin Towers.

I drove back to where I was working at the time as Head of Corporate Affairs just in time to see the second plane fly into the towers.

As a direct result of those events unfolding in New York and Washington, the channel director at appointed me to take over responsibility for news.

As a direct result, on that very day, I fired a news editor for disobeying a direct order, thereby changing her life forever.

As a result of my taking over news, I trained a woman named Jennifer Marostica who went on to become Reuter’s Bureau Chief in Jerusalem, and now has that position in New York City; I trained a man named Tshamano Makhadi who won the Vodacom Journalist of the Year for sports and went on to teach at Tshwane University of Technology, I trained a woman named Natasha Landman who went on to become a Vodacom journalist of the year, I trained a woman named A’Melody Lee who went on to become lead producer at ABC News in New York and is now at the World Bank, I trained a woman named Scheherazade Safla who became a newsreader at

I could go on at length. Crucially, the question I leave you with:

Was this journey of mine and the people I mentioned shaped by my billions of ancestors, or was it shaped when Osama’s mother was christened “The Slave” and married off at age 15 to a man who divorced her shortly after her son was born?