To Vishwanathan Anand (An Apology)

By-Srikanth Mantravadi.


First a personal apology. And one on behalf of the nation. It must be immensely tough to stay motivated, and win like you do, in a game about which the country hardly cares; especially in a game like chess which requires Herculean amounts of concentration and skill. The other day Kolkata Knight Riders won a humdinger but hardly anyone knew about the other nail biter, in a sense that a game of chess can possibly be, you were having with Boris Gelfand. I am guilty myself of knowing you as general knowledge trivia or a footnote in India’s glorious sporting history, whose pages undoubtedly spillover with cricketing triumphs. I am a major cricket fan myself so I should be careful about the use of irony here. But these are pangs of guilt speaking; for consistently ignoring a legend like you. The apathy is quite remarkable. Quiet, unassuming, soft spoken and dignified…You are truly the Rahul Dravid of chess (The cricketing parallels may be pardoned). Formidable defence and quiet aggression. If the rapid tie breakers are any evidence you are brilliant on your feet too. And the endgame must have been a terrific Citi moment of success. I am unfortunately a dilettante when it comes to chess and have only played it at that age when parents force it upon you as some sort of an intellectual aid; the age at which you have to move from Lego toys and Hot Wheels. It was mildly interesting and invigorating even (Especially when my cousin brother, who incidentally had these books on chess moves and set pieces, beat me repeatedly. So I took it as a challenge to beat him). But I never really studied the game or learnt a penny’s worth of nuance. More often than not I played it like an actual battle. Not a battle of wits but an actual battle, played without any vision, where taking out the most number of opponents pieces counts for a win. It was quite savage but oddly satisfying too. It helped that my opponents also read the game that way (The Queen was the most prized possession and had to be safeguarded at all costs. So, even now I feel a little confused when chess reportage says that you exchanged Queens. How can you do that?! For me Queen gone is game over). Meanwhile, we also had that Andhra idol to look up to with awe – Koneru Hampi, who I heard achieved momentous things when she was young. I don’t know what she is doing these days.

Thankfully, I can claim to be a little more informed than the average Indian. Afterall, I read The Hindu which is possibly the only Indian newspaper that covered your chessboard battles in their entirety, in some depth and detail, unlike other newspapers, that just like our smarmy politicians jump onto the adulatory bandwagon only when you win. How do you feel when the congratulations start pouring in, sir? Egregious, hardly felt and opportunistic. Sir, has Mamata Banerjee greeted you yet. If she hasn’t yet, don’t fret. She knows a thing or two about claiming credit for everything good that happens in India these days so she will definitely call you. Maybe she’ll even draw parallels between your triumph, in a predominantly Russian game, with her great triumph over the Communists. Boris Gelfand happens to be a Belorussian. But Soviet all the same. The Indian government also seems to have no qualms in the way it has awarded you the civilian honours. The pattern is laughably naive and screams “Anand, you win this World Title here and you move to the next level.” So it was Padma Bhushan, when you won the World Cup, in 2002 and Padma Vibhushan, when you won the World Championship, in 2008. Ideally, 2010 should have been the next logical step – the Bharat Ratna – but the country was too busy debating other figures; BJP wanted Vajpayee, Congress, as its wont, wanted a “consensus candidate” (secular, sycophant and preferably from the minorities. How about Hamid Ansari?) while we cricket fans wanted it for Sachin.

Anyway, by a strange twist of fate, I also followed Ian Rogers’ fantastic write-ups (My only experience with chess coverage is Rogers’ write ups; he is fascinatingly good in demystifying a game that is inexorably technical and, might I add, boring) in The Hindu when you faced Veselin Topalov in 2010. I might have even done a minor fist pump when I read that you clinched the title in the last game. Something similar happened this year too and the fabulous Ian Rogers was doing the reports again. I followed with keen interest and, however, quite embarrassingly, came to know of your win only when you started “trending” on Twitter. You see I have live updates for matches Federer, the Indian Cricket Team, Barcelona and Arsenal play but not yours. It somehow escaped me as it escapes this nation too.

But you keep going, sir. I can only empathise with your pain of not being able to tell a fellow Indian and discern any sense of recognition as to how monumental and magnificent an achievement it is to win the World Chess Title. I am sure you must have inured yourself to the indifference by now – The fact that NDTV runs features like “Who is Vishwanathan Anand?” and not, say, “Who is Suresh Raina?” is telling and distressingly so. Five titles now, isn’t it? I’ll remember that for a quiz question while you keep winning sir. Please.


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