It's quite a feeling to have something in common with Viswanathan Anand. I do. Not that I know much about chess. But Vishy, as we affectionately call him, was my school mate at Don Bosco, Egmore. A senior who has been most appropriately held up as a role model for every new batch of students; year after year, with every new title he would win and defend. And it's not just for his incredible feats but for the sort of person that he is.
Vishy belongs to the '87 batch of Don Bosco; four years my senior. We didn't get to see much of him, except during exams as he used to travel extensively. The school was admittedly a big support and would not merely give him attendance but also re-schedule exams for him. One of our teachers and former Assistant Headmaster Michael Sundar often recalls how "Vishy would never take privileges for granted. If he missed classes, he would work overtime to complete his notes and homework." That's bang on. This is why not a single student ever grudged those special allowances made for the chess champion.
I do faintly remember an incident while playing the DB patented sport - crocker (half cricket, half baseball, with a half out!) A juicy full toss on my leg stump was way too tempting to resist pulling over mid-wicket. The ball landed on Vishy's bench and missed his lunch box full of curd rice by a whisker. I was ordered by the bowler to get the ball back. With considerable trepidation, I walked up to Vishy and even before I could apologise, he gave me the ball and said: "Hey nice shot. Sorry you missed a four because of me." He obviously didn't know my name but we all knew him - as a world chess champion. And yes, a wonderful human being.
For a school that was better known for State ranks and centums, cricket and table tennis, to make a mark in a relatively less glamorous sport like chess, called for nothing short of world class standards. Just into his teens, Vishy was World No.3 in the sub junior category. Well before the newspapers had pictures of the State Toppers in the Class 10 exam, Vishy made headlines as the Govt of India had decided to honour this 15 year old student with the Arjuna award for being an 'Outstanding Sportsperson'.
The laurels kept flowing in and no quiz competition was ever complete without a question or two on Vishy's latest victories! Talking of quiz contests, I must tell you about Vishy's 'disqualification' from a competition in the Philippines! As this boy wonder was collaring every prize for solving the most complicated puzzles, the organizers asked him to stop participating! The prizes were books. So they told Vishy to take as many books as he could possibly carry but to give the others a chance!
If he comes across as serious in interviews, well, I for one know that Vishy is very different with his family and friends. Susheela Aunty still chuckles when she tells us about a prank Vishy played on her in Spain many years ago. He had taught her a few mischievous words in Spanish and the poor lady got to know about the real meaning only after trying it out on her maid!
We've all heard of alumni going back as Chief Guests to their Alma Mater. Vishy was one of the few students to have been invited as a Guest of Honour at the Independence Day function when he was in Class 12. I still vividly admire this affable senior sitting on the stage in a striped T.Shirt, next to his father, who incidentally was the General Manager of Southern Railway and the Chief Guest that year.
After my sit down interview with Vishy on Sunday, we chatted briefly about our old school, as cameraperson Sukumar took what we call 'cut away shots' in TV jargon. "I'm planning to attend the silver jubilee of my '87 batch in August", he said quite excitedly. I'm sure the World Chess Champion will be the Chief Guest at the event. But as the President of the Don Bosco past Pupils Association Ashwin Rajagopalan put it: "whether he is the Chief Guest or not, the warmth Vishy exudes with everyone around is just the same." I'm not a great follower of chess. But this quality is what endears Vishy the most to all his friends. Simplicity is his middle name. Because the Viswanathan Anand of Class 8-C is the same as the Viswanathan Anand, five time World Chess Champion. And I'm sure nothing will change even after the Bharat Ratna!