The IPL is in its final stages and the cricket mad citizens are keenly watching the playoffs. As the country catches onto the cricket frenzy, coincidentally there is something else also happening in another part of the world. Perhaps the greatest sportsperson India has ever produced is fighting a World Championship battle in the wilderness of Moscow. Vishy Anand is fighting yet again and as always we don’t give too much attention to him. Why? Is this indifference because of our obsession with a single sport?
At the outset I like to put a couple of things into perspective. First, chess is a sport which is played in over 100 countries and has been dominated by Russians for decades. Second, Anand is a phenomenon who broke this stranglehold of the Russians (after Fischer in 72) on the World Chess scene. In Indian lingo, terminologies such as phenomenon are used at frequent intervals but in Anand’s case, he fully justifies the meaning of the word. 4 times World Chess Champion in all formats of the game, India’s youngest and first Grandmaster, multiple Chess Oscar winner; you name an accolade in the world of chess, Anand has done it. In a game which is played across almost every country in the world, this man has single handedly transgressed the global mind field and emerged triumphant touchwood on almost all occasions. Such is the magnitude of achievement of Anand but do we bother to even acknowledge it?
The counter argument to the lack of popularity of sports like chess is that people are not aware of the intricacies of the game. This to my mind is not convincing. Its an excuse which has little credence because we follow lots of games that we don’t understand much. We didn’t understand cricket till we are taught how to play the game by the colonial masters. It is so ironical that Chess, being first played in erstwhile India, cannot be understood by the Indians themselves! Like all other sports, familiarity comes with an intention to learn the basics of the game. This intention to learn about other sports comes from an ability to evolve as a narrow minded sporting society to a diverse multi-faceted sporting powerhouse. Sadly, this single sport obsession reflects a large picture about out social development.
This trend reflects a lot more about our society. Our obsession with cricket, which ironically the white man enslaved us into, has turned into a farce for any other sport in India. Like any other sport, chess is no exception to this trend in India. Have you ever wondered, why do most developed economies are accomplished in a wide array of sports? Why do so many world beaters come from such countries with smaller population in comparison to India? A developed and a progressive society are reflected in the diversity of sports that specific country caters to. Sadly, our state of sporting affairs has been so single minded that the idea of other sports entering into the fray is simply not acceptable. Even in our news, such major occurrences are by lines unless someone wins something big. This attitude of single sport melodrama leaves us not only regressive and narrow minded individuals but also deprives people like Anand their due.
It infuriates me at times, when I see frivolous headlines completely overwhelming such a major event involving a world class Indian. I have followed all of Anand’s championship wins from his loss to Kasparov a couple of decades ago. It ached hard when he lost to Karpov so narrowly in 1999. I was overjoyed when he beat Shirov to be World Champ in 2000. The icing on the cake was when he thumped Kramnik in 2008 so convincingly. In all these instances, the gentlemanly demeanour of the World Champion was so elegant that you just were in awe of the man. His demeanor in itself is a tribute to India as much as his world titles are. Again, in all these world champ cycles, he was neither given the attention nor the due that he so truly deserves. The wider question of improving the state of chess in India needs to answer other questions. Questions such as how much are we willing to bother about other sports? How much is corporate India helping people like Anand out in his sponsorship?
Most importantly why is it always back page news when IPL wannabes throng the first pages? These questions require a separate post to analyze and answer them. Beyond these detailed questions lies a fundamental point that I want to address here.
My point in this post is very simple. In an age where playing for the country has been trivialized, here is a sportsperson who has succeeded despite the system in such an emphatic manner. All we can do is show him the respect that he deserves and the consistent support that he requires to achieve what he wants to.
When Kasparov was the World Champ for years, he was the toast of Russia for decades. When Bobby Fischer won in 72, he was hailed as the captain who spearheaded the intellectual shift from the Soviet Union to the US. When Anand wins, a couple of gala functions would take place and after that we would forget him till he wins his next World Championship, that’s how our hero is treated in India.
Sometimes, I do ask myself “Does India deserve an Anand?” The answer sadly is not always a yes, hopefully things change.