Pictures by Amruta Mokal
“Did you know that Anand has a planet named after him? It’s called Vishy Anand 4538. Only four sportsperson have been bestowed with this honour before him – Donald Bradman, Jesse Owens, Arsene Wenger and Roger Federer! That’s how great this man is and we are lucky to be in his company.” This is how Dronacharya award winner Raghunandan Gokhale introduced the great five-time chess World Champion Viswanathan Anand on the 12th of April 2016 at Dinanath Mangeshkar hall, Vile Parle, Mumbai.
More than six hundred people gathered to witness the function where Anand was to receive the Hridaynath Award. Instituted by Hridayesh Arts, a Mumbai-based socio-cultural organisation that was established on Oct. 26, 1990, the "Hridaynath Award" is presented annually to individuals achieving eminence in their chosen field. Previous recipients of this award have been Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Amitabh Bachchan and A. R. Rahman. Vishy Anand is the first sportsperson to have been awarded this honour, ahead of great Indian players like Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Saina Nehwal, Leander Paes etc. It just goes to show what a great an achievement this is.
Eminent personalities graced the occasion with their presence: Governor of Maharashtra C.Vidyasagar Rao and the strongest chess player in Bollywood Aamir Khan. Aamir, who is never seen in any Bollywood awards ceremony, made it a point to be present at the event to cheer for his chess idol.
Governor of Maharashtra Vidyasagar Rao gives the trophy to Vishy Anand as Aamir Khan applauds
Aamir puts a typical Maharashtrian turban called Pagdi on Vishy’s head
The chess buff Aamir has a few technical questions for his Guru
Anand received these glittering trophies and a cheque of Rs 2,00,000 (approx €2665)
The cheque of Rs 2,00,000 was brought to Anand in this creatively designed box
Anand being conferred the Hridaynath award
Vishy Anand with Hridaynath Mangeshkar, the person who institutionalized the Hridaynath award. He is a renowned composer and musician in India.
Vishy’s acceptance speech in which he talks about his relationship with Mumbai, showing the Petroff Defence to Aamir Khan, 3D chess with Nigel Short and more.
Anand’s achievements in the field of chess have been unparalleled. Single handedly he has taken the sport to an entirely different level in the country. As Ravi Abhiyankar, who is a very close friend of Anand, noted, “An Indian becoming a World Champion in chess is like an Indian beating the Kenyans and Ethiopians in Marathon, or an Indian car winning the Formula one, or an Indian actor winning the Oscar. None of these three things have happened till date, but Anand has been able to win the World Champion’s title not once but five times!” Ravi continues, “You know, we often judge an entire community or a nation based on one or two people whom we know. It is called stereotyping. Chess fans in 180 countries judge all Indians, all of us by watching Viswanathan Anand. Thanks to him they think all Indians are intelligent, modest, soft spoken, philosophical with a great sense of humour. In that sense Anand has been India’s greatest ambassador. He represents what is best in India and India is best represented by him.”
Ravi Abhyankar’s speech was filled with many interesting points and loved by everyone in the crowd
Abhyankar highlights Anand's sense of humour with the following example: "We were in New York in 1995 for his match against Kasparov. It happened on the 107th floor of the World Trade Centre, which disappeared six years later due to a terrorist attack. Each game was followed by a press conference and the innumerable Russian journalists always asked questions in Russian. Kasparov, who loves his own voice, would give long answers in Russian and there was no translation whatsoever. Poor Anand had to sit next to Kasparov and listen to all that he couldn't understand.
On the eve of the final press conference, Anand told me, "Tomorrow you will see a novelty prepared by me." The Match was already over. What novelty is he talking about? The final press conference was live on television. The hall was full. One South Indian reporter stood up and asked Anand the question in Tamil. Anand gave a very long winded, 15-minute answer in fluent Tamil. Kasparov sat there, fuming, shaking his head!" The entire hall erupted in laughter.
Check out this amazing 8-minute speech by Ravi who begins with the words, “I first met Anand nearly thirty years ago…”
“I am not a person who likes to lose. I hate losing. But I can tell you with all honesty that the one time that I truly enjoyed losing was when I played against Anand!”
Aamir Khan’s three-minute speech
Harish Bhimani was the master of ceremony. He has to his credit more than 19,000 recordings. He is considered by many as the most recognizable voice of India and the most travelled Indian compere. With his impeccable voice and sense of humour he made it a show to remember. One of Harish’s anecdotes at the event: “I asked Vishy whether his wife plays chess, and Anand replied that he was happily married!”
Vishy enjoyed that!
From left to right: WIM Parnali Dharia, Asian under-18 champion in 2014, GM Pravin Thipsay, one of the best chess players of India in the 80s, IM D.V. Prasad, the man who beat Mikhail Tal in 1987 Interzonal and Anjali Bhagwat, former world number one in 10m air rifle shooting.
Although Anand was the first grandmaster of India, Pravin Thipsay holds the unique distinction of scoring the first GM norm in the country!
Dronacharya and Arjuna: Famous chess couple of Mumbai Raghunanadan Gokhale and Anupama Gokhale. You can listen to Raghunandan Gokhale's seven-minute speech over here.
Charudatta Jadhav is the Head of Innovation Strategy at TCS and the General Secretary of the AICFB. He has represented India in six World Chess Championships for the Blind and two Olympiads, developed the world's only talking software for chess, and has scaled a 17,220 feet peak in the Himalayas among many other things. He has managed to achieve all his success despite losing his ability to see at the age of thirteen. His father was a mill-worker from Kurla in Mumbai and lost his job soon after his son lost his sight. Amidst all the darkness, chess was the ray of light that kept Charu moving forward. To rise from such a background to head an entire department in a corporate, to lead the complete set-up of blind chess in India, and do so successfully for almost two decades – truly an astounding story. (Blind chess in India by Priyadarshan Banjan)
IM Aditya Udeshi (2420), former National U-15 Chess Champion, has beaten strong players in his chess career, most notably GM Li Chao in Fujairah 2012. Aditya was felicitated at the event. Here he is flanked by his proud parents Kapil and Parul Udeshi.
ChessBase India co-founder and the photographer of this report Amruta Mokal with Dhanraj Pillay. Dhanraj was the captain of the Indian hockey team. He is one of the best hockey players that India has produced.
The men who keep the Maharashtra Chess Association running. Bottom L-R: Siddharth Mayur, Ravindra Dongre, Sanjay Dabadghao. Top: Ram Ahiwile (left) and Salil Ghate.
Vishy Anand enjoyed the 20-minute Q&A session that took place at the end of awards ceremony
A 10-year-old boy came on the stage and asked Anand, “My sister beats me easily at chess. Yet, I see very few girls in the top 100. Why is that?” The way the boy narrated the question brought a huge smile on Vishy’s face! “Okay, that’s a brilliant question! I don’t know what to tell you about your sister. It seems like a recipe of getting into trouble (Laughs). But, if someone is beating you regularly, just try to practice often. You may not notice it, and she may not, but one day you might suddenly beat her. Play with different people. By playing against different opponents, you learn something new and you would have changed the dynamic. As for why women underperform as compared to men in the top 100, there isn’t really a good explanation for that. Or at least I don’t have one. It is not an overtly physical sport, so I am not sure why women aren’t as good as men in chess.”
Another question dealt with who Vishy’s idols were. “I grew up idolizing Mikhail Tal and when I later met him I liked him even more. He was very simple and fun loving. He was the kind of a person who would go to a bar and play chess with any chess fan. I liked him both for his games and personality. I also admired Bobby Fischer, although I didn’t meet him until much later.” If Anand had to choose one World Champion from the past with whom he had never played and would like to play, who would that be? “I am slightly curious about Paul Morphy. I always found his dominance very hard to explain. Not in the sense that I didn’t understand how he was beating people but just how was it that he came out of nowhere and started beating just about everyone! So, maybe Morphy!”
While all this was going on, one boy suddenly came up on the stage, took the mic from Harish Bhimani’s hand and asked, “How should I become a World Champion like you?” The entire crowd applauded not only for the boy’s question but also for his courage to go up to the stage unannounced. “It starts and you take it game by game. The most important thing is to practice often. That was a good advice in the past and it still is because the only thing that differentiates you from others is your playing skill on the board.” And to cap it off one of was a question which is on the minds of just about every parent whose child plays chess – how do we balance academics and chess. “In the beginning it was not so bad for me, as I wasn’t playing so much chess to affect my studies. But later on, let me diplomatically say, I didn’t make 100% anymore! I still did reasonably. I think it is just a question of blocking time for your studies, doing it and finding time to play. It’s not a big conflict because I don’t believe that the time you get in not playing chess will be immediately spent in studies and vice versa.”
Here's the video of the 16-minute Q&A session with Vishy Anand
You cannot get away easily if your name is Viswanathan Anand!
A wonderful evening thus came to an end. The Indian chess fraternity thanks Vishy Anand for all that he has done to popularize and develop a chess culture in this country!
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If you are interested in more information related to the Hridaynath Award then have a look at the article on the ChessBase India newspage with more details.