Of kings, queens and heroes

The earliest versions of chess originated in ancient India but it wasn’t until Viswanathan Anand did my homeland claim its first grandmaster. 

The 42-year-old just won another world championship this week in Moscow. No. 5, to be exact. His unmatched prowess on the board now undisputed.

Tied at six-six after 12 regular games, Anand and his challenger Boris Gelfand faced off in a tiebreaker, which Anand won 2.5-1.5. It’s not often that a chess match carries the same excitement as football. But Indians were on the edge of their seats, watching as though a win depended on last-minute penalty kicks.
Check mate: When is the last time a chess player
 commanded rock-star status?

Are we talking about chess here? Where all the battle is done on a checkered tabletop board? 

Yes, but Anand, or Vishy, as he is known, is a rock star in India. Even kids who don’t have the slightest idea how a knight or bishop moves were enthralled this week, cheering on their compatriot to victory. His name appeared next to that of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, God in the world of Indian sport.

Indian reporters followed Anand around as though he were a Bollywood star. 

His status in India, meanwhile, showed with the jostling posse of reporters who followed him to Moscow, hanging on to his every word and reporting it in breathless dispatches, the quiet man’s daily habits laid out before the nation,” said NDTV, a leading English-language television station in India.

Anand has won all sorts of accolades — in India and in Spain, where he keeps a home in Madrid. But his biggest honor isn’t in the form of a plaque or a trophy but in the adoration of Indians. 

India doesn’t always excel in global sporting events. Very few Indians stand on the podium at the Olympics. We don’t have a soccer team that makes it to the World Cup. We used to make a stand in field hockey but after the emergence of fake grass, the Indian team stopped faring well. 

Yes, we have cricket. But we are not always No. 1.

But now we have chess. And Anand has made India champion of the world.


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