Viswanathan Anand memoir
In the run-up to the 44th Chess Olympiad being hosted by the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) in Chennai, from July 28 to August 10, Hachette India is releasing an expanded edition of chess grandmaster Viswanathan Anand aka Vishy’s memoir. Titled Mind Master: Winning Lessons from a Champion’s Life, the book was first published in 2019. The new paperback edition, which will release on July 15, includes a bonus chapter by the sports legend. His co-author is Susan Ninan, a sports writer who has covered major sporting events.
The book is divided into 13 chapters. It is not only an account of his life experiences but also a book of wisdom and inspiration for those who consider him a role model. It is about strategy, risk-taking, emotional intelligence, unlearning, resilience, and decision-making.
The new chapter, which is the last one in this volume, is titled “Pause, Reboot: Learnings from a Pandemic and New Beginnings”. Vishy was stuck in Bad Soden, a town in Germany, during the nationwide lockdown in India. He writes, “I heard the noise on the news, but didn’t foresee its full impact. Though restless, I held my peace.” What kept him going was his gig as an online commentator for the Candidates Tournament in Russia. He came back to India on a repatriation flight under the Government of India’s Vande Bharat Mission.
Recalling that flight, Vishy notes, “The shock of watching a plane full of people in masks and face shields barely making eye contact with each other was unsettling. It resembled a dystopian snapshot from the aftermath of an alien invasion.” He had to split the quarantine period between a hotel in Bengaluru and his home in Chennai. It felt strange to be under the same roof as his family but without any close interaction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This chapter shows how he dealt with the changes that took place in the world of chess. He writes, “By the second half of 2020, over-the-board tournaments seemed to have disappeared. Honestly, I didn’t find pushing pawns and rooks on my computer screen half as exciting as sitting across a living-breathing opponent.” Instead of feeling frustrated, the grandmaster channelized his energy into thinking about the chess academy that he wanted to start.
He rolled out the WestBridge Anand Chess Academy (WACA) in collaboration with a Bengaluru-based investment firm. The idea was to “give back to the sport” by mentoring “the huge pool of talented world-class Indian youngsters” who needed support and guidance “through their critical stage of development” in order to “climb to the top”. With five World Championship titles under his belt, Vishy was read to use his skills and make a difference.
The process began with training five “promising young names” – Nihal Sarin, R. Praggnanandhaa, R. Vaishali, Raunak Sadhwani and D. Gukesh – who were assessed to determine progress and eligibility for fellowships. Vishy writes, “We would meet online, play games, discuss suggestions, dive into analysis, and I’d pass on learnings from some of my fierce losses and cherished wins.” Artur Yusupov from Germany, Sandipan Chanda from India, and Grzegorz Gajewski from Poland, were invited to join Vishy as trainers.
Vishy is honest about the challenges that he faced as a teacher. The experience was not a cakewalk. While he wanted to pass on his knowledge, he had to also acknowledge that some decisions made by players are intuitive and it is not easy to articulate everything. He grew aware of the fact that playing and teaching require different skill sets. He had to prepare himself well in advance before sessions with the mentees. He had to teach himself to find material that was appropriate for them, and also anticipate the questions that they might ask.
Apart from his career, Vishy also opens up about his personal life. He lost his father during the pandemic. Thankfully, before this tragedy struck, they were able to spend quality time together. Though the absence crushed him emotionally, he consoled himself with the thought that he was cocooned by privileges that others losing family members did not have access to.
His words convey vulnerability and strength, and would resonate with everyone who has lost someone or felt torn apart by all the suffering that the pandemic unleased upon humankind. He found “a semblance of control and normalcy” in regular exercise amidst the chaos of life.
On a lighter note, Vishy writes about learning the Hindi language through Skype lessons with his friend Anand Subramaniam, who is an Indian in Chicago. In return, Vishy helped his friend with chess. Vishy was determined to learn Hindi because he “felt more lost in Delhi or Mumbai” than in Frankfurt. He was able to speak, read and write German but not Hindi. This became a source of embarrassment for him, so he wanted to do something about it. He writes, “Even if I don’t eventually get to be as chaste in my Hindi-speaking skills as I’d originally aspired to, I’ll still be proud for not having passed up on the chance to make a start.”
Chintan Girish Modi is a Mumbai-based journalist who tweets @chintanwriting.
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