Total Pageviews

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Lightning Kid!

The game is supposed to have originated in India 1500 years ago around the 6th century. It was called Chaturangam , Sanskrit for  four organs. In military terminology it meant the four divisions of an army i.e., Horses, Camels, Elephants and the Humans. It subsequently spread to Persia where it was called Shatrez or Shatranj as the Hindi belt in India calls it and Chess as it is known around the modern world. Once the Muslim empire took to the game, it spread to Europe in tandem with the spread of the Empire. If all this gives you an impression that I am some sort of an expert in this game, let me bust the myth. A cursory Google search will tell you this and much more. Precisely what I did before I started writing this note. Suffices to say I am a complete greenhorn as far as this game is concerned.

Chess made a dramatic entry into my life when Viswanathan Anand became India’s youngest National Champion at the age of 12 or some such ridiculous number. While glancing through the newspaper announcing the occasion my old man looked at me with utter contempt and said that a kid of my age or thereabouts was already a National Champion and here I was, a virtual wastrel or words to that effect. (The typical Tam Bram parents when they look beyond an Engineer or a ‘medical’ as a career option for their children look at ‘intelligent’ sports like chess, Cricket or Football being rather pagan. But then I digress) Stung by the dressing down from the Pater, I jumped headlong into mastering chess. To cut the story short I managed a whole of ninety minutes before rightly concluding that Chess was not for me. Being a hyperactive and restless brat, I could not even visualize a life spent sitting quietly on one seat and pouring over a board of 64 squares till eternity. Gosh Maan! This was almost like studying! If I could do this for Chess then I might as well spend it better by employing the time over my lessons. (My teachers in school always washed their hand off me by giving me the mandatory 40 marks and promoting me to the next standard. 40 marks out of what you ask? Out of pity! But then I digress again)

As I grew up in a country which was then the perennial underachiever of the world, sports gave me one outlet where I could possibly bask in the reflected glory of ‘national pride’. I followed all the games, a Vijay Amritraj and a Ramesh Krishnan here, a Prakash Padukone or a P T Usha there. Post India’s triumph in the ’83 World cup I too along with the rest of India became a single sport fan. For the rest of the disciplines I was part of the multitude whose only contribution to Indian sport was “For a country of 80 crore people, shameful that we can’t win even one medal at the Olympics!” kind of helpless lamentation. It was in such a scenario that chess made a dramatic re-entry into my life. Rather Viswanathan Anand did!

Once a Champion, always a champion
Multiple things made me take notice of Viswanathan Anand. First among them was a sense of bitchiness hoping he wouldn’t do too well thereby giving my old man an excuse to renew his favourite hobby of giving me the ‘dose’. As Anand started moving up the Chess ladder, India’s youngest International Master here, first Indian to win the World Junior title there and the resultant India’s first Grand Master, admiration cloaked with a sense of helplessness took over. “How can this guy attain so much, so fast? Bloody Lightning Kid!” As victories over Karpovs and Kasparovs and Kamskys and Kramniks started coming along regularly I became a convert. Parochialism deep in slumber within me woke up. This man was after all ‘our man,a fellow ‘madrasi!’ IPL came much later or I would have ‘Whistlepodu’ for the original Chennai Super King! As I sang hosannahs about Sachin and ilk most of the time, one part of my mind surreptitiously kept track of what this wizard was upto. And finally when the pre ordained World Title came once, twice, five times, ‘Vishy’ Anand for me graduated from being the ‘Magician of Madras’ to become India’s best sportsman ever. I still can’t understand one single technique of this highly nuanced sport, the e4s and c5s, the Sicilian Defence, the Queen's Gambit   but the sheer weight of Anand’s five World Crowns in a highly competitive and truly global sport forced me to acknowledge that no sportsman has served this country more than this now portly, bespectacled professor look alike who took his first step towards greatness by beating his mother fair and square on the board. Humongousness personified.

For those of you like me who are raised on an overdose of Cricket and who find it difficult to agree with the above lines, let me just say this. Roll your tongue like you are licking the softest chocolate ever made, salivate and slowly say “Five time World Champion, FIVE TIME WORLD CHAMPION!” I rest my case. The runner up medal at the just concluded World Title round notwithstanding, Anand has done more than enough to be a Legend of the game and I dare say The Legend of Indian sports.  By a quirk of fate he is not the first sportsman recipient of India’s highest civilian honour the Bharat Ratna, circumstances colluding in such a way for Sachin Tendulkar to be bestowed with that record, richly deserved if I may add but I hope the country honours Viswanathan Anand with the same, sooner rather than later. Not doing so would be a travesty of Himalayan proportions.


PS: Apart from his skills in Chess, one more reason for the Father to have a grouse with me was……………you guessed it right! The name!  

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

It is in my blood!

Calcutta, 16th August, 1980: Eden Gardens was jam packed. One felt that the greedy organizers had as usual let in more people than the capacity of the stadium. The atmosphere was electric, the tension palpable. And why not? After all it was a grudge match between sworn rivals. Their last meeting between the two had resulted in a virtual fisticuff on the field. As tempers rose along with the tempo of the game, the dreaded moment arrived! As the match referee flashed a few cards of multiple hues, all hell broke loose in the stands. Till then the exclusive preserve of the English fans, Football hooliganism made its presence felt in an Indian stadium. Once the mayhem ended the score was match abandoned, 16 dead, countless injured.  A few days later the marquee clubs, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal were suspended from the game.

Bridgetown, Barbados, 1962:  During the Indian cricket tour to the West Indies, Nari Contractor the Indian Captain was at the crease. Bowling thunderbolts at him was the fiery West Indian fast bowler Charlie Griffith. This as you would have rightly guessed was the pre-helmet days. As the contest increased in its keenness, yet another blinder from Griffith found its mark, right on the batsman’s head. Nari Contractor collapsed on the pitch in a pool of blood. The game was stopped and Contractor was rushed to the hospital fighting for his life. So severe was the injury and so critical was contractor that a surgeon had to be flown in from US for an emergency operation. Nari contractor survived but never played test Cricket again.

Two different stories, two different countries, two different sports, two different set of people; two different tragedies resulted in one similar but wonderful result. Mythologies suggest that from destruction geminates new life. How true!  Every year on 16th August since that tragic day at Eden Gardens, Indian Football Association (WB) has been inviting fans to pay homage to the lives lost by organizing a voluntary blood donation camp. Dubbed the ‘Football Lovers Day’, thousands have been donating blood on this day in the camp generally organized at the sprawling Netaji Indoor Stadium.

Sir Frank Worrell
Nari Contractor’s surgery was about to be underway when the hitch was noticed. The surgery needed a lot of blood. It was then that Sir Frank Worrell, one among the famous ‘3Ws’, the holy trinity of the pantheon of West Indian batsmanship collected the players from both the teams and donated blood to save Contractor’s life. Since 1981, the Cricket Association of Bengal has been calling its faithful to the hallowed Eden Gardens to celebrate Sir Frank Worrell’s Day by organizing a voluntary blood donation camp.  Thousands turn up to mark the occasion which is also CAB’s Foundation Day and carry back a small band-aid patch on their hands and a certificate signed by a Cricketing Legend in lieu of a bottle of their blood. The goose bumps moment was when Nari Contractor was himself one of the donors during the inaugural edition of the Sir Frank Worrell’s Day blood donation camp!

Nari Contractor donating blood

Sports are such an integral part of our lives. I don’t think we live even one day without our daily dose of an update about our favourite game or sportsperson. In a land where sportsmen are elevated to rival Gods it is but natural that we share such passion for our stars. Our association with our star does not end with just what he/she does on the field. We expect our stars to be a paragon of virtue off the field too. And once they hang in their boots, we expect them to give back to the game what it gave to them. There are numerous instances of players post their retirement setting up academies, conduct coaching classes and some have joined the administration of the sport they were earlier part of as a player. Where all this eventually takes me to is this: While the sportsmen are doing their two bits for us, what is it that we fans are doing? Beyond filling up the stadiums or being a couch potato I mean!

During my years in Calcutta, I unfailingly marked my attendance at these two venues which had seen many a sporting clash. And every year I proudly came back with the band-aid patch on my hand and with a feeling that my life was not a wasted effort after all. The two days are even today marked on my schedule though it has been years since I left Calcutta. A reminder set on my ‘to-do-list’, alarm set on my phone. Irrespective of where I am and what I am doing, I make it a point twice a year, on the said dates to walk into the nearest blood bank to renew my association with the band-aid patch. At the cost to sounding pompous, I have been doing it ever since the age of eighteen when one becomes medically eligible to donate 250CC of the life giving liquid. There have been other occasions, some emergencies too but these two are days when I connect directly with that sphere of human activity which has given me so much joy, Sports! This is my tribute to the game that I love, homage to the stars who have shed their sweat, tears and blood for my team on the pitch, my payback as a fan.


PS: Do you know the most common reason quoted for not donating blood? A survey says it is the fear of the pain caused by the prick of a needle! What is your excuse?