Viswanathan Anand Recounts His Big Breakthrough in Chess Because of SP Balasubrahmanyam

Viswanathan Anand Recounts His Big Breakthrough in Chess Because of SP Balasubrahmanyam

SPB's spontaneous act of sponsoring a junior chess team was an important cornerstone in the growth of Viswanathan Anand as a chess player.


Poornima Murali

Not many times do stalwarts come by each other during their lifetimes in pure strokes of serendipity, leaving lasting impressions. In the burgeoning scene of chess in India several years back, a young national aspirant called Viswanathan Anand was looking for a foothold, and who should provide that!

We rang up 'Vishy', as he is fondly called, to get the backstory. “There was a famous Telugu writer and poet called Mr. Aarudhra and he was involved in chess as well... he floated the idea of sending a junior team to the national team championship. He asked Mr SP Balasubrahmanyam to sponsor the team. That was our first connection, though I don't think I met him then,” the chess champion told CNN-News18 about the Chennai Colts' 1983 championship.

Little did SPB know that his spontaneous act of sponsoring the chess team was an important cornerstone in the growth of Anand as a chess player; back then, one would be considered really fortunate to make it to these “breakthrough” events, said Anand. “But that was our first connection. In fact, I don't know if he realised it at that time... probably he did because Mr. Arudra must have told him but that was my big breakthrough event. That was the event which opened the senior Indian world to me so I could play in senior competition from being a junior..."

SPB’s warm personality shone through when he recognized Viswanathan Anand when they met next at the Hyderabad airport. “Surprisingly, I kept meeting him on planes and airports -- at least on 2-3 occasions I remember. But once when I was in Hyderabad, I saw him at Hyderabad airport. So I approached him and said ‘Nice to see you and by the way, I don’t know if you are aware of this or you remember..’ but before I could complete my sentence, he said, ‘I remember very well.' So, that was nice for me. I was very flattered,” finished Anand.

Anand joins a long list of people bowled over by SPB’s penchant to remember people, however remote and fleeting their previous interactions had been. Anand and SPB had come across one another briefly at shows and conferences thereon; each time, their friendship and warmth going up a notch. At an event anchored by actor and talk show host Suhasini Mani Ratnam, SPB had such sweet words to say, and even sang a song in dedication to Anand. “He was just very very affectionate to me like I was a young man that he had to encourage, and it meant a lot. I thought of him as a very very kind soul and I was really gutted when I found out that he was sick. I hoped he would do well but unfortunately he didn’t.”

"He was one of the nicest persons I knew and he had a kind of kindness and warmth and simplicity. You can't fake it. It was obviously real. He was very thoughtful and genuinely kind and concerned about other people. I don't know... you just felt very good in his presence, he had that rare quality," the chess grandmaster said.

Anand often listens to Ennadi Meenakshi and Ilaya Nila, which are typical SPB songs -- uplifting melodies carrying the strains of Ilayaraaja’s soulful musicality and sung with SPB’s verve and youthful passion. Clearly, Anand, like scores of many others in the aftermath of his passing, would inexorably wind down with some of SPB numbers but there is no telling if there is an uplifting song to redeem a legion of mourning fans.

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