'Arguably the greatest sportsperson India has produced'

Casually dressed in a red checked shirt, Anand was a picture of poise. There is a quiet dignity about him that separates him from the rest. He has single-handedly put India on the world chess map.

One maestro honours another: Sunil Gavaskar shakes hands with Viswanathan Anand after presenting him The Sportstar award.

There was an air of expectation all around. The photographers took vantage points, the ones on the reception committee prepared themselves for the big moment, and
the guests waited patiently. Someone special was coming.

Well, he had to be special for he had been selected by The Sportstar as the Sportsperson of the Year 1995. Viswanathan Anand was the chosen one this time, the inaugural award, for 1994, having been bagged by ace cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. And then, as Anand, accompanied by his wife Aruna and his parents, the Viswanathans, arrived at the Taj Coromandel Hotel, Chennai, the cameras clicked and there was a smile on everyone's face.

Casually dressed in a red checked shirt, Anand was a picture of poise. There is a quiet dignity about him that separates him from the rest. He has single-handedly put India on the world chess map, revolutionised the game in the country, threatened to take the world crown away from Garry Kasparov before the wily veteran, bringing all his
experience to the fore, managed to prevail.

But Anand's performance in that Professional Chess Association World championship match in New York did suggest that he was a future champion of the world.
 

The hall was tastefully decorated for the function which was compered by Sumanth Raman, a TV Sports presenter.

There was a mood of celebration as one of India's celebrated sons was being honoured. The event was attended by several famous sporting personalities and leading lights of Chennai.

And it was appropriate that the chief guest was none other than Sunil Gavaskar, who had flown in specially for the occasion, from Mumbai. He too strove for excellence and for long carried much of India's batting hopes on his shoulders.

In his welcome address, N. Ram, the Editor of The Sportstar, commended Anand for his performance in '95 and said that in an age when sporting deeds tend to get exaggerated by the media, Anand's display fell in the realm of the truly
exceptional.

Gavaskar's speech was laced with humour. The fifth speaker of the evening, he began by saying, "I am normally not used to batting so low down the order," which had the audience in splits. He recognised the role played by Anand's parents and remembered
how his own mother had helped him.

She used to bowl underarm to him in the small balcony of their home, when he was a kid. He spoke about how she had once wiped the blood off her nose with her sari after being struck by a shot from the young Gavaskar and had said 'carry on'.

"That was my first lesson in cricket. It is a tough game and you have to carry on regardless of the injury."

With "a Grandmaster in Anand, a Little Master in Sachin Tendulkar and an Energy Master in Leander Paes' the youngsters of the country had plenty of inspiration, commented smartly attired Gavaskar.

Anand was "articulate, humble, determined, devoted and dedicated, all hallmarks of a great sportsman," according to Gavaskar. He also came up with interesting anecdotes on his old mates, S. Venkatraghavan and K. Srikkanth.

Only two men could take chances with Venkat, who, Gavaskar said, used to get a little hot under the collar. One was Eknath Solkar and the other was Gavaskar himself.

Venkat, an intelligent cricketer, was now the best umpire in the world and Srikkanth, who used to murder Hindi film songs, was one of the greatest entertainers India has produced.

Gavaskar complimented The Hindu for possessing the best sports page, and The Sportstar for being the leading sports magazine in the country. "The secret lies in the fact that the Sports Editor does not look for assignments himself unlike other papers." Sunil also mentioned, when it comes to coverage of events, "There are no personal likes and dislikes."

Amidst thundering applause Gavaskar said he was honoured to give away the award to "arguably the greatest sportsman India has produced." In keeping with the racy nature of his speech, he quipped, it was ironic that the man who made 36 runs in a 60-over game was giving away the award to the lightning kid of chess. He then presented Rs. One lakh and a silver salver to Anand.

S. Krishnan, Associate Editor, (Sports), The Hindu, draped a ponnadai (shawl) on the Grandmaster. Ram gave away the citation, which was earlier read by Nirmal Shekar,
Tennis Correspondent, The Hindu.

Speaking in a soft but clear voice, Anand's reply to the felicitations revealed what a confident young man he was. He spoke of his desire ' to embarrass The Sportstar by winning the award twice in successive years."

This was in reference to a remark made earlier by Ram. Anand thanked The Hindu and The Sportstar for giving such wide coverage to chess, which was very essential for the development of the game in the country.

The Grandmaster thanked Gavaskar for his kind words and recalled an instance many years ago in New Delhi, when the great Indian batsman thumbed a lift for him after they had participated in the Freedom Run. That was something Anand never forgot.


He congratulated Ummer Koya for his election as the FIDE Vice-president and hoped he would accomplish for world chess what he had done for the game in India.

The other distinguished speakers in the function included M. S. Swaminathan, the award winning agricultural scientist, Eric Prabhakar, Olympian and Rhodes scholar, and
Ummer Koya, Vice-President FIDE and Secretary, All India Chess Federation.


Swaminathan acknowledged the role played by Anand's parents, a support so vital for the development of a young player. In this context he spoke of the abundance of chess talent in the former Soviet Union, where the supportive role was played by the State. He dwelt on the concept of a no-limit person and wondered what made certain persons constantly strive for excellence. He quoted Albert Schweitzer, who after winning the Nobel Peace Prize at Oslo in 1954 remarked, "The only originality that I can claim to myself (the citation called him an original person) is that the human spirit in our times, is capable of creating a new attitude of mind, an attitude based on ethics and
excellence." He then drew a parallel between Anand and that spirit of excellence.

Eric Prabhakar remarked that Anand was a gentleman of education, of refinement, manners and good humour. "Anand seems to be telling the world, I care no more for you than you care for me," he added while giving the listeners an insight into Anand's attitude to life.

Commenting on Anand's defeat at the hands of Kasparov, he opined the game was
not about winning and losing. "He that makes no mistakes has made no discovery."


Koya thanked The Hindu and The Sportstar for providing such extensive coverage to
chess. This, he said, had helped the game find more sponsors, but the game needed more money. Anand's rise had really helped the game flower in India, he felt. He too congratulated Anand's parents for having groomed a champion.

And finally there was a surprise to beat all surprises. Ram announced a special award of Rs. One lakh to Gavaskar, who he said would have walked away with The Sportslar
award on at least six occasions had it been instituted during his playing days.

"Our Sports Editor (S. Krishnan) and I were talking about the unacceptability of a situation which meant not a single award could be made to the greatest sportsperson India had produced, when Krishnan came up with the idea."

Fittingly, it was Anand who gave away the award to Gavaskar. Indeed, it was a night to remember in Chennai ; a night when two of India's most famous sons rubbed shoulders.

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