Anand deserves the Bharat Ratna

Just because Viswanathan Anand’s talent, unlike that of a Sachin Tendulkar or a Leander Paes, is not easily understood is no reason to slot him into some ‘intellectual’ pigeonhole where he may be in the unique position of having conquered the world but uncertain of how his own countrymen appreciate his accomplishments.

In a country lacking in true world champions, Viswanathan Anand stands out both for his toughness and gentleness.   -  Shashi Ashiwal

Now that a start has been made, and the nation’s highest honour has already gone to a sportsman, let us look at an equally — if not more — deserving candidate, Viswanathan Anand. India’s first Grandmaster earned that title in 1988. In 30 years since, the country has added another 51 to that list, including 12-year-old, Ramesh Praggnanandhaa, the most recent entrant. India is also sixth in the list of top chess nations.

One man has been responsible for this. Viswanathan Anand, the five-time world champion. And he deserves the Bharat Ratna, as much for his own incredible skills as for leading the Indian chess revolution.

Anand, a wonderful ambassador for the country wherever he plays, is one of two or three finest players to have graced the game. Among non-Russians, only Bobby Fischer might run him close, but Anand’s stay at the top has been longer, free of controversy and he has shown that he is no ‘monomaniacal introvert’ (an expression he once used to describe chess players), but a man of the world with interests and opinions on matters outside the sport.

He is easily India’s supreme sportsman, even if filling stadiums like Sachin Tendulkar has never been part of his job description.

We take Anand for granted. This might be a compliment, a way of acknowledging that he is so far above the others that nothing further needs to be said. He will turn 49 in December, and continues to surprise with his creativity and energy in a young man’s sport. Over the years he has been feted briefly after every win and then passed over; yet his influence on the sport in India and role as inspiration for its players have been enormous. He has been Mr. Indian Chess for three decades ever since he won the national title in 1986, aged 16.

In a sense, Anand has no more worlds to conquer. He is acknowledged as the most gifted player of his time. His mind-eye coordination (as opposed to the more physical sportsman’s hand-eye coordination) is incredible. His speed, which earned him the sobriquet ‘Lightning Kid’, comes naturally to someone who visualises what is and what can be with virtually no time lag.

In a country lacking in true world champions, Anand stands out both for his toughness and gentleness. As a player, he was never accused of lacking in the ‘killer instinct’, the bane of many talented Indian sportsmen. As a person, he is mild-mannered, articulate, thoughtful, and, among friends, fun-loving.

Anand deserves better than a perfunctory acknowledgement of his myriad achievements. Just because his talent, unlike that of a Tendulkar or a Leander Paes, is not easily understood is no reason to slot him into some ‘intellectual’ pigeonhole where he may be in the unique position of having conquered the world but uncertain of how his own countrymen appreciate his accomplishments.

Tendulkar was 40 and had just retired when he was honoured. Anand remains active, but is no less deserving.