Hyderabad: At just 50, Viswanathan Anand is a five-time world champion. He also was undisputed champion of the 64 squares from 2007 to 2013. He has travelled to 64 countries and has over 10 passports filled with stamps from places he has been to. “When you set out at an early age to pursue your dreams, you end up travelling to cities, countries and continents that you would never have dreamt about. But now, when I look back at it, I feel I have lived out of a suitcase all my life and I am not complaining about it. Until now, I have been to 64 countries and six continents. The only continent I have not been to is Antartica,” Anand, who went past the half-century mark this December 11, told this newspaper.
He has a sharp memory and probably remembers every move he ever made on a chess board but cannot recollect the number of passports he has used up.
For such particulars, there is always Aruna Anand, the Grand Master’s wife. “Google does a better job at remembering schedules or flight details. If I remember correctly, since our marriage in 1996, Anand has got six new passports and before that he used up four of them. Luckily we have not lost any of them yet,” a spot on Aruna said.
Some of Anand’s favourite countries are Mexico and Israel. He also enjoys safaris in Africa, along with son Akhil. “In one of our latest visits to Israel, we were the guests of Jerusalem’s Mayor and so we got some exclusive access to parts of the city that are otherwise shut to tourists. They took us to one of the excavation sites in the Old City and showed us some of the exhibits that had proofs of David, the third king of the United Monarchy of Israel and Judah. The exhibits are yet to be made public. While in Israel, we visited Jaffa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv but missed out on the Dead Sea,” Anand said.
“Our eight-year-old son, loves safari. So in the summer holidays we head off to Africa, visit the jungles and undertake safaris. Like Anand said, we have never been to Antartica but I would love to tick that off from our list too,” Aruna chips in.
There is another interesting aspect about Anand that not many are apprised of. The Khel Ratna awardee is also a two-time defending Master Chef Champion that is held on the sidelines of the Norway chess tournament in Stavanger. “Anand may say that he is not a good chef but he has two Master Chef titles in Norway. This year he teamed up with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and won the title for making the best spin up a dish using a Salmon while in 2018, he combined with Ding Liren to make the award winning Hollandaise sauce,” his proud wife informs.
One of the main reasons for Anand to win the cooking competitions was his European influence. With all the major tournaments happening in Europe, it was difficult for the 1969 born player to travel across continents for every tournament. As fate would have it, in the January of 1991, when Anand was competing at the Linares International Chess Tournament in the Jaén province of Andalusia, Spain, he was introduced to a European couple — Mauricio Perera and Nieves — by the tournament director. It was love from their very first conversation. “The tournament director wanted me to meet Mauricio and Nieves because they knew English and Mauricio was a big chess fan. I felt comfortable with them and a special bond came about from our first conversation. On the first day of the event, Nieves made a small wager, she said, ‘If you beat Anatoly Yevgenyevich Karpov, I’ll take you out for dinner. I told her, if I beat Karpov, I’ll take you out!’ I ended up beating the Russian and we went out for dinner that night. They eventually turned into my adopted parents and both were one of the major factors that I moved to Madrid in 1995. Ever since, my life was easier both, professionally and personally,” Anand recalled.
“Their home was always open for both Anand and me. We would walk into their house and eat right out of their fridge or make any beverage we wanted to without any qualms. And whenever they ran out of coffee they would come asking, if we had any left! They were literally a blessing for us. Whatever Mauricio and Nieves have done for Anand, cannot be described in words,” Aruna said.
For someone who has lived in Spain for a major part of his life, football frenzy catches up sooner or later. And the Spanish league fever caught up with the two-time Rapid World Chess champion too. “Real Madrid is my favourite club and Zidane is one of my all-time favourite footballers. Of course I remember Diego Maradona’s World Cup goal and other important footballing moments. But Zidane’s Champions League final goal in 2002 against Bayern Leverkusen is one of my all time favourites. While I was in Spain, I did watch some of Los Blancos (Real Madrid’s nickname) matches and the experience was surreal,” Anand said.
Once Anand moved to Spain, titles started coming in. He was the World champion from 2000 to 2002. But things fell apart for the two-time champion when Nieves took sick. Nieves, who was a motherly figure to Anand, was admitted to a hospital due to a heart condition in May 2004. “In her dying minutes, Nieves sat up on her bed, put her hand up and told Anand, ‘Vishy you are No.1 but you have to be a world champion.’ She said those words and went back to bed. Anand sat right next to her and continued to stroke her hair as she breathed her last. Tears started to roll out from everyone’s eyes when we realised she left us and moved on to a better place,” Aruna said recalling the fateful day.
“Nieves is someone who could pick up a battle with anyone for me. She even picked up a fight with my father, when he said, ‘Anand, you will never be the No.1 in the world.’ She would defend me to the hilt. She practically raised me like her son. And for her to pass away that soon had a lasting impact on me. It’s been a long time since she passed away but I still miss her. I am 50 now and when I look back, I can say that I don’t have much regrets. But the biggest of them all, is that, Nieves passed away without meeting Akhil,” Anand said as he turned his face away looking into the oblivion, fighting back tears.