World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand shares his memories of the city he calls home with Manisha Mohite
My earliest memory of Chennai is living in one of those grand Railway Houses, off Haddows Road (my father was with the Railways) and enjoying cycling with my brother.
Chennai now boasts of some of the finest restaurants in the city, but in the eighties, we eagerly looked forward to our treat on Sundays, a dosa at Woodlands Drive. Here I must mention that one of the things which I sorely missed during my trips abroad was the degree kapi.
When I started playing chess, I would go to the Tal Club on weekends. The prize for the famous blitz Sundays would be Rs 10 approximately and in those days, you could get a fantastic dosa and a sundae for that.
In a way, you can say that it is Chennai which helped me to discover chess. The Tal Club was a hub of activity then and the atmosphere used to be really charged. We were all basically amateurs and would play these blitz games on Sunday. The winner stayed and the loser had to stand in line. That is the main reason behind my speedy play.
We moved to Besant Nagar when my Dad retired. At that time, there were very few houses in that area and the beach would be virtually empty. After every trip abroad, I would yearn for the sea breeze of Chennai.
I love Chennai in December, when the days are very cool. Although we always try to come in December, a visit in summer is a must. I am not a summer person, but there is something about being in Chennai then, gorging on mangoes and jackfruit and even spending time complaining about the heat.
I studied at Don Bosco and fondly remember us inventing a game called ‘Crocker’ that is somewhere between cricket and baseball, which was an after-school ritual. Even now, when I meet up with my schoolmates, we indulge in Crocker. Last year our wives came to watch us and were shocked that we still behaved like ninth standard boys.
I have travelled a lot by train, usually to tournaments with my mom and with Muthu, my dadÂ´s trusted Jeeves, who would travel with us. We enjoyed these journeys, my mom and me playing cards. I also got opportunity to listen to my walkman and read Tintin comics.
I have also travelled by bus in Chennai and once after a trip back from Europe, I hurriedly got into a bus as I was running late for college and was relieved to see it almost empty. Soon to my dismay, I saw only women getting onto the bus and then the realization dawned on me that it was a Ladies special! Even now, when I pass Besant Nagar bus stand, I get the feeling that the bus conductors are still glaring at me in disapproval.
Some of my most cherished Chennai memories imprinted vividly in my mind are the warm welcome accorded to me when I won the World Championships. It was awesome to have so many people come out to meet you. I distinctly remember a bus driver parking the bus and running across, just to shake my hand. It moved me! I will never ever forget the way Chennai received me. Sometimes when I go shopping, there are people who enquire about my latest event, which makes me feel just a tad special and pampered.
Like a good Madrasi, I love my curd and rice. If there is rasam and potato, then, it is just slice of heaven. There is nothing more pleasing than rasam with curds although I know that many would cringe at that combination.
Chennai has changed a lot over the years. There are new parts of Chennai I’ve never been to, and lots of flyovers and malls. But I do feel sad that some old buildings or trees have been cut down in the name of construction. There are, however, still some pockets where the city has retained its old charm. We have some great restaurants and the MRTS looks pretty good.
We got our own place in Chennai last year. We just love staying there and have brought little mementos from all our travels to make it a cosy little home.
My favourite time of the day is the morning, sitting in the garden and watching the parrots and squirrels. We have a nice time with our families in Chennai and it is always fun to have people home.
For me, Chennai is just home. The moment you arrive, the morning coffee, the familiar faces, the beaches give that inexplicable sense of homecoming.