August 19, 2005

An evening with 'Vishy'

Photo courtesy: Manoj Kanakamedala / Dibakar R.C.

at Mainz for the Grenke-Leasing Classic.
I was halfway through my daily cursory scan of the news websites last week, when something flashed across my sights. So what's great about it? That I live not a stone's throw from Mainz, free to travel anytime there free of cost with the aid of my student ticket. And this for the past 4 years. And Vishy (Vishwanathan Anand for the uninitiated) has been visiting Mainz every year the past 4 years. And as was custom, I would plan to visit Mainz every year to meet him and miss out on it owing to some frivolous last-minute work crossing my path and dumping my plans in the bin.

Oops, cool, shall I go meet him? (I could hear my 'other me' mocking at me: O! Lazy moron...fourth year in a row, and you're not gonna make it again...guffaws...) I was determined to make it this time. And then I saw the date. Goodness gracious...the tournament ran from August 9 through August 14. And it was already August the 11th. Should I risk my schedule to make a trip which I was not even sure would be successful? I did not know about the situation in Germany, but if it were India, the organizers would normally have not let me get anywhere near Vishy. Well, I decided to take the baton.

Now, I needed a camera. A digital camera. One thing that I did not possess, despite all my journalistic adventures, was a camera. Luckily one of my friends had bought a new camera, and another had bought a new battery-charger. As if things were falling in place specially for me. So, equipped with the camera and a set of charged batteries, I planned for my trip the following evening to Mainz with one of my friends - Mr. G - who I will now reveal to be Gururaj. (Mark Felt? "I am Deep Throat"? Move over Woodward and Bernstein!).

Note: All the photos and scanned copies of the autographs may be found here.

We reached the Hilton Mainz hotel. We were revelling in the surroundings, but there were more pressing issues ahead, including the small matter of meeting the World Champion (ok former, but he still surely is among the top 3) Vishy. We were unsure of what to expect and were loitering in the grand corridor outside the playing halls, when a desi guy (that too from Madurai) ran into us. And cool, he was a close friend of Vishy. He cooly asked us, "While you are waiting for Vishy, why not take the autographs of some other chess players?" Who? "Like, Peter Svidler, who is right behind you!!!" Wow...there was Svidler himself, and he gleefully posed for a photograph with us, and signed an autograph. But the occassion could get only bigger...and there was Vishy himself arriving at the playing hall with his wife Aruna. No trace of pretension, no showmanship. Simple. He appeared cool and calm, his match due in ten-minute's time. When we approached him, he gave us a warm smile, and we spoke to his wife if it was possible to get an autograph from him. She just said, "Shall we have it after the match?" Well, we sat in for the match.

Believe me, that was the first ever chess match I had ever sat through in my life. Just like Svidler was the first ever renowned chess player I had met in my life. Yes, I agree I may sound silly and childish in my descriptions and exclamations, but even that would not have described in full my sense of awe and excitement that pervaded me that moment. Vishy was playing the black pieces against Alexander "Sasha" Grischuk of Russia. After about 45 minutes of intense duelling, Grishchuk ran out of time, and resigned. Anand had won with the black pieces!!! Man, I am a lucky charm (hehehe...)

We shot pictures of ourselves with Anand at the table, and then got autographs and photos with his wife, who on hearing that I was from Tamilnadu, spoke to me in pure Brahminical Tamil: "Neenga evvalavu naala inge irukkel?" (How long are you here?) So simple and unassuming the couple was, I seriously began to harbour doubts if the non-cricketing fraternity in India is reallying getting the cold shoulder from fans and others alike. I have been used to the arrogance and upmanship of the Indian cricketers, having met them just before the historic 2001 series against the Australians, when they trained at the IIT grounds at Chennai.

Vishy's (and his wife's) attitude was a sea change from those of the cricketers. And that too, Vishy was not just another club player or a faceless amateur. Here was a two-time world champion, a man who challenged the chess demi-god Kasparov for the world title and made him sweat before losing out, the undisputed king of rapid chess, the man who single-handedly gave India its respect in the sporting world, at a time and in a place where acievements by individual Indian sportspersons were rarer than Bush uttering a whole long sentence without his usual Bushisms. Well, to put it simply: Vishy was, and still is, India's pride in chess, nay, the entire sporting world. Bloody hell, he is an icon!

OK, ok, back to business. After the usual post-mortem at the end of the match, Anand moved out of the hall for a press conference. We waylaid him and requested for an autograph, and, er, a photograph. And there we were..our 5 minutes of fame with Vishy. He patiently posed for the photos, without as much a hint of unease or such things as is shown by most of our cricketers (well, Sachin Tendulkar was an exception when I had met him 4 years back). Then he politely asked me, "Neengalum Press Meet-ku varalame?" (Why not come to the Press Meet?) So we sat through the Press Meet.

Once it was over, there was a short interview from Doordarshan, India's national broadcaster. Once he was done with it, he stood up to leave. Now was the moment. We approached him and asked for a photo of him and his wife with us. "Oh, eduthukkalamae!!!" (Why not? Let's have it!!!) And them came the sucker punch. Our camera memory had run out. We had forgotten to bring an extra memory card. With it, even our brains began to run dry of ideas. Should I delete this picture? Or the next? We had to delete atleast two pics, if we had to take the group photo with Vishy and his wife. I was getting mad with every passing minute.

Photo courtesy: Manoj Kanakamedala / Dibakar R.C.

"We are making him wait, you idiot...No, delete this, not that..."
, I was shouting at poor G, who was totally blank, and was like the proverbial hare caught in the headlights. And all through, Vishy was smiling and waiting, and so was his wife. "No problem, take your time". I can't believe my ears. The evening was filled with surprises, and they were never-ending. Once we had settled our dispute as to clearing the memory card, we snapped pictures of Vishy and Aruna with us. And we got autographs from Grishchuk and (Zoltan) Almasi to boot.

And there was more in store for us. The parting line from Mr. and Mrs. Anand summed up not just the entire evening, but also the personality that he is. "You must both be present tomorrow for the remaining games, too". And, "marupadiyum vandellna nanna irukkum" (It will be nice if you can visit again). Simplicity and humility at its best.

In a world where even an amateur sportsman or the new kid on the block flaunts his wares, it is indeed rare to see people like Vishy and his wife, who never for once forgot the twin principles of humility and courtesy. And I put it bluntly to Anand: "If it were India, I doubt if we would have been allowed to even get near you. Even if you so wished, the organizers and policewallahs would have never let us get anywhere near you". And he just gave his usual smile in reply.

Did I go the next day? Well, I would have loved to, but for the only fact that I thought frequent visits would render the magic of that first evening with the Anand couple meaningless. It would be nice to boast in the future that I met Vishy Anand three days in a row from close quarters, but I felt it was far more important that I did not lose that sense of excitement of meeting him as casually as a friend walking in on a visit. I wanted to savour that moment of having met the first ever down-to-earth icon I have personally come across in my life. And man, am I savouring it!!!

Note: All the photos and scanned copies of the autographs may be found here.

August 18, 2005

An epic in six words

It is a poem I composed almost 4 years ago, when I was new to Germany. My German was horrible, save for a few basic words, and my Hindi close to zilch. It was under such momentuous circumstances that I composed this wonder of a poem, if you would call it so. It consists of just six words - yes, just six in all. Two German, two Hindi and two English words.

It is all about the musings - or ramblings for that is what it is - of a poor lover about his beloved. He is so desparate to show-case his love to her that he is lost for words, and is all at sea as to what language to use. So he uses all the three mentioned above. Concisely.

Tum bin, ich bin, dust bin...

Here is a translation:

Tum bin (Hindi) - without you
ich bin (German) - I am
dust bin (English) - of course what it is, dust bin!!!

An epic in six words, eh??? But I am one who firmly believes that language is no bar to express your love. Or, to put it thus, "No dictionary is useful to him who can not understand the language of the heart..." Am becoming too amorous, I guess.

August 15, 2005

All About A Wish

My uncle got married recently. Strange, but he is just a year elder to me. I call him uncle, though, as that's how my mother taught me to call him when I was a kid. And as with all kids, it stuck. Not without reason did Haim Ginott say, "Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression". Many have wondered why I call him uncle, even though I am but a year or so younger to him. And I have always quipped, "Well, because he is my uncle". But still to many, it is inded strange that I should call him this way.

Ah, I told you he got married. His bride is younger than me by more than 2 years. In India, especially the southern part where I come from, such a situation sometimes leads to interesting complications. Should I call her aunt, because she is my uncle's wife, or should I call her by her name? And how it be when I call him uncle, now that he is married and the sight of some one about the same age as him calling him an uncle in front of his wife and others? Not important questions, I agree, but intriguing and funnily interesting nonetheless.

And talking of him, oh my God is he married? It just seems like yesterday that we were in the same school at Dharmapuri, my native place, where there were four of our family studying at the same time - I, him, another of my uncles and an aunt. Well, let you not think they were too old simply because I call them so. It's the same as my calling this uncle an uncle. Let me not make it more complicated. Not a single day went by without at least one of us filing complaints on another over events during the course of the day at school. No incident, no mis-doing, no incident of misdemeanour by any of us would go unreported. In fact, I personally feared more for the end-of-day reports made at home by one of these than the teachers themselves. Probably because I could hoodwink the teachers at will and get away with my tricks, but not the Big Brother - not one but three of them. They seemed to be omniscient, aware of incidents which even I did not remember having perpetrated.

Well, in any case, now he is married. And I have to greet him. It was unfortunate that I could not be there at his wedding, me being a little far away (the little matter of 8000 km notwithstanding), and I had to make up for it. Why not send him a greeting?

Easy to say, but what exactly should I write in my greeting. First of all, what can I wish some one who is elder to me, even though by just a year or so? This was but one of the few confusing questions that floated in my mind, before I hit upon this poem you see below. It may bear some resemblance to my previous blog regarding Viel Glück-Viel Spaß. I just developed upon this idea, only that I reversed the roles - of the bride being the poor one having married the mischievous trickster my uncle used to be (LOL)!!! And thus it goes...

All About A Wish

Many a time I've wondered aloud
How to wish you dear the best.
But more so if I'm allowed
At all, at your expense to jest. (1)

To dearest you a happy married life
I could wish, to be just simple.
But what with wishes so rife,
'Tis hard to pick a good sample. (2)

Even to bless you is tall order
'Tis my wish though to bless you rich.
How can I, for to me ye're elder,
And she not younger than me by much. (3)

Finally I'd rather settle for this one
'Tis a wish that'll stand time's test.
To you tricky dodger a lot of fun,
To the poor li'l dame all the best. (4)


August 10, 2005

Viel Glück - Viel Spaß

Germans use two words very commonly - Viel Spaß and Viel Glück. The first means Lots of Fun and the second Lots of Luck literally. Viel Spaß (pronounced feel-shpas) is used whenever we take leave or at the end of a work day. Viel Glück (pronounced feel-gleeck) is used to wish some one good luck, as one may have easily deduced.

I used to wish my friends either of these two whenever they were about to take an exam or some other endeavour. I always wish some one Viel Glück if he has worked hard and prepared well, coz the poor guy needs all the luck so that his efforts do not go waste. On the contrary, if he has not prepared anything, I wish him Viel Spaß, coz what else can the poor bugger do at the exam hall without any preparation, other than just staring at the question paper? It is only apt that I wish the guy some fun with his exam, as there is nothing else for him to do there!!!

The other day I was asking my chef at the coffee shop where I do my part-time job, what the usual greeting in Germany was, when some one got married. He was confused, coz he could not remember a single greeting that was common throughout Germany, at least not at that particular moment. It was then that I got a brainwave. I suggested that they normally say Viel Spaß to the bride, and Viel Glück to the poor bridegroom. It took some minutes for the laughter to die down at my workplace. Come to think of it, isn't it true? And apt? God bless the couple. Amen!!!