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Champion is a ladies’ man

Calcutta: Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand is turning out to be quite a ladies’ man!

Last month, Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa felicitated Anand in person. On Thursday, the West Bengal government, headed by Mamata Banerjee, did the same, saluting the champion’s recent win over Boris Gelfand.

Mamata wasn’t present, as she is touring North Bengal, but she did speak to Anand and regretted (“It’s a pity I’m not there”) being absent.

“Well, it’s just a coincidence that the two state governments which have felicitated me have a lady at the helm... Both Jayalalithaa and Mamata are such charming women,” a smiling Anand told The Telegraph on the drive from the Netaji Indoor Stadium to Dibyendu Barua’s chess academy in Ballygunge Place.

Mamata did meet Anand last year, though, a few months before becoming the chief minister. That was at the wedding of Grandmaster Surya Sekhar Ganguly, one of the seconds of the world champion.

“I met Jayalalithaa in her office and she seemed relaxed. Was knowledgeable too... Same for Mamata, when I interacted with her in person,” Anand recalled.

That Anand’s wife Aruna and Jayalalithaa are from the same school in Chennai, Church Park Presentation Convent, ensured that the felicitation had a greater personal element to it.

Asked if he had political leanings, Anand said: “Yeah, but I’d rather not share that.” In any case, he’s not one to get into controversies.

Anand is, of course, delighted that the Tamil Nadu government has decided to include chess in the curriculum.

“From the age of 7 to 17, children will have chess as part of their studies... It’s a fantastic step, which is going to help more and more children take to the sport,” Anand pointed out.

According to Anand, Gujarat is the only state which already has chess in “some form” as part of the curriculum.

Anand indicated that he’d raise the issue of introducing chess in the curriculum in West Bengal during his next conversation with Mamata.

“As you can understand, the circumstances were such that I just couldn’t do so today,” Anand explained.

Asked if there was an India of his dreams, Anand responded passionately: “Yes... The extremes worry... We’ve tried different things, but haven’t quite struck the golden formula to reduce inequality... A closed economy, liberalisation... As a country, we have to narrow the gap (between the extremes).”

But Anand did mention the “success stories,” as he put it — eradicating polio and controlling the spread of HIV, to give two examples.

Some “innovations” as well.

Footnote: Those present at Barua’s academy included a group of streetchildren, from Future Hope, who’re quickly making the right moves. Anand was happy to pose for photographs.