Family and home

Not many liberals in India will admit it but these are bad words in their work manuals. A family and it’s home means to the feminist, chains for the woman. Tightly bound and gagged by tradition that frowns upon “equality, liberty and fraternity”, goes the abuse.

Any traditionalist speaking in favor of marriages and families with a father, mother, children…possibly parents and in-laws..a home maker’s role  and the father’s responsibility to protect his family including his wife and children – All of this reeks of paternalism and slavery for the female. This traditionalist would be branded a fascist MCP.

In our times of such all encompassing drive towards complete equality and non-discriminationwhere nothing but traditionalism is worth frowning upon, in times where advertising one’s homosexuality and the right to same-sex ‘marriage’ is a badge of honor and fight against ‘persecution of sexual minorities’, where the flow of drugs and sex are symbols of ‘understandable ‘rebellion’ amongst youth, where parental reprimand can invite law suites and certainly the charge of ‘not understanding their children’ and display of the dreadful ‘generation gap’, where natural curiosity amongst children and youth is perverted into a ‘human right’ to question and challenge elders…where nothing is sacred and all plastic and such times as ours, it is so heartening to read about a family such as this.

This short story is about a family and it’s home. Of a father’s responsibilities and mother’s love and their son’s fond remembrance.

– Namaste

Viswanathan Anand has done what few sports-persons in India have achieved: he’s captured the hearts of millions of cricket-crazy Indians by playing an excellent game of chess.

A FamilyToday, the world chess champion has only seconds (assistants), but his first and most important coach was his mother, Susheela. Thirty-five years ago, it was Susheela who taught him the moves. “He was not restless, but he was certainly impatient,” recalls Susheela of her early mentoring years. “While playing chess, he would make a move, but was unable to wait for the opponent to play his move. He wanted to make the second move immediately. Occasionally, I would tell him to study the board carefully. But perhaps he could see more than I could, even as child,” says the proud mother.

Susheela has never played competitive chess, but there was a nice little tribute from a chess lover sometime back who said that she would have easily become a Grandmaster herself, if she had taken the game seriously. The ‘if’ is a big hypothetical uncertainty; Susheela is happy playing her role as mother, mentor and guide to perfection. Her contribution to Anand’s success is legendary, and she found the perfect foil in her daughter-in-law Aruna to continue the same work that she had put in while defining the progress of her son.

Mother and son share an easy relationship. Anand still talks of his mother as though he is a child roaming in the family garden, waiting for her to pamper him. “She’s always been there for me,” he says. Those few words explain it all — the months spent on the road participating in tournaments, the “treats” they enjoyed after every win. “We travelled all over India and abroad during my junior years, and became good friends.

She would give me an Archie comic or a Tintin every time I won. I remember playing in Delhi and after every win we would run for an ice-cream or kulfi,” he says.

But underlining this nostalgic picture is a young mother and her son determined to be the best. “Even in Manila, she would create puzzles for me, so that I could solve them after school,” he says.

“The initial years were tough and we would have to stay with relatives and friends whenever we were abroad. We would save up money and then go out for a meal.” But Anand’s favourite home-cooked food is spinach sambar, lime rasam and potato curry.

The adjectives that define a young Anand — active and impatient — contradict the very nature of the game that he is master of. Sitting patiently over a board was not his forte. “His impatience is not limited to chess alone. It was the same with tennis” laughs Susheela, “but he was always easy to handle.”

Anand recalls instances when his mother would deprive him of his Walkman (this was the time before the iPod revolution) when “I became too difficult to handle”.

Born in Chennai on December 11, 1969 to Viswanathan (a retired general manager, Southern Railways), and Susheela, Anand grew up with his older brother and sister in a household that encouraged extra-curricular activities.

Carrom was the family’s game of choice. “You won’t believe it, but he used to be very good in carrom too,” says Susheela, and as an afterthought she adds: “He never really gave me any problems when he was a child.”

Like any mother eager to divulge those embarrassing childhood incidents their adult children would prefer buried in the family’s skeletal cupboard, Susheela says, “When his father went to Zambia he brought home a big doll, and Anand played with it for a long time day in and day out.”

The Grandmaster narrates his own ‘embarrassing’ experience while attempting to buy a sari for his mother with the pocketmoney he had saved. “I was in Dubai at the time, and I asked the ladies team what size sari I should purchase for my mum,” he says sheepishly. “Of course, they burst out laughing. My mother still wears that sari.”

According to his mother, his older siblings always took care of him when he was a child. “Even if I said something about Anand, they would react. They were protective about him,” recalls Susheela.

The one life lesson that his mum ensured he incorporates into his daily life was to never forget one’s mistakes. “There was this time when I lost a game, and my mum said that I had been too careless and had to think about my mistakes. I was so angry that I wrote down all my opponent’s moves as brilliant and mine as questionable. Even today, when I see that notebook I remember how angry I was. But I learned an invaluable lesson that day. Today, after every tournament, I write down all my thoughts and mistakes. It helps me remember.”

The Anands are a family that thrives on love, discipline and the ability to enjoy life. “She is a very patient mum. We share the need for a cool room, a warm blanket and an afternoon siesta,” says Anand, who doesn’t need that one day in the year to tell his mum he loves her. “Every time I am with her, it’s special. I feel 12 again.”


Times of India – 8 may ’09


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