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Checkmated by a legend

Rasheeda Bhagat
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Viswanathan Anand.
Viswanathan Anand.

As the aircraft lands in Chennai I am totally smitten by the man’s simplicity, grace and charm.

He was one of the last to board the Jet Airways flight from Delhi to Chennai on Thursday afternoon.

Seated on the aisle seat, with one seat empty between us, I thought he looked like the chess legend Viswanathan Anand, but dismissed the thought wondering why he would travel economy class.

After the flight took off, he settled down to watching a black and white movie on his iPad. There were no nakhras and zero fuss, something that you don’t associate with celebs. So I didn’t ask him if he was indeed our chess hero who broke millions of hearts recently by losing to the young Norwegian Magnus Carlsen in the World Chess Championship in Chennai.

And anyway nobody was queuing up to get his autographs. After 30 minutes somebody came up, recalled meeting him along with Scindia. I caught another political name, and reached my low point by asking him incredulously, even disapprovingly: “Don’t tell me you’re a politician?” He turned to me, smiled and shook his head.

And then the penny dropped! I popped the question, and he grinned, and nodded. Sheepishly I apologised telling him I was not much of a sportsperson. “But my husband and two sons are huge fans”, I gushed, and sought permission to click a picture, which was graciously granted. He was interested in my Nokia Lumia 820, and asked how good it was; as he was using one of the bigger Samsung Galaxy mobiles, he was looking for a mobile which was smaller.

As my son works for Nokia, I plugged the Lumia a bit, we then chatted about how 6-7 years ago it was only Nokia and nothing else. I introduced myself and he asked me where I lived in Chennai.

“Nungambakkam? I lived there for quite a bit; on Sterling Road”, Anand said. Again, no mention of the fact that his father, Viswanathan Iyer, is a former General Manager of Southern Railways.

Next we discussed the great work being done by Vidyasagar, the Chennai-based institution for spastic children, of which he is a brand ambassador. I mention being one of its founding members; he displays appreciation, making me feel better about my failure to recognise him instantly. Again I mumble an apology and say I was foxed by his sheer simplicity; and didn’t expect to see him in economy.

He shrugs and says that as he had reached the airport a little early, he had changed to an earlier flight. A flight attendant comes to seek his autograph for his “mother, who is a big fan”.

We chat on a number of topics – mobiles and technology, the movie he is watching on his iPad… “it is actually a Perry Mason TV serial. I got hooked on to it when I visited my sister in the US,” he says.

On how Vidyasagar is doing phenomenal work, but was always tight on funds. I admit to my inability, as a core member, in helping it raise adequate funds. “And we have totally failed to cash in on your status as a brand ambassador,” I sigh, and we talk about how these “big circuits” work to raise funds.

The inevitable question is about his heart-breaking loss in Chennai. Anand shrugs, smiles and says, “These things happen, I’ll move on; there will be other matches.” As the aircraft lands in Chennai I am totally smitten by the man’s simplicity, grace and charm. And gratified that other passengers too had failed to recognise him… “Sir, we thought you looked like Viswanathan Anand, but weren’t sure”, says one man. Another says he was fooled by the economy class travel.

Anand walks out with a warm goodbye and I alight wondering how one of our celeb cricketers would behave on flights vis-à-vis ordinary passengers. Wish more celebs were like Vishy Anand!

rasheeda.bhagat@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 6, 2013)
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