'We just had a quiet birthday'
At that time, he had spoken about aspiring to become World champion; he has fulfilled that dream and gone on to accumulate several other accolades from the game. But despite the stardom and being the world champ, Anand is still the same.
Do you make it a point to be in Chennai for your birthday?
I am here (for his birthday) for the last couple of years. December is a nice time to be in Chennai. Earlier, I used to have tournaments in December.
How different was your 40th birthday from the earlier ones?
40 is a milestone! Otherwise, we had a quiet birthday; we wanted to keep it quiet. We had lunch at home. My parents had come over; we spent some time together, and in the evening, we went to Vidyasagar (an organisation that works with children and young adults with cerebral palsy and neurological disabilities).
Image: Viswanathan Anand
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
'I enjoy spending my birthday at Vidyasagar'
Last year too you went to Vidyasagar on your birthday. How did your special bonding with Vidyasagar start?
I think it all started with some blind children visiting me to play chess. I noticed that they were quite remarkable in chess. I also came to know that children with cerebral palsy are able to play chess very well. That is how my connection with Vidyasagar came about.
Some of the kids can play chess really well. Chess is something they can relate to. That was when I decided to be a spokesperson for them and Vidyasagar.
What kind of feeling is it when you meet those special children and play chess with them?
I have known some of the children for many, many years. They are quite thrilled to meet me. So it is a nice feeling to go there and be with those kids. The point is to spread the message across -- that they need support and help, but they are not helpless.
With a little bit of help, they can realise a lot of their dreams. They just have to communicate. That is the message I am giving to people. A little help can go a long way.
As the ambassador for Vidyasagar what do you do?
I raise some money through events and also do some charity simultaneously. I also communicate their needs to the public, so that the public can help them.
This year the children made a cake for you. Do you cherish those moments?
I enjoy spending a few minutes on my birthday with them. I know kids like Karthik for many years. Seeing them and talking to them is gratifying.
Image: Viswanathan Anand with the Chess Oscar
'The chess scene has changed a lot'
When you are 40, the best thing to say is it is just a number (laughs). I think chess is still exciting for me, and some of my best results have happened in the last few years. So there is no need to feel worried.
At the moment, I enjoy my chess and the challenges. You feel it doesn't really matter what age you are.
Do you feel time just flew by?
It is interesting when you look back, how many memories you have, how many tournaments you played. My mother was talking about some tournament I played when I was very young. It is quite striking that the chess scene has changed a lot.
You said the chess scene has changed from the time you started playing. How has it changed?
It is a completely different scene from the time I started playing. Two or three players were not even born when I won the World junior! As long as you participate in the scene, it is very exciting.
Do you feel irritated when people ask you about retirement, especially when you are the world number one and doing so well?
To be honest, it is irritating. The only thing you can do is ignore it. I don't understand why people suddenly start asking these questions. I will retire when I stop enjoying the game and not at a given age.
This is exactly what Sachin Tendulkar says when he is asked about retirement.
Is it so? I think journalists always like a new angle! This is one angle they latch on to. Okay, when you reach a milestone, like 40 or so, people may feel like asking, how much longer? Anyway, that thought has not occurred to me so far.
Image: Viswanathan Anand after winning the World Championship title last year
'Defending my World title is very important'
The first tournament coming up is at Wijk Aan Zee, in January.
Your favourite place.
Exactly. After that, the World championship will come in April. It is difficult to think beyond that. Only after the World championship is finished, I would think what to do in June, July and so on.
Is it tough to remain at the top?
Obviously. A lot of people want to take your position. So you have to fight. It is also very challenging, something I really enjoy a lot.
Defending my title is very important. Of course, it is a lot of hard work.
As a child, you dream of becoming a world champion and when you reach there, you should work to remain there.
Image: Viswanathan Anand with his parents
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
'We are training many hours a day'
Sethuraman, for one. He won the World sub-junior. Adhiban won the National championship. Both are very exciting talents. They both are like Negi. On the women's scene, we have Humpy, Harika and Soumya. These are the most talented people right now.
Is visiting Chennai relaxation for you?
This time, it is. Sometimes it would be a little bit of work. December is a nice time to be here because of the music season.
Do you go for the kacheris (concerts)?
Yes, I do.
Who are your favourite singers?
This year, I hope to catch Sikkil Gurucharan. I like Prasanna. There are couple of other singers too I like to listen to.
How do you relax these days?
It is difficult to go for a vacation with the World championship quite near. We are training many hours a day, sometimes, even ten hours. And I keep in touch with the new developments. Maybe, after the World championship, I will get a chance to travel somewhere.
Image: Viswanathan Anand with his wife Aruna
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj