No One Dictates Your Success Except Yourself: Aruna Anand
Chess grandmaster Viswanathan Anand pens an inspirational book on life lessons and career heights. SheThePeople.TV catches up with Aruna Vishwanathan Anand, as his wife and manager she gives us superwoman goals. She calls herself more ‘meticulous’ than her husband, is guarding a chess genius in the circle that sees her with a sense of admiration. She is been playing multiple roles at home and as a manager to the grandmaster she also takes charge of various aspects of Anand’s professional life. Aruna married Anand in 1996 when he had yet to become a world champion. Soon after the marriage he was not only the world number one but also became World Champion multiple times. Having been working alongside Anand, coping with the successes wasn’t easy for Aruna but they both enjoyed a lovely roller-coaster ride. She sparks comfort while he makes calculated moves — both at chess and in real life.
In conversation with the firebrand Aruna Anand:
When was the moment that you decided you would become Viswanathan Anand’s manager?
There wasn’t a specific moment as such. Anand had to work a lot, he had to keep up with chess and physical fitness, so being able to divide the work became an efficient solution. Also, I would say I’m the more meticulous between the two of us!
I think if you love and respect someone, you find the strength to offer your heart and your shoulder when it’s needed.
What are the challenges of managing your spouse? How have you managed to keep work and marriage compartmentalised if at all?
I think for us it was a natural extension. For Anand, I was someone whom he could trust completely and knew that a decision was taken keeping in mind his comfort as a person and as a sportsperson. I think the biggest challenges have been the many times I’ve had to take an important decision without being able to consult him. In these situations you have to know that the decision, though already taken in his best interest has to be the best and also that it is in line with the trust he places in you.
Did you at any point feel that you needed a career of your own, independently?
I was in advertising when I got married. In a way, many of those skills have been used well in being part of Anand’s career. I also learned so many skills that have shaped me into a better person – skills like the ability to read a contract and interpret it, dealing with people who may not understand your language, being respectful of and sensitive to people’s egos. These have been important skills that I have learned, which otherwise might not have been possible.
As someone who came from a family of sportspersons, did marriage to a sportsperson still come as a challenge to you? What are the challenges that people don’t realise a sportsperson’s family goes through?
My family played a bit of sport. I was never sports-minded. I think I learned that a chessboard had 64 squares and the squares are black and white … only after Anand and I were engaged.
For Anand, I was someone whom he could trust completely and knew that a decision was taken keeping in mind his comfort as a person and as a sportsperson.
Did you have any sporting aspirations yourself? Did you play a sport yourself?
Not at all. I like to dance, paint, do pottery – and I enjoy cooking and learning new cuisines.
Learning about chess being married to someone who is at the top of the game must have had its own challenges? How did you train yourself?
I don’t think you need to be a chess player to be married to one. I do follow the game and understand some of its nuances thanks to the fact that I have watched a lot of games travelling with Anand and been privy to his discussions with his trainers.
When was the moment that you both thought you must share Anand’s experiences through a book?
I think the idea was Anand’s. He is very articulate on various topics. He is witty and can tell a story with a bit of irony and humour.
I also learned so many skills that have shaped me into a better person – skills like the ability to read a contract and interpret it, dealing with people who may not understand your language, being respectful of and sensitive to people’s egos.
The book has been a very honest effort and if you read it he has been very candid about feelings and failure. For me, the book was special as it helped us relive a treasure trove of memories. To write such a different book you need to be a person with no ego and also a person who is very comfortable with their achievements and their image. Otherwise, such an honest book wouldn’t have been possible.
To be a partner and a manager to a sporting champion requires a great deal of mental strength and resilience in order to be a support. How do you keep yourself mentally strong?
It helps to have a husband who is very simple as a person. There have been many tough moments. I think if you love and respect someone, you find the strength to offer your heart and your shoulder when it’s needed.
What has being a chess master’s manager taught you about leadership?
I don’t actually see myself as a leader – that has to be Anand! I would say my role is to facilitate transforming his thought processes into action, but yes being around him has taught me to put my ego aside and always make sure the other person is heard. That to me is essential to leadership.
What are the takeaways you think young girls could imbibe reading this book? What can they learn from Viswanathan Anand?
I think the book reaches out to a cross-section of people. From it, young girls can take away that hard work and ambition have no substitute. You have to be true to yourself. No one dictates your success except yourself. A family environment teaches you to be in line and keeps you focussed. More than anything the biggest learning is that it’s okay to fail – that failure is your biggest teacher.
How do you think we can popularise chess as a sport in India, especially for young girls to take up?
Chess has grown exponentially in India. We have many strong chess players playing in international events. Interest in it is bound to grow – and yes, I hope the girls start taking notice of it too!
What are the qualities that a Chess-master should have?
Perseverance and memory.
In the book, he talks about achieving success at any cost and how he picked up a few skills from some of the famous personalities (like Steve Jobs’ calligraphy skill) in the world. Being with him on a day-to-day basis, constantly keeping a check on his schedule as a manager, what skill did you pick up?
That sometimes not saying anything is the right thing – rather than opening your mouth just to say something to sound intelligent. By keeping silent you don’t let on what your thoughts are and many a time you are able to salvage a sticky situation that could otherwise become a war of words.
Young girls can take away that hard work and ambition have no substitute. You have to be true to yourself. No one dictates your success except yourself.
How has parenting changed your life as well as your schedule as a manager?
Becoming a parent changes your priorities. Having said that, technology makes everything easier. When we used to have these World Championship negotiations, sometimes Anand’s opponents or their teams would mock me for being just a wife who was trying to be a manager! Then, halfway through the negotiations, I would be told that they thought I was extremely tough and well prepared that they preferred not to have to deal with me!
And finally, from watching your first game of chess days after getting married, to managing your husband’s career to being called the Tigress of Madras, how would you define Aruna Vishwanathan Anand?
A contented and proud member of the Anand family – being its only female member I am most respected and loved by my husband and son.
Feature image credit: Aruna Anand