For many, schoolmates are the best friends and it is no different for hotelier Ram Bhat. But little did he realise the boy he shared the desk with in Don Bosco school would go on to become a chess legend.
"We were friends from the time I can remember. He was in Manila for a few years and came and joined our class and the friendship continued," says Bhat.
For them, chess was never a topic of discussion. "All through we never spoke about chess. I knew he was big player because he never came to school. Most of our classmates did not grasp it back then. But I knew he was special around the time he won the World Junior Championship and received the Arjuna Award," says Bhat.
Anand may come across as a man of few words, but not to his friends. "For us, he is not Anand the world champion, but Anand the studious boy who is a great friend."
"His biggest quality is that he never tries to put anyone in discomfort. Whenever he has taken me for his tournaments, he ensures I have no problems at all. He took me to Monaco once because I love Formula One and the chess tournament also took place around the same time. Knowing my hotel background, he took me to restaurants serving different cuisines every day," says Bhat.
Anand was the favourite in school, adored and admired for his exploits at such a young age. But studies were always a priority. "He always caught up with school. They gave him the liberty to miss classes but he always took the exams even if it were postponed. In our 12th standard model examinations, he barely scraped through. But within two weeks, he prepared so well he scored cent per cent in maths, physics and 195/200 in chemistry," recalls Bhat.
Anand, who was based in Spain in the early 90s, was mainly in touch with Bhat among his school friends. But with the growth of internet and mobile phones, the gap narrowed. "In the 2000s, he started reconnecting with all our other classmates. He tried to attend reunions, get-togethers and other functions."
In fact, the 20th year school reunion for Anand in 2007 turned out to be one of the deciding factors for him to move back to Chennai. "I was living in Spain for about 15 years but about six years ago we got the feeling that perhaps we should get established in Chennai. We really liked Spain but felt we should perhaps go back home. We also had the class reunion, 20 years since we left school. We met and got nostalgic and thought it would be nice to get back and spend time in India," Anand had said in an interview to ChessTV.