Vikas woke up with a start. He looked at the clock. It was 4 p.m. He could hear voices in the living room. "When did you come back from Kolkota, Nizam? Vikas' father Suresh was asking his best friend Nizam Hussain. "Just an hour back and you know what, Irfan bagged three gold medals in the under-12 category."
"Wow! That's fantastic news. You should celebrate - throw a party. No, wait. Why should you? I'll throw one. After all I am Irfan's favorite uncle and he my favorite nephew."
Irfan, Nizam Uncle's son was a swimming champ. He had gone for the inter-state swimming championship to Kolkota.
"He won gold medals in 100 metres free style, 200 metres free style and relay," Nizam said.
"He is a born champ Nizam, though I wonder where he got his genes from."
"Certainly not from me."
"That's what I am saying. You were so hopeless in sports."
"And you were the ultimate champion," Nizam said thumping his friend on his back. "You know something Suresh, I ran into our sports teacher Sunny David. He was telling me your 100 metres sports records is still not broken."
"Really! I can't believe it. I ran that race 24 years ago when I was in class ten."
"You should really be proud of yourself."
"I would have been even more proud if Vikas had carried forward my legacy. When he was born I had declared that I would make him the next Carl Lewis but..."
"I understand your feelings Suresh, but you should never let Vikas know or it will destroy him."
Vikas sat up and removed the bed sheet that was covering his leg. In place of his left leg was a wooden stump. He had lost his leg in an accident five years back when he was seven.
Vikas was sitting on a platform under the shade of a Peepal tree watching his friends playing football. His father's words, the disappointment in his voice, were haunting Vikas every waking moment.
"Come Vikas, how about a game of chess?"
Vikas looked up. It was Sreenivasan Sir, his math teacher. He was holding a box in his hand.
Sreenivasan Sir was very fond of Vikas not only because he was very good in math but also because Vikas was sincere and hardworking.
"But Sir, I can't play chess."
"So what? I can, and I'll teach you. In a couple of games you'll get the hang of it. Your powers of observation and concentration are very good and I am sure you'll pick up the game in no time."
And so the teacher and his favorite student started playing. In the beginning Vikas found it very difficult to even understand the basic moves. But gradually he got into the rhythm. Soon a game of chess with Sreenivasan Sir became a regular practice. Vikas really started looking forward to that one hour of P.T. when he could match his skills with those of the brilliant Sreenivasan Sir. Six months went by. Sreenivasan Sir and Vikas were playing chess in their usual spot.
"Check and mate," Vikas said and looked expectantly at his mentor.
Sreenivasan Sir studied the move for sometime and then exclaimed, "Fantastic move Vikas, you trapped me. Well done, I am proud of you," he held out his hand.
A beaming Vikas shook his teacher's hand. He was thrilled to bits. This was the first time he had beaten Sreenivasan Sir.
Next day when they met for their regular game of chess Sreenivasan Sir told Vikas, "Vikas the leading daily of our State - News Today will be hosting a Chess Tournament for school students from 12th to 15th November. It will be called 'News Today Chess Olympiad' and will be held at Hari Singh Indoor Stadium. I want you to take part in that."
"M..me. B..but Sir, I can hardly play."
"Vikas you are being too modest. . Don't forget you beat me yesterday. And let me tell you during my college days I was the University champ."
"No, buts," Sreenivasan cut him short. "You are going to take part. You have six months to practice. I'll get you a few good books on chess. Do you have a computer at home?"
"Good. Then I'll also get you a couple of chess programmes on a floppy. Playing chess with the computer will really sharpen your skills."
"But Sir...I...I feel -"
"I told you, no buts. If you feel your parents will object I can talk to them."
"No, Sir, I'll take my parents' permission."
"Okay then are we ready to start preparing for the Olympiad?"
"Yes, Sir," Vikas said, a faint smile appearing on his anxious face.
Vikas told his mother Pramila but he asked her not to tell his father.
"Please Ma, I want to surprise Papa. He doesn't even know I know chess. Even if I reach the second round he will be thrilled."
Chess became Vikas' obsession. In school, during P.T. period; at home after his homework, Vikas would get busy playing chess, reading about it, matching his skills with the computer and even dreaming about different moves. He cut out the games which appeared in the newspaper columns, studied the various strategies used and discussed them with Sreenivasan Sir.
Two months later when he was waiting under the shade of the Peepal tree he found Sreenivasan Sir walking towards him accompanied by a tall, thin, man with grey hair.
"Vikas this is my friend and Guru, R.K. Murthy. He retired as a Physics Teacher from Government College. During the seventies he had won the State Chess Championship for a record nine times. He lives nearby and he will walk down and play every day with you during P.T. period."
Vikas folded his hands in a namaste and Mr. Murthy patted him on his head. "So young man, shall we begin? I am eager to match my old wits with that of a talented member of the Generation X."
Vikas found that playing with Mr. Vishwanath was altogether a different experience. He sometimes felt he was a complete novice playing for the first time.
Vishwanath taught him many fresh openings, several new moves. He also pointed out many of his follies. With each game Vikas felt he was learning something new.
Suresh was the Marketing Manager of a leading pharmaceutical company and was frequently out on tour. On 7th November when he was leaving for Chennai Vikas told him, "Papa you should come back definitely by 12th."
"Why son? Is there a function in your school?"
"No, Papa. But there is a surprise for you. I don't want you to miss it.
Suresh patted Vikas on his head, "Okay, son."
Suresh forgot about the promise he had made to his son. On 12th he rang up Pramila and told her he had got stuck and would be reaching on 15th morning.
The train was late and by the time he reached home it was 11.
"Maaji and bhaiya have gone to Hari Singh stadium and have asked you to join them," the maid servant informed Suresh.
Puzzled Suresh took a bath, grabbed a quick bite and drove down to the stadium, which was three kilometres from his house.
When he reached the stadium he saw a huge banner at the gate. "News Today Chess Olympiad."
Puzzled he parked the car and went inside. There was a pin drop silence in the stadium, which was packed. Right in the middle was a raised platform. People were sitting all around watching a game of chess in progress. One of the players looked familiar. Suresh stared unable to believe his eyes. It was his son Vikas! But Vikas and Chess? He wasn't even aware Vikas knew how to play the game. And here his son was participating in a championship! He felt a familiar hand on his shoulder. He turned, it was Nizam
"What are you doing here?" Suresh asked.
"I have come here for the same purpose as you - to watch Vikas play."
"B...but I didn't even know he could play chess -"
"He wanted to surprise you. Now, come with me. There is a seat reserved for you right in front from where you can watch the action."
Nizam led him to an empty seat next to which Pramila was sitting.
"You know Suresh, Vikas is in the finals - and this is the final game. If he wins he will be the State Champion."
Suresh shook his head.
"This all seems like a dream. It is too good to be true. When did he learn to play chess? Who taught him? And how come I don't know a thing about it."
"Have patience, all your questions will be answered in good time. But right now let us concentrate on Vikas' game."
Suresh watched mesmerized as his son, a picture of concentration, waited for his opponent
Harish to play. Harish made his move. Vikas quietly moved his queen two steps and said very calmly - "Check and Mate."
For a few second there was absolute silence. Harish looked at the board and then threw his hands up. Three was a thunderous applause and the entire stadium was on its feet cheering and clapping. Vikas got up with the help of his crutches and bowed. His eyes rested on the beaming face of this father. Suresh was clapping with joy, shaking hands with Nizam and shouting - all at the same time, like an excited five year old.
Later after he had receive the glittering trophy Vikas was given the mike.
"I would like to thank my math teacher and inspiration Sreenivasan Sir, the wizard who taught me Mr. Murthy, my Uncle Nizam and my mother. To my Papa I only want to say, "I know I can never become a Carl Lewis, but you can help me become a Vishwanathan Anand."
The stadium once again erupted in cheers and Suresh was seen wiping his eyes.