Delhi boy and leading Grand Master Parimarjan Negi talks about his life on and off the chess board

“When I was 13, it was all about chess. Had I stayed that way, I would have achieved a lot more in the game. Since the year I became a Grand Master, there have been a string of disappointments. Six months before I got my title, I gained some 150 (international rating) points. It took seven years for me to get the next 150 points, and still counting. Other than those six months from the end of 2005 to 2006, my career has generally been disappointing for me.” Do they sound like words of a beaten soldier? Hang on! These observations come from the second youngest Grand Master that the game of chess has ever known! Call it modesty but it is only natural that someone who is said to be the heir to Viswanathan Anand’s throne will be so self effacing.

Parimarjan Negi is that rare, rare player. He is hard on himself but raves about his competitors. He has some praiseworthy achievements, yet, he prefers to look for his drawbacks, raising the bar, pursuing a punishing goal. This comes from a young man who is not looking to drown in personal sorrows but correct the flaws for the path ahead.

Always dressed elegantly, without any bright hues, Parimarjan conducts himself with dignity. Polite to a fault, he is different from the many known to follow the footprints of five-time World champion Anand, who charted a unique path of self-dependence without cribbing about lack of support for chess from the Government or sponsors. Parimajan belongs to the crop of new-age chess players who have pledged to go their own way.

Parimarjan’s demeanour is befitting his stature as the country’s leading Grand Master. He trains hard, both over the chess board and in the gym. Being well-read helps this articulate 20-year-old sound far more mature than his age suggests. Being a Delhi boy sets him apart in the league of country’s all-time great chess players. After Tania Sachdev proved that excellence was not limited to those from certain states, Parimarjan set new standards. From being the second youngest Grand Master in the history of the game, Parimarjan has emerged as the most welcome Indian face after Anand, in the chess world.

Looking back at his journey to become a Grand Master, Parimarjan says, “I almost did not know any International Master in Delhi and had not seen many Grand Masters play. The whole idea of getting the titles (of International Master or Grand Master) was pretty much alien to me. That made it a lot easier. I did not know that I was aiming for so motivation was always tricky to find. My parents helped me a lot in that area. By myself, I wouldn’t work so hard on my chess. Chess was a fun thing to play but the training part, is a lot less interesting.”

Interest in various subjects has widened his range of reading. Parimajan has a mind of his own and is a voracious reader. “I gained interest in reading when I was about 12. Since then I have read books on quite a few subjects. I must admit, I started reading pretty late. These days, kids take to reading novels when they are not even 10. I remember reading my first book from the Harry Potter series. And then, I took to all kinds of fantasy series for kids. Then, I moved over to reading fiction, the Dan Brown kind. At 14-15, I turned to science fiction and read everything that I could lay my hands on. Random books meant for the layman on quantum mechanics, relativity, etc. In the last few years, I kind of ‘discovered’ Indian authors like Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy, etc. I’ve read most of their books.”

For someone who became a celebrity in chess circles, in his school and other random functions, Parimarjan took time to deal with all the attention. “In general, that was not a very comfortable phase for me. At school, I always felt awkward. I knew I was being treated differently. I remember going to chess tournaments and signing autographs and posing for photographs, etc. Somehow, I never felt comfortable doing that. At that point in time, I did not realise that these events were actually helping me build my personality. It helped me develop as a person out of chess.”

Indeed, Parimarjan has developed into a multi-faceted individual. During his early years, there was no television at home for this youngster. He would train hard and perform beyond expectations. “One good thing about chess is that it teaches you how to deal with defeats and disappointments. But over the years, when I have started playing with higher stakes, the feelings have got much more intense. Earlier I would lose games here or there but no great feelings used to be associated with it. It was like a different world with a lot more fun. The fact that I did not have a definite goal actually helped me enjoy my chess. I got better without realising how hard it was,” he says.

Right from winning medals at various levels of the sport, this former Asian and National champion is aware that he has been a bit of an under-achiever. “I am perennially confused about what I am doing. I have expanded in many ways.”

Parimarjan loves Delhi and everything about the ever-growing city. “Hailing from Delhi, I am often asked by my chess-playing friends from other parts of India and abroad about the high crime-rate in the Capital and, how safe women are in this city, etc. I wish I could convince them that things are better in Delhi than what appears from a distance. I think Delhi Metro is way ahead of some of the public transport system that I’ve used on my visits to European countries. I am fine with the generally laid-back attitude of the people here. I don’t think Delhi is as bad as it is made out to be,” says the well-travelled Parimarjan. Yes, it is not and Delhi is proud of this affable chess master.