Rani Hamid is 69, but at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Wednesday afternoon, she looks as excited as a little girl.
“I would be watching Viswanathan Anand playing the World championship and that is something I have been looking forward to for the past one week,” she says, even as she waits for the bus that would take her to Hyatt Regency. “I would be cheering for him.”
Rani is not your average grandmother who loves chess as a hobby. She is actually the grand old lady of Asian chess. She is a Woman International Master, the first from Bangladesh. And she is a veteran of several Chess Olympiads.
“I don’t remember how many Olympiads I have played exactly, but I have been representing Bangladesh since 1982 and I played at the Olympiad last year too,” she says. “I have also played on the men’s team.”
She has also won the British women’s championship on three occasions.
And there is also another achievement she is proud about. “I could stretch Anand a bit when I played him at the Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed tournament in New Delhi, about three decades ago,” she says.
“Anand was a young boy and he was playing at lightning speed; he used to win in no time against his opponents, but our game was taking much longer than usual; I remember his mother getting a bit restless and worried because of that. I was an exchange up at one stage, but Anand of course won.”
She wants Anand to win the World championship. “He is not just the pride of India, he belongs to whole Asia,” she says. “Besides, I was an Indian too, till I was three years; you know I was born in 1944. So I have been the citizen of three countries – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”
Rani is here for the International Woman Grandmaster tournament. “I decided to play in the tournament largely because I wanted to watch the World championship,” she says.
“I have been playing in India for several decades and have many pleasant memories. I remember the Khadilkar sisters pioneering women’s chess in India and Bhagyashree Thipsay telling me that she would one day beat them. She did beat them, of course.”
She is happy to note that India has grown in stature in world chess over the years. “It’s nice to find that there are many talented youngsters around,” she says. “And I think Koneru Humpy is a potential women’s World champion.”
She has also noticed chess becoming a sport for the young. “Back in my time, it used to be an old man’s game,” she recalls. “And I used to be told that little girls should not play chess.”
Rani is fond of India for another reason. “My son Kaiser Hamid played for Mohammedan Sporting, Kolkata,” she says. “He has captained Bangladesh. Another son, Sohel Hamid has been a National squash champion.”