Friday, November 5, 2010

Crossing hurdles, conquering minds

From The

Tiruchirapalli, November 4, 2010

Physically challenged chess champion Jennitha Anto impresses with her never-say-die attitude

K. Jennitha Anto, chess player. Photo:M. Moorthy
Her world has revolved around the black and white squares, for more than a decade now. For Jennitha Anto crossing hurdles in life is much similar to making her way across the chess board - one square at a time. When life or her favourite game presents her with a ‘check', the 23-year-old simply marches ahead undeterred.

This physically challenged girl from Tiruchi dreams of being a grandmaster some day and a chartered accountant to boot. She has distinguished herself by earning the FIDE Women Candidate Master title with her performance in the recently concluded 39th World Chess Olympiad at the Russian town Khanty-Mansiysk.

Jennitha bagged the silver medal in the women's section at the eighth IPCA (International Physically disabled Chess Association) World Chess Championship in Wisla, Poland. In a tournament which had 70 physically challenged players participating including a number of International Masters, she managed to hold her own. She was the only non-Russian invited to represent the women's IPCA team at the 38th World Chess Olympiad in 2008, where she exhibited her prowess winning seven games in a row (against players in the general category), including one against a Woman International Master (WIM).

She stands testimony to the triumph of mind over matter. For the girl struck by polio at three, disability has never ever been a handicap in courting success. “It's all in the mind,” she quips. What is truly amazing about Jennitha is the perpetual cheer she emanates. Uncomplaining and perfectly contented with her lot, her soft-spoken veneer conceals an invincible will power.

Daddy's girl
Notable is her father's contribution to her success in the sport. Her first coach and constant companion, G.Kanickai Irudayaraj, introduced Jennitha to the world of pawns, knights and queens.

“I happened to read the ‘Will of steel' which records accomplishments of the differently abled in sports. When I came back home, I believed that Jennitha too could do something. I told her I would teach her a game,” recalls the retired school teacher. “She was reluctant and she reminded me she could not run, let alone walk. But she was eager, when I told her she could play chess sitting in one place.”

And that was how Jennitha got her first tutorial in chess. She soon discovered her talent when she won her first tournament at the district-level in 1996.

“During my first tournament, I was trembling all over; I was worried that so many people were watching me and wondering what they were thinking, seeing me on wheelchair. But after winning the tournament, I was all confidence,” she says with a bright smile that breaks out every now and then during conversation.

And she did not stop there. She went on conquering opponents in a battle of the brains. Jennitha was district champion under different age categories six times in a row. Her highest ranking in an open tournament at the State level was No. 5 while she was ranked 16th in the nation in the under-15 category and competed in international tournaments to become a rated player by 2002.

Though she took a solid break to concentrate on her Board exams, Jennitha returned to her first love - chess - while doing a degree in Commerce through correspondence.

Lack of infrastructure, comfort or special arrangements have never been impediments on her way forward. But the only disadvantage she points out is missing chances to watch the games of other players during tournaments. Players, when deeply embroiled in mind mapping, take a break while their opponent is mulling over his next move, to take a walk or watch other players at their game. But for Jennitha, any tournament implies sitting in the same position till the end of the match when her father can help her out. “Seeing other boards, apart from giving you a break can largely improve your game. I feel I have missed those chances,” she rues but resurfaces to describe some of her most memorable moments.

These include a match with Polish International Master in the first round of IPCA. Not the one to be intimidated by her first opponent in the tournament, Jennitha drew with him and continued to win a number of games.

Coached by International Master and Olympic team captain, Raju Ravi Sekhar, Jennitha says he shaped not only her techniques but also her temperament. Something, which she has imbibed from her idol, Viswanathan Anand.

The computer has been an asset for Jennitha to improve her game through online coaching and hours of practice. Apart from spending six hours trying out new moves and analyzing them, Jennitha leads a life of prayer. Deeply spiritual, she says, “Prayer keeps me going, whenever I feel doubtful or tired.”

The biggest hurdle
The biggest obstacle that stands between Jennitha and her ‘Grand' dream is the lack of funds. “Jennitha is about to start coaching under a Grandmaster which requires Rs.1,000 per hour. Besides, she requires twice the expenses a chess player requires for attending tournaments as she needs to be accompanied,” says her father.

Both father and daughter are thankful to private organizations and the Tiruchi District, State and All India Chess Associations that have made the journey possible so far. The State government sponsorship of the expenditure for the World Olympiad was a heaven sent for Irudayaraj, who for once did not have to worry about incurring debts.

Jennitha's hero, Bobby Fischer once remarked, “You have to have the fighting spirit. You have to force moves and take chances.” Jennitha has that and more. The sunniest of optimists, she also believes in miracles and in dreams coming true.

Her life may be chequered but she has never been check-mated.

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