“I want to be the next Vishy,” declared Chetna Karnani, a 16 year old at the Vaswani International School for Girls. “I practice four hours every day.”
This is no Bollywood heartthrob or pop singer. The idol that makes Indian girls swoon and Indian boys jealous is an unassuming, bespectacled, 40-year-old world chess champion - Viswanathan Anand.
Mr. Anand has used his fame to promote the game in India, sponsoring a nationwide network of chess clubs, that have signed up nearly 1,000,000 students. He hopes to reach 5 million to 10 million students in the next five years.
The goal, Mr. Anand said, is not to produce other Indian grandmasters or champions, though he welcomes that as a potential side effect. Rather, he wants to get young people interested in chess as a tool to improve their ability to focus, analyze and reason.
“We are very happy to produce chess champions,” he said. “But more than that - we want to create Indian mind champions.”