Grandmaster Pranesh, son of an Anganwadi worker, crosses language barrier
16-year-old Pranesh M, India's 79th GM, was taught chess by his mother, an Anganwadi worker. He has battled past financial hardships and language problems to enter the elite level of chess.
Pranesh M, who became the country's latest Grandmaster at the age of 16 on Thursday, has been taking the overnight bus for around 500 kilometres from Karaikudi, a small village in the south of Tamil Nadu, to Chennai on short notice whenever a training camp has been called for the last two years.
Before that, one of his parents used to accompany him as the young genius rose rapidly from his humble background through the dual virtues of diligence and being natural at chess.
The son of an Anganwadi worker - K Manula - his mother, who taught him the game at the age of five, and a worker in a textile shop - R Munirethinam - his father, who took him to Chennai's famed chess clubs for the first time around six years ago, Pranesh has had to overcome several financial difficulties.
"Pranesh is someone for whom chess comes very naturally. He is a practical player, in the sense that he takes decisions in his own way. He's not like some others who learn through their games and evolve. The rawness of his game is still visible," said his coach Grandmaster RB Ramesh, who trains the youngster at his academy in Chennai.
Speaking hours after his young ward secured the Elo rating of 2500 to attain GM status, Ramesh said Pranesh would have become a GM at least a year ago had it not been for his family's financial situation.
"We take care of his training, but when it came to his travel expenses, we had to rely on our charitable trust. Sometimes, I've asked parents of other chess players to chip in for him," he said.
"He became an International Master at the age of 13 even before the pandemic. He was on course to become a GM at least one year ago. But travelling for high-level events has always been too expensive for his family. Even on the recent Sweden trip, he went alone because two tickets would have been too expensive," he added.
Backed by rich chess culture, Pranesh crosses language barrier
Back at their home in Karaikudi, there was a festive air on Friday as Pranesh's family awaited their hero's return.
Pranesh's father Munirethinam told The Bridge with a guffaw that his problem when receiving calls from across the country right now is that he knows only Tamil. He adds this language barrier is something his son has also suffered from.
"In a tournament in New Delhi, Pranesh had coughed once and the arbiter had asked him if he wanted to resign. He said yes because he thought resigning meant relaxing and coming back," said Pranesh's father.
Pranesh is the 28th Grandmaster from Tamil Nadu and the 79th from India. On how the state has managed to churn out a supply line of GMs, Ramesh put it down to the rich culture in Chennai in the 1980s and 90s.
"Tamil Nadu has always been the leader in Indian chess. The country's first IM, Manuel Aaron, and the country's first GM, Viswanathan Anand, have both come from here. The Tal Chess Club set up in the Soviet consulate was one of the first such clubs in the country. The TN association was also very active, we used to have regular tournaments," said Ramesh, who was himself part of these tournaments.
That rich culture continues to produce champions like Pranesh, even from remote parts of the state now.