For many in South India, their first ever introduction to the world of music was through the voice SP Balasubrahmanyam. But for a 14-year-old teenager from Chennai who was passionately pursuing a career in chess, the legendary singer was much more. In 1983, SPB chose to sponsor a chess team named 'Madras Colts' for a national championship. He had heard through a friend that the team had a very talented teenager and needed a sponsor for the tournament. SPB readily agreed and handed over the amount to the organisers. And it was this tournament that propelled the 14-year-old chess prodigy and now world renowned chess player, Vishwanthan Anand, to national fame.
In a tweet after SPB's death was announced, Anand expressed his gratitude for the very first sponsorship he got. "It was a 4 member team and it meant a lot for them to go to Mumbai and play the tournament," says Aruna, Vishwanathan Anand's wife. "It was one of the tournaments that really helped Anand grow in the national circuit," she adds.
Really sad to hear about the passing away of such a great yet simple person. He was my first sponsor! He sponsored our team Chennai Colts in the national team championship in 1983. One of the nicest persons I have met. His music gave us such joy #RIPSPB— Viswanathan Anand (@vishy64theking) September 25, 2020
SPB had even attended the felicitation ceremony for the player following the tournament.
Aruna states that Anand had grown up listening to SPB's songs as his mother used to keep the radio on in the kitchen as she cooked, and her favourite song was Kamban Emandhan from the movie Nizhal Nijamagiradhu. Anand, too, really grew to love the song.
Over the years Anand and Aruna's association with SPB grew and so did their similarities. Both prodigies were performing phenomenally in their fields but maintained a sense of simplicity despite reaching great heights.
Aruna recalls meeting SPB and his wife, with Anand, in an airport a few years ago.
"Anand went up to him and SPB and reminded him of the sponsorship and SPB said he remembers it clearly. He was just so affectionate and the mutual respect was really visible," says Aruna. "Through the years Anand and SPB have met at several events and functions. The most touching gesture from SPB was when he appeared on a talk show where Anand was being interviewed, and spoke about his simplicity and ability to handle success," she adds.
The show, Weekend with Stars on Zee TV, hosted by Suhasini Maniratnam, featured an over 40 minute interview of the chess grandmaster.
"My favourite part about him is his simplicity. Despite his successes he remains humble and simple. Even when you have a small success, it is difficult to not let it go to your head. Vishwanathan Anand is a name the world knows," SPB said on the show.
Speaking about the sponsorship he said a friend told him about a boy who plays extremely well and needs the help.
"I gave him a blank cheque and told him to fill in any amount. I am glad I had a small part to play in this journey of such a genius," said SPB.
He then proceeded to sing Kamban Emandhan as a gift to Anand and said it was his pleasure to have sung a song that Anand and his mother liked.
"Chess means and Anand means chess. Chess and Anand means India," said the singer, signing off.