Textual content by Akhil Sood. Pictures by Uma Damle. Styling by Aradhana Baruah. Assisted by Simran Sethi. Hair and Make-Up by Aradhana Khanna
Pleated shirt, from Bodice.
In between explaining complicated psychological ideas that she’s examine because of her intense love for chess, Tania Sachdev takes a fast break. She’s virtually apologetic as she takes a chew from her pizza slice. “I’m sorry, I’m very hungry!” she laughs. Sachdev is sitting at her desk in her home in New Delhi, leaning over a chessboard. This can be a uncommon second of relative calm for her. She has spent the previous three hours posing for photographs — some rehearsed, some improvised. She has to step out in 10 minutes, so she’s shortly wrapping up lunch. In one other couple of hours, her coach will arrive.
Once we converse, Sachdev is scheduled to go away for the Chess Olympiad 2018. The Olympiad, which occurs each two years, is probably the most prestigious staff chess event on the planet. She is a part of the Indian contingent, considered one of 5 members. At this level, she’s bursting with the sort of nervous power — an underlying pleasure — that always precedes any main life occasion. She leaves for Georgia, the place the 43rd Olympiad is being held from September 23 to October 7, in one other couple of days.
Sachdev is one in every of India’s best chess gamers. She’s the second-highest ranked feminine participant within the nation, and has been the nationwide champion on a few events up to now. She has a string of successes to her identify, and was introduced with the Arjuna Award in 2009. Her titles embrace Worldwide Grasp (IM) and Lady Grandmaster (WGM). The Grandmaster (GM) title is lacking from her listing of honours, however she’s not overly involved, believing that if she retains on working arduous, the achievements will inevitably comply with.
Having spent just about her complete life embedded within the realm of chess, she is aware of of no different world. “This is my normal,” she says, explaining how she by no means felt like she missed out on any important childhood experiences. As an alternative, chess uncovered her to a world of travelling and totally different cultures. Thirty-two now, Sachdev began off on the tender age of six, and was a prodigious expertise even then: U-12 India champion, bronze medallist within the World U-12 Women Championship, Asian U-14 women champion; and she or he continued on the identical trajectory in maturity.
As I converse to her, it turns into obvious how all-consuming her ardour for chess actually is. That is the life she was made for. Whilst she underlines the various challenges she’s confronted, she all the time circles again to her love for the game, and the way it drives her. “I really do enjoy playing a lot,” she says. “I think that’s a prerequisite if you have to lead a life in sport. You have to love what you do. Otherwise you’ll probably never be very good at it. And you won’t be able to handle what comes with it.”
And there’s quite a bit that she has to face. Given how younger she was when she began off, Sachdev has needed to mature and develop her character whereas within the limelight. In India, we are likely to deify our sportspersons, projecting all our hopes and goals on to them. And, in the event that they ever have an off-day or two, we knock them off the very perch we created for them, cruelly and vindictively. “It’s really hard,” she admits. “In sports, you’re only as good as your last tournament. When you perform well, there’s so much adulation. People who are doing well for the country get a lot of recognition and support. But then if you have a bad tournament, it’s the other extreme. It’s actually become a lot worse now, with social media. It’s gone to another level.” Rising up, she tells me how one of many largest challenges she confronted was coping with adversity. “I think it’s one of the most amazing life lessons you learn from sport. You’re going to learn that anyway in life. Life is going to mess things up for you, and you’re going to have to stand back up again. Most people learn that much later. But when you’re nine years old…you’re going to lose a game; you’ll let in a goal, you’ll fall down, get run out, play a bad shot. And you will deal with the negativity around it as well.”
Lace-trimmed camisole, from La Perla; striped jersey monitor jacket, from Adidas Originals; pleated skirt, from Bodice.
There’s additionally a whole lot of “non-constructive criticism” that comes her means, she says. However finally, she wouldn’t commerce any of this for the world. She considers it an honour and a privilege to characterize the nation, and all of the accompanying stress and strain, and she or he treats it as a terrific duty.
As with a lot of the profitable sportspeople, Sachdev too is fiercely aggressive. “The rush of competition, of playing for your country, sitting on the board, fighting it out, making mistakes, the happiness of a good tournament, the emotions and the tough times, I love all of that!” She factors out the significance of a robust help system round her, to assist her focus and cope with the rigours of continually touring. “I think I’m a really difficult person when I’m playing a tournament. You’re in your zone; you have your own way of doing things, so you need someone who’s unconditionally supporting you around it,” she says. Whereas she’s made long-lasting friendships by way of her years on the circuit, there’s a sure isolation that does exist if you’re enjoying chess professionally. “You’re alone. You’re taking care of everything internally. It’s really hard; the pressures are high, it requires focus, you’re preparing all the time, you have a schedule you have to stick to.” She’s learnt to deal with these pressures, and doesn’t thoughts travelling alone. That stated, she does attribute a substantial amount of credit score to her mom, who used to journey together with her for tournaments repeatedly and has learnt through the years to offer the precise sort of help Sachdev requires.
She admits to being “horrible” after a nasty event, particularly when she has to face the barrage of well-meaning, however finally hole consolations: “It’s just a game”, or “winning and losing is a part of it”. As an alternative, her aggressive nature compels her to analyse her defeats, give attention to the place she went fallacious, and get again on the market to do higher. The truth is, one of many easy joys of being on the street for her, that she seems ahead to, is to exit for a meal together with her pals within the chess circuit after a match or a event, after which analyse one another’s video games and dissect every transfer with candour.
Sequinned minidress, from Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna.
For a few years, there was all these clichés hooked up to chess. That it was solely the area of the geeks, the nerds, the bespectacled youngsters nobody actually understands — the absurdly clever, socially awkward misfits. Definitely, it was very similar to that when Sachdev was rising up. However the tide appears to have turned. Sachdev, herself, has a character at odds with these lazy tropes that used to exist. And chess too, she says, has seen a radical change in its notion during the last 5 years. The very traits that made it ripe for ridicule at the moment are working in its favour: “I think ‘smart’ and ‘brainy’ and ‘nerdy’ and ‘geeky’… I think that’s really sexy actually. Chess has this kind of really cool, niche intellectual appeal now,” she says.
Whereas her dedication to enjoying stays unwavering — Sachdev freely admits, with a disarming modesty, that the one factor she’s good at is chess — she additionally serves as kind of an envoy for the game, reaching out to wider audiences and making it extra accessible. Typically, she does commentary for chess matches, and she or he additionally has an affiliation with Pink Bull by way of which they put out brief primer movies and host occasions to contain the youth. Sachdev has a constructive, cheerful character; she seems to be somebody who genuinely enjoys what she does, which is probably what permits her to succeed in out to extra individuals. Endearing and approachable, each to the press and followers, Sachdev tells me how she enjoys all of the peripheral actions that include being within the public eye. She’s lively on social media — she will’t even think about handing over management of her accounts to another person — and sometimes connects interacts together with her followers. “I feel very connected to people. I like talking to people, learning about them, having conversations.”
Additional, making the game extra accessible is one thing she feels strongly about. Her personal path — a younger woman enjoying chess in north India — was very unconventional on the time, however the recreation has wider mainstream consideration now, and she or he needs to assist individuals who might have an curiosity within the recreation however not the type of entry they want: “In some ways, I feel the game has given so much to me my whole life. Even me sitting here right now. So I can do something; I can use my ability to promote it. The mental and physical development that it brings; how it breaks gender barriers… sports is really the coolest thing in the world right now, and I want to bring it to people who love the game,” she says.