Fawlty Towers, Skype calls with son keep Viswanathan Anand going in Germany

Viswanathan Anand chats with his son Akhil on Skype. Viswanathan Anand

The current joke in the Anand household is that when its most celebrated member finally manages to fly back home, the ticket would go up on the living room wall.

In Germany since February this year to turn out for his team OSG Baden-Baden in the chess Bundesliga, five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand's stay has gone from lengthy to almost perpetual, with air traffic in India remaining suspended.

"It's annoying you know, because my travel keeps getting knocked back," Anand tells ESPN. "I was hoping to be fly back on April 15 but now it's already pushed to May. It's getting a bit out of control but what can you do. This is beyond our powers."

Following the cancellation of the Bundesliga, Anand was supposed to return home to Chennai on March 16. It was later pushed to April 15 to coincide with the end of the lockdown in India. Now with the May 3 extension, his plans are in a state of flux and discussions at home over a prospective return date following multiple cancellations and re-bookings, stand suspended.

Anand currently finds himself dividing up his self-isolation days in the tiny town of Bad Soden, roughly 17 kilometers away from Frankfurt, between blitz games, walks, grocery shopping and Skype calls back home.

"My wife Aruna and I watch our old favorite shows at the same time so it gives us some sense of watching it together," he says. Presently, Fawlty Towers is pinned on their viewing schedule at 8:45 pm IST every day. During World Championship campaigns in the past, Anand often turned to the beloved British sitcom, whose lines and episodes he can reel off by heart, on rough days.

Much like athletes around the globe now, Anand too finds himself grappling with the conflict of wanting to keep up training while finding it tough to take it too seriously in a world of suspended sport.

"I'm playing a fair amount of blitz and my trainer (Grezgorz) Gajewski leaves me a lot of work. He keeps updating the list he's worked on that he wants me to catch up on. I'm training but a part of me is also wondering, what's the point? There's no particular event that's going to happen soon and you feel you have so much time that to work very hard now is difficult. You don't want to be lazy the whole day either, so I still train and do some physical exercise."

The other half of his day is taken up watching Snoopy and playing chess with his nine-year old son Akhil virtually.

"I tell him he's been an excellent cyber nanny," says Aruna. "Akhil has him on Skype, while I go about the household chores. Anand also has the job of watching Akhil's exploits on Chesskid while not reacting to blunders. I tell him to play like a dad. We celebrated Akhil's birthday last week with a small Snoopy cake while Anand sang over Skype."

Anand has also been actively around for live appearances on Indian news channel discussions surrounding the lockdown. It's an experience, Anand admits, he's grown to enjoy.

"It really feels like a chance to connect with home when you're this isolated," he says. Living away from home with limited culinary skills also has him subsisting largely on steamed veggies and fresh fruits.

"He made himself pear salad and raspberry yoghurt the first week," says Aruna. "This week he's cutting soup packets."