The Sarins are not pushy when it comes to their son’s career. He isn’t a product of the academy-driven conveyor belt that thrives in the sport’s nurseries in Chennai. Nirmal coaches Nihal three times a week, with each session lasting two hours.
Nihal is brought up like any other 10-year-old. He comes back from the Devamatha CMI Public School by 4 pm. His parents, both assistant professors at the Thrissur Medical College, finish their day half an hour earlier. Once Nihal is back home, he gets out of his uniform, pulls out the badminton racquets and pesters his father to play with him at the makeshift badminton court in front of the house. “There is no point pushing him to spend more hours in front of the chess board. There are so many cases of parents making their children play chess for up to six to seven hours a day. This will only lead to a burnout,” Sarin says.
Yet, his parents have seen the bookworm in him when they tip-toe past his room at night. When most children are tucked into their beds, or leafing through The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Nihal is up reading books on chess. “I like reading books by former world champion Alexander Alekine,” he says. “It is quite a task to get him ready on time for school. Most days, the school bus is waiting for him,” grandfather Ummar says.