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From being a national chess player to an International solo traveler, Anuradha Beniwal is back travelling 18 countries. She just published her first book.
The moment you sit to talk to Anuradha Beniwal, it feels as if you are enveloped with bundles of energy bags. I kept smiling throughout the interview. The first thing that she told me, made me ask her again, if I heard her right. Yes, I heard it right, the first time. She never went to school.
Anuradha was born and brought up at Khera Meham, near Rohtak, her father wanted her to become a boxer. Haryana is known for the boxers it produces. She also has a younger sister. Her father who worked in a college in Meham decided not to send them to school, as he felt the quality of education was not good enough. So at the age when other kids went to school, Anuradha made her trips to the stadium and the boxing ring. She was also homeschooled. She chuckles that she did not like running around and the physical disciple that boxing demanded. But as destiny would have, one evening one of her Dad’s friend visited, who got with him a chessboard. That was when as she says, “I was hooked into it from the first day.” She was only 6 then.
At her home town Meham
After that Anuradha talks how she went to play in chess tournaments across the country. At 7, she went to an Under-10 tournament in Patiala. But on reaching the venue, she realized that it was an under 18 tournament for girls. She participated in it and was placed third. In the year 2000, she was India champion. Till then her life revolved around playing chess across India, accompanied by one of her parent. But she says that it started taking a toll, when you are travelling all the time only on self support. There was no sponsorship or Government support. It took a toll on the finances. In between she gave her 10th board exam from open school, the first exam that she ever sat for in her life. She adds, “I passed, though did not do too well.”
Then she appeared for her 12th board’s exam again through Open school, which she excelled in. She scored a 93%. That was when she decided to take a break from professional chess and attend college full time. Though a difficult choice, she came to Miranda House, University of Delhi. She said, “This was my first experience with girls of my age, who did not play chess. I did not know, how to talk to someone who did not play chess. Every girl had things they did in school, I had no reference point. College felt strange.”
Inspiring the next generation
After sometime she again continued speaking, that she still kept playing all the Chess matches in the University representing Miranda House, the college she joined in. She added, “College as people say is the best time. It was not for me. I just made a few friends.”
After her graduation, she started to work in a sports company in Pune. She did not play Chess anymore. But that was when the travelling bug caught her. She took a month off and just took off to Rajasthan. That was when she knew, this was something she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She traveled across India. She says, that she learnt to travel on shoe string budgets and most importantly connect with people across the globe and become a part of the global community. She says she biked in villages of Rajasthan to taking long walks through the streets of Kashmir, she saw India as if for the first time. The next question obviously I asked about safety as she always traveled solo. Pat came the reply, that it was always safe traveling alone in India.
Then after Pune, she went to London, her first trip abroad. That is when chess again came back to her life. She started teaching Chess to school kids and playing for chess clubs. Once she could save enough money, she again set her sail. She traveled.
With her students in London
In two years, she traveled 18 countries: Norway, USA, Spain, Singapore, Scotland, France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. In the process of travelling, she started journaling her travels on her Facebook profile page. Slowly people started reading, appreciating and also writing to her. As, she started becoming popular, one fine day, she received an email from Rajkamal Prakashan asking her if she would be interested in writing a series of books on her travels. That is how the first book ‘Aazadi mera brand‘ (Freedom is my brand name) came into being, which was released this Sunday in Delhi International Book Fair. It is part of the series ‘Yayawari Aawargi.’ The book is published in Hindi and the English version will come out soon. She says that this book is to inspire people, specially girls to travel, to not be afraid and to break the myth that it takes a lot of money to travel. According to her, anyone can travel.
From a national Chess player from a remote town in Haryana to a globetrotting travel writer, Anuradha has come a long way. As our interview was coming to an end, I asked her what her travels taught her. She said, “There is so much of kindness and goodness I have received from people whom I might never meet again. But they were kind, just for nothing. I stay at so many places as I crowd surf, and so many people were kind to me, expecting nothing in return. That had also made me a better human being. To be kind without a purpose.”
Living her dream
Like always I put my last question, that is common to each guest, “What is that one thing you know for sure?” She replied in a blink, “Travelling empowers. Every woman should travel at least once on her own. When you navigate our own way, you end up making a way for yourself. That is the most important thing solo travelling does to you.”
As the conversation got over and I sat infront of the laptop to write this, I looked at my empty passport and wondered may be I too should try travelling. That is the inspiration Anuradha leaves behind!
All images via Facebook
To know more about her book, click here
Proud Indian. Senior Writer at Women's Web. Columnist. Book Reviewer. Street Theatre - Aatish. Dreamer.
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