Eight-year-old Sanskruti Wankhade, sitting at the head of the table at the Babasaheb Ambedkar Research and Training Institute (BARTI), has eyes only for the milk-cake in her hand. A big grin spreads across her face as she enjoys the treat. Later, as Sanskruti runs around the now-empty room, she dismissively slings the gleaming gold medal around her neck to her back.
For the child’s parents, Sanghadhas and Bharati, however, the medal is recognition of the sacrifices they have made to pave the way for their chess prodigy daughter’s journey from the slums of Akola, Maharashtra, to the top podium in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
On Saturday, Sanskruti won gold in the under-8 category at the Asian Youth Chess Championship in the central Asian city. She garnered seven points out of nine, beating opponents from Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Iran on her way to the top prize.
A couple of years ago, Sanskruti won the Asian School Championship, and has been performing consistently at the nationals, having finished in the top five in 2011, 2012 and 2013. In 2012, she had won the Asian Youth Chess Championship in the under-5 category, winning gold in all three formats.
Asked about her time in Uzbekistan, Sanskruti immediately wrinkles her nose: “Winning the tournament was very good,” she says. “But the food was terrible, and there was no poli (chapati) there.”
She will now travel to Durban, South Africa, in September to play in the World Youth Championship.
Sanskruti has never had formal coaching in chess. Her father is a man of modest means, having been recently promoted to Zilla Parishad school teacher from the even humbler position of a Shikshan Sevak, or probationary teacher. The family lives in a small shanty, and until last year, Sanskruti did not have access to a laptop, standard equipment for most upcoming chess players.
The child’s parents, both of whom have studied till Class 12, have a loan of four-and-a-half lakh to repay — money that they borrowed to pay for Sanskruti’s training and to buy her a laptop. Her mother pawned most of her jewellery to fund Sanskruti’s trip to Colombo a couple of years ago. Her father makes Rs 22,000 a month, but takes home a quarter of his salary, the rest disappearing in EMIs.
“Sanskruti has incredible potential and a natural aptitude for chess. She does not take long to master defences and opening gambits. The only thing I have focused on is for her to slow her game down, think a little more about her moves. Her consistency is terrific,” Jitendra Agrawal, who coaches the girl occassionally, said.
The Wankhades’ lack of means had meant that Sanskruti almost didn’t make it to Tashkent. Her parents had run from pillar to post to raise the entry fee for the tournament, and had nearly abandoned hope of sending Sanskruti to play. A chance meeting with D R Parihar, director-general of BARTI, on the last day for submitting the fee, led to a complete change of fortunes.
The government officer not only paid Sanskruti’s entry fee, but also bought tickets for her parents to accompany her to Tashkent.