It’s been three many years to the day on Sunday when Saddam Hussein’s tanks rolled into the Kuwait resulting in the beginning of the Gulf War. Pankaj Advani knew nothing about it and was intrigued by his mother and father getting frenetic. All of 5 then, the a number of billiards and snooker world champion, additionally didn’t know he wouldn’t go back residence in Kuwait once more.
“This is the first time I am talking to anyone about this,” says Advani, winner of 17 world titles in snooker and billiards. “On August 2, we were in Belgrade and staying in a transit hotel for a night to catch a flight to Kuwait the next day. At midnight, the hotel staff knocked at the door, informing that Iraq had invaded Kuwait and all the international airports in the Middle East had been shut. It was a shock as we didn’t know what to do next, where to go from here? We stayed there for two days and started contacting our relatives (in India) and were soon routed to Mumbai,” he says.
The subsequent few days have been a blur for Advani who discovered himself in a very completely different surroundings, surrounded by unknown folks. “We didn’t go back to Kuwait. From Mumbai, we shifted to Bangalore as my aunt was staying there and my dad liked the weather.”
Advani didn’t know a lot about India as months after his delivery, on July 24, 1985, in Pune, the household moved to Kuwait. “My father had an import-export business and decided to move to Kuwait.”
In 1992, Advani’s father died probably after coming in touch with chemical substances used throughout the struggle. “After things had settled somewhat, my father decided to visit Kuwait. Though most of the things were intact, the car had been stolen. I believe the chemicals used in the war got into my dad’s system and his health started deteriorating.”
Advani would love to go to Kuwait sometime. “At some stage you have to move on. I never looked at it (leaving Kuwait) as a painful memory or with any kind of hatred.”
He has some recollections of early childhood. “I remember football was very popular there and I used to play the game with an Arab friend named Hamudi in the compound of our colony in Kuwait. There was a supermarket opposite our house named Sharq where I could get my daily quota of chocolate (wahan chocolate milta tha). I used to accompany my father to the store but one day I decided to go alone, and I was just two then.
“There was a social gathering at home so nobody thought I could go to Sharq alone. Luckily, a Kuwaiti brought me home and scolded my family for sending me alone to cross the road.”
Raising younger children alone was powerful for Advani’s mom however not having the ability to return to Kuwait made it worse. “I was too young to realise but the entire burden came on my mother; our needs, our schooling… we were in a bad situation.”
It was additionally across the time that snooker occurred in Advani’s life. “In 1996 during our school days, my brother used to visit a snooker parlour close to our house in Bengaluru. I became curious how he was doing.”
Advani began accompanying his brother and would stare at the inexperienced table-top full of shiny vibrant balls. “After three weeks, I decided I had to try my hand. I aligned my cue with the ball and just hit it gently. I saw the ball go straight into the pocket. That shot made me fall in love with the sport. That first shot in the pocket; it’s such a great feeling even today.”
‘TOO SHORT TO PLAY’
“My brother and I were playing a handicap snooker tournament in Bangalore in 1996 and both made it to the final. Upsetting some of the better players had the spotlight on us and it was Arvind Savur (one of the greatest baize sport exponents India has produced) who spotted me. When I told Arvind uncle I want him to coach me, he said I was too short (4 feet 11 inches at that time). I was upset and cried all night.”
But Advani saved his deal with the sport until it was lastly “recognised” “In December 1997, Arvind uncle told me that after Christmas, he would take me under his wings. My game started improving; a drastic change in knowledge, thinking and execution, everything changed.”
“I believe I was destined to become a player. Bengaluru was destined to be our new home. There is always a reason for change. This phase (Covid-19) too shall pass,” says Advani, who wished to be a pilot and see the world “from a height of 30,000-35,000 feet.”
The pandemic, says Advani, is a lesson in adapting and adjustment. “We have to adapt to the situation as this is a first in everyone’s life. This is the new normal.” For him the modes of recreation are spending time with the household, mobile telephone video games to keep the aggressive spirit alive, studying books and exercising.
“I hope only after a vaccine is developed can the future be certain.”
Former world No. 1 Ronnie O’Sullivan has said that snooker gamers are being handled like ‘lab rats’ at the World Championship, underway at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, and has questioned the choice to permit spectators. Advani agrees. “It is too risky. With spectators, I would say, ‘no’ to any event at this stage,” he says.