Regarded as one of the greatest cueists of all time, Pankaj Advani is the only player to win the Asian and World championships in all formats of snooker. The 35-year-old is also the only one to do so in both billiards and snooker. (More Sports News)
But Advani's 'baize of glory' would not have come, had a certain Saddam Hussein stayed idle in his comfort and let Kuwait exist a mere neighbour in the oil-rich Gulf.
When the Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait exactly 30 years ago on this day, the Advani family was in Belgrade, waiting to catch a flight. The family had moved to Kuwait months after Advani's birth, in 1985.
“My father had an import-export business and decided to move to Kuwait,” Advani told HT.
Nearly five years later, the Gulf war forced the family to return to India, and it eventually shaped the future of Advani.
“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," Advani said.
The family then moved to Bangalore, where Advani first got the chance to try his hand on cue sports.
“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.”
“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.
“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," Advani added.
But that was after Advani lost father in 1992.
“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.”
Now enjoying his longest break from sport thanks to coronavirus pandemic, Advani said he would love to visit Kuwai someday.
"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," Advani added while sharing his childhood memories.
“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," he said.
In an unrivaled career, Advani has won 23 World titles and completed a career Grand Slam. He has been conferred the Arjuna Award in 2004, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2006, Padma Shri in 2009, and Padma Bhushan in 2018.