Thursday, 13 May 2021

The day Table Tennis died

 The year was 1977. The venue was Vallabh Vidyanagar in Gujarat. At stake was the Barna Bellack Cup; the national trophy for the team Table Tennis Championships. As was the case those days, institutional teams always won the team title – usually Railways or Services. They simply recruited the best players and gave them a job in the “sports quota”. Jobs were difficult to get those days and the attraction was irresistible. Weren’t they professional sportsmen you might ask ? Ha Ha. In 1977, what was a pro ?

Railways duly made it to the finals. Against them was Tamil Nadu. Chandra, Hari and Sekhar playing for TN against a stalwart lineup from Railways. A young, handsome guy was captaining TN. Chandra was every girl’s heartthrob. He was unstoppable that year. He won all his three matches and TN won the Barna Ballack Cup for the first time.  The small TT playing community in Tamil Nadu was ecstatic. We walked fifteen feet tall. Chandra was our hero.

That year, for some reason, the individual championships were cancelled.  In 1979 at Durgapur, Chandra duly went on to win the individual championships. TN couldn’t win the team title – Hari was simply too erratic and although Chandra won all his matches, TN lost. Same story was repeated in 1980 in Bangalore – Chandra could be counted to win all his three matches, but who would win the other two for TN ? But Chandra would, of course go on to win the individual championships.  1981 in Palghat provided the climax. Hari was also in good form and TN was back at the top. And in the individual event Chandra won handsomely to make it a hattrick three years in a row. It was a clean sweep. Chandra went on to captain India at the Commonwealth Games and was a semi finalist, the first time an Indian had reached there. Plaudits followed. He won the Arjuna Award. He seemed to be destined for great things. Those days , if you were a girl with some interest in sport, you either swooned for Prakash Padukone or Chandra; champions in their sport and handsome men !

You would have to go to a Table Tennis tournament in Madras to feel what Chandra was. There would  be a big crowd and the noise was deafening. Chandra, Chandra chanted the crowd. So many times, I would return back to my hostel room unable to sleep after all that excitement.

Fate has a strange way of delivering a blow when you least expect it. Chandra had a nigglesome knee injury and went in for a routine surgery at Apollo Hospitals. He was expected to come back home in a day. Instead, something went badly wrong with the anesthesia and Chandra was left in a coma for a month. How he survived is a medical miracle. He lost his vision, mobility and speech.

Full page ads were taken to fund his treatment in a speciality hospital in the US. The Indian Cricket team chipped in. No less than the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi intervened and helped Chandra to seek treatment in the US. He was in Chicago for some three years. He finally returned recovering some of his mobility, sight and speech. That he even recovered to this level was simply due to his grit, determination and champion spirit. Lesser mortals might not have made it.

Table Tennis is a sport where you need incredible reflexes, probably more than in any other sport. At the prime of his life and at the peak of his sporting career, Chandra was dealt a body blow.

In true Chandra fashion, he refused to give up his love for the sport. Despite being able to walk only with a shuffling gait , an inability to speak without a slur and a weak eyesight, he became a coach.

What else would you expect from Chandra. His wards, Chetan Baboor, Raman , Mythili have all gone on to become National Champions. The current national champion Sathiyan is a Chandra protege. Chandra is also the current head of the Tamizhaga Table Tennis Association and runs an Academy in Chennai.

And then came Covid. Chandra, who overcame death thirty five years ago, beat coma, beat crippling disabilities, triumphed over every adversity, was tragically taken away yesterday.

You have to pause and ask “Is life fair” ? It certainly wasn’t to Chandra. What a hand it dealt to a champion.

It is the day Table Tennis died.


V. Chandrasekhar died yesterday, 12 May 2021, due to Covid. He was 64. Rest in peace Chandra.



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