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India's table tennis tiger Chandrasekhar dead fighting Covid
Chennai, May 12 - India's table tennis tiger 63-year old V. Chandrasekhar popularly known as Chandra succumbed to Covid-19 here on Wednesday.
He passed away at a private hospital.
Life was always a fight for Chandra on and off the table.
"Chandra was a year or two junior to me. A brilliant boy. Three days back I heard the news that he was out of danger but today heard the bad news," Manjit Dua, Chief National Coach, Chief Selector and General Secretary, Delhi State Table Tennis Association told IANS.
"He was our senior player and we used to look up to him. His smooth top spin drive was great. Chandra was my Captain when I played for the country first time. I lost to him in the national championship finals first time 0-3 and the next year I won the national title defeating him 3-0," former national champion Kamlesh Mehta had told IANS.
"Till he breathed his last, Chandra was involved with table tennis. With all his difficulties he has contributed a lot for the game. He is a legend. He will be remembered as a great player, as a fighter," Mehta added.
If there's one story of a sportsman's life that has been tugging away at thousands of hearts for the past three-and-half decades, it is that of Chandra, the Indian table tennis legend.
For many who had seen him play in his heydays or moved with him, the mere mention of Chandra will bring a lump to their throats.
It was 1984, and the handsome and flamboyant Chandra's career at the age of 25 was travelling up like a lobbed table tennis ball.
He had three national titles under his belt, semi-finalist at Commonwealth Games, an Arjuna Award winner, a gold medalist both in BA Economics and Law - a good career was in front of him.
"In 1984, I was at an important point in my life - whether to pursue law as a career or continue with table tennis while working in State Bank of India (SBI). I thought of taking a call on that after participating in the World Championships," Chandra had told IANS.
"At that time, table tennis was slowly gaining popularity and attracting sponsors. Chandra was one of the best and attractive players. He was a fighter and a risk taker. Even in the crucial stages of a game Chandra would take risks that would unsettle the opponents and he would bag the match," Mehta had told IANS earlier.
According to another senior player G. Jagannath, as a 12-year old boy Chandra will come to the match without any preparation and win.
"The boy would tell me that he would easily win the match. Such was his confidence. Then he went up," Jagannath told IANS.
But fate had something else in store for Chandra.
Like the lobbed ball getting smashed, his life was smashed to smithereens on the operation table at Apollo Hospital here on September 14, 1984.
"His last professional game was against me at the National Zonal Championship. After the match he told me that he will be undergoing a knee surgery and comeback. But he didn't," Dua mused.
Chandra, who went into Apollo Hospital for a minor knee operation, lost his speech, vision and mobility - and came out like a vegetable.
Life was always a fight for Chandra on and off the table.
"Chandra, who used to mimic movie actors like Thengai Srinivasan and enthrall us in the family, lost his speech. He was an optimistic person and there would always be a smile on his face. He was handsome and many of my friends had a crush on him. Words cannot express how we all felt then," S. Mahalakshmi, his cousin had told IANS.
Chandra who grew up at his grandfather R.M. Seshadri's home, had imbibed many of his qualities, like the fighting spirit.
"After getting discharged from Apollo Hospital and while at my grandfather's home, I got a call from my lawyer friend, my classmate C. Aryama Sundaram, saying I should fight Apollo Hospital. He was not able to understand what I was speaking on the phone and came home," Chandra had said.
According to Chandra, there was a difference of opinion between Aryama Sundaram and his grandfather on how the case should be fought.
"As it was my friend who came forward on his own with the idea of fighting a case on the grounds of medical negligence, I agreed with him," Chandra said.
According to Chandra, many tried to dissuade him and his family members from filing a case against Apollo Hospitals.
"While I was told that no doctor would give an opinion against Apollo Hospitals, many doctors came and gave their views in my favour in the court," Chandra said.
Finally, the court awarded a sum of about Rs 16 lakh and the case became a landmark among medico-legal cases.
While the court case was on, the treatment and rehabilitation process started with Chandra attending yoga classes.
"Neuro-specialists like Biswakumar and the late Ramamurthy treated me here. I went to the US and Canada for further treatment. As I had gone overseas two years after the Apollo Hospital episode, doctors there said they were not able to do anything about the fully damaged cells but were able to treat the partially damaged cells in the brain," Chandra had said.
Chandra decided to focus on training upcoming players and began coaching classes, first at the YMCA and then at the D.G. Vaishnav College and the SBOA School. Finally, he set up his own SDAT Medimix Chandra TT Coaching Centre.
With Chandra becoming 70-80 per cent normal, he decided to get married. Had it been a normal and healthy Chandra, girls would have fallen head-over-heels to be his wife. But this was a different and a difficult Chandra.
But fate, which had turned kind to him now, pointed him to the brave Mala, his SBI colleague.
"I had read about Chandrasekhar and the botched-up surgery while in college. Later I had joined SBI and forgotten all about the case," Mala had told IANS.
"I was wonderstruck when a colleague told me that Chandra was alive and working in SBI. I wanted a meeting just to see the person who fought against all odds and was running a table tennis academy. Later I decided to marry him," Mala said.
But why Chandra, was the logical question from her parents. Chandra's parents were also apprehensive.
She asked her parents to match their horoscopes and if they matched, then she would marry him. The two horoscopes matched and the wedding happened.
"I will not say I made a sacrifice marrying Chandra. I was clear about what it meant in marrying him. Looking back, I have no regrets. We are happy. I have my freedom and space," she said.
She did agree that married life was tough as Chandra was not able to help her out with household work and she had to manage the home, take care of him and also attend office.
"I understood that the academy was very important for Chandrasekhar's life and health. I did not complain about him going to his academy daily," she said.
Strangely, Chandra, a celebrated player and running an academy was not able to coach his own son C. Sanjay, who had a natural flair for the game.
"Sanjay had the natural flair for table tennis. For sometime Sanjay attended his father's coaching centre where he was treated like any other trainee. But owing to logistical problems Sanjay was not able to continue there," Mala said.
Running the academy is his passion despite the financial implications it involves, she said.
The champion-turned-coach has coached several table tennis champions like G. Sathiyan, S. Raman, M.S. Mythili, Bhuvaneshwari, Chetan Baboor and others.
"I am a spiritual person. I am a strong believer in Karma and perhaps it was his Karma in his earlier birth that took him to the top, dropped him down and picked him up again in this birth," Mala said.
But finally India's table tennis tiger breathed his last fighting an invisible virus.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be reached at email@example.com)
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