Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The most important lesson of my life.

When I was a kid, I use to hear this sentence in the closing ceremony of all the table tennis tournaments I took part in  -“kids, winning and loosing does not matter, what matters the most is participation, and that's why lets give a round of applause to ourselves and feel proud that we made this tournament a huge success”. I could never comprehend this and it seemed nonsensical to me. In sport we all have had our wins and losses. And when the chief guest emphasized in his no-so-interesting speech that it was participation that mattered the most, I always mocked at him. I complained, sorry Mr. Chief Guest but I lost, I worked so hard for this, yet, I lost. Do you have any clue how it feels? It’s is a game the universe is playing with me, this cannot happen. I left no stone unturned, yet I lost. I haven’t even caused harm to anyone that karma is playing its part, then why me?? God, why me??? And on top of this, the gentleman wants to console me by saying that its participation that matters the most!!! Nothing can be more ridiculous than this!
I was innocent, immature and ignorant.

Its been almost 15 years that I have been playing table tennis actively, and when I patiently try to ponder, that what is the most important thing that sport has taught me, pat comes the reply, perseverance.

And that's when I understood, the chief guest was right, what matters the most is participation!!!!

In sport, the winner takes it all. By all I mean- the cash award, the medals, the trophies, the smiles, the happiness, the applause, the interviews, the newspaper headlines and the celebration. But, have you ever thought, what happens to the one who lost in the quarter finals, or the pre quarter finals? Or maybe the one who lost in the 1st round? Or the one who never qualified for the main draw? He feels lost and deeply shattered. But still, he chooses to go on. It’s his will to fight that keeps him going on. It’s the will to prepare for the next one, work harder than ever before, and the determination to knock each and every player down on his way to the podium in the next tournament. Yes, and that's why I say, what matters the most is perseverance.

Imagine, if we all said that no, I don’t want to do this anymore. There would be nobody to compete with. And competition is healthy. If we said, that I m not good at this, I cant do this anymore, there wouldn't be anyone to do sport which teaches us so many things. And sport imitates life. And that’s why I believe, that the chief guest was right. Winning and losing are just a part of this game and at the end what matters the most is that you participated.

In the year 2011 disappointed me, I didn't win a single match. I didn't go past the pre quarters.  I played the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but in 2012, I was nowhere near it. My ranking slipped to no.17th in the country. I felt betrayed by hard work. As I kept analyzing what was going wrong, I was being pulled down by a number of people who kept telling me- guess its time to call it a day, looks like you don’t have it in you anymore, or maybe its just a signal that now you must focus on other things, or maybe, get married!!!   To those who tried to pull me down- I forgive you. You were ignorant. I made a comeback in the national team in 2013. Yes, I did it. Although the journey was not smooth, I sacrificed a lot for that comeback, but I did it.  And that's when I realized, that yes, the chief guest was right. I kept going on, worked harder than ever, and never lost the will. Perseverance was what kept me going on.

I am talking about myself because that's what I can best describe and feel proud of. I m sure, each one of you reading this, must have faced a similar situation in your respective careers as well. That's why, take a moment aside, and pat your back. Feel proud of yourself that you kept going. Take pride for the fact that you still refuse to give up. Look in the mirror and tell yourself, I m proud of you and I love you. Admire your perseverance. Forgive the ones who asked you to quit. It does not matter if you are number 1 or number 295, if you got up each time you were knocked down, feel proud.

Thank you Mr. Chief Guest, you were right. A lesson well learnt.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


As the curtains are drawn for the Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014, there are mixed reactions by the table tennis fraternity all over India. Some have been optimistic, some sad, some expressed their anger, but most of them were simply, disappointed. Frankly, we all are disappointed because the team brought back just one silver medal as against 5 in the Delhi edition four years ago. We as spectators, players and contributors who are so closely connected to the game in several ways are deeply disappointed, imagine the plight of the coaches and the 10 member team who actually experienced it. The blame game continues and everyone, very conveniently, are expressing their anger. 

But I really don’t want to get into that because it will not lead us anywhere. I feel proud of that one silver medal. It means a lot to the team and the entire table tennis family. We must not forget the hard work and sacrifices the players have made. We definitely need to address the issues where we faltered, but first, I d like to share few points that struck to me immediately.

The doubles event is the unsung hero of Indian table tennis. In the past two editions of the CWG, we have won 6 medals out of which 3 were from doubles, namely,  gold in men doubles (Sharath Kamal/Subhajit Saha,2010), bronze in women doubles (Poulomi Ghatak/MoumaDas,2010) and silver in men doubles (Sharath Kamal/A.Amalraj,2014). Despite a good show in the doubles category, it has not been taken seriously. The doubles is an event where you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your partner very well.  It involves a great chemistry between the two players and needs special attention during practice sessions. In Glasgow, Amalraj paired up Sharath for the first time. It was coach, Peter Engel’s decision to pair them up because Amalraj is strong close to the table and Sharath is powerful off the table and together, they proved to be a deadly combination. The way in which they thrashed the pair from Singapore in the semi finals, was commendable. The indifferent attitude towards doubles and mixed doubles must change. This can be done by introducing these events in the national ranking tournaments and have a ranking system just like it is for the singles. Also, cash awards for the same must be given in the national rankings and national championships. If this can be done, the players will find the best suitable partner and we can do much better in international events. 

I truly believe that Sharath Kamal is a living legend. He has been bringing laurels to the nation right from 2004 when he first won the singles gold in Commonwealth Championship in Kuala Lumpur. Since then the 3 editions of the Commonwealth Games he has won 2 gold medals in Melbourne (2006), 1 gold and 2 bronze medals in Delhi (2010) and 1 silver medal in Glasgow (2014). That’s 10 long years of consistent performance! This is just the Commonwealth I have mentioned, his long list of achievements also include winning the US Open and Egypt Open in 2010, winning the prestigious German Bundesliga this year and many more. He might have not been able to defend his national championship title but he delivers where it is the most needed, proving his might and shutting up the critics. In Glasgow, he was certainly an improved version of himself. We all know his medal count and the amazingly powerful forehand he has, but little do we know about the kind of life he leads. Ask him someday to share his stories, and you will find that his life has been full of sacrifices, hard work, discipline and struggle, every single day. He is a man with a very strong character. He’s high on success and a role model for many, and yet, he’s grounded. And this is what sets him class apart. It’s not only his achievements that fascinate me, it’s also his attitude on and off the table which makes me conclude that such people are true legends.

The Glasgow games also brought out the best of a few young ones who stunned the world with their spectacular performances. Manika Batra, currently ranked 141 was the one to cause a major upset when she beat Yu Meng Yu of Singapore who is ranked 10th in the world! She proved her consistency by winning 6 out of the 8 matches she played in the team events. In the singles, she was the lone Indian to reach till the quarter finals stage. Manika has a long way to go, this was her first Games, and at 19 years of age, she is the highest ranked Indian (141 in August 2014) according to the ITTF World Rankings. This young lady has the talent, is determined to work hard, and I sincerely hope that she does wonders in the future.

In the men’s side it was Harmeet Desai, ranked 147th in the world, who gave us goose bumps in the semi final stage of the men’s team event. India lost the match against England 1-3, in which Harmeet lost his 4th single to Liam Pitchford, ranked 59, 2-3 but all those who saw the match live, will agree with me that Harmeet was certainly the hero of the evening who won hearts. He was 0-2 down (5-11, 6-11), and in the 3rd set it was 4-10 when Pitchford needed only 1 point to wrap up the match but little did he know that it was going to be herculean task ahead which seemed like a cakewalk. Harmeet, like a true warrior, fought back and won that game 12-10 ( winning 8 points in a row) making it 1-2 and then went on winning the 4th set 12-10 leveling to 2-2. In the decider, he was leading 8-5, but I will call it unfortunate that he ended up losing the game 15-17! Harmeet in total saved 11 match points, before losing out on the 12th one. It was definitely an effort which was applauded all over the world. The young man from Gujarat remained calm and focused throughout the match and displayed courage which matched that of somebody attempting to climb the Mt.Everest. He must have been disappointed, but I look at it as a match which will always be remembered in the history of the Commonwealth Games.

They say that we must look into the positive side of everything, and that’s what I just did. 

Keeping the disappointment aside, we must understand that its sport. It treats everyone equally; the game starts with love all. Rankings don’t matter, because on a particular given day, the one who is the best, wins. Winning and losing is a part of this beautiful world of sport, and what matters the most is the sincere effort and the courage and the will to fight until the last point. Of course, one must reflect and analyze what went wrong, but from now on, it’s all about looking forward, working harder than ever before and bringing back the lost glory in Gold Coast in 2018.

As for me, I miss the games already. The newspapers are back writing huge columns on Cricket and the sports channel are busy showing their favorite and most entertaining (read boring) game. 

But the clock is ticking; and up next is the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea from 19th September to 4th October 2014. 

I will be there to support team India in whatever way I can. Will you?