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Exclusive: Kajal Dey India's only table tennis coach without hands, appeals to get affiliated as government coach

By Vishal Sharma

New Delhi, June 29: We often complain about our lives and are even afraid to face some difficulties but Kajal Dey proved that nothing is impossible by fighting all the difficulties after facing all the obstacles in his life.

Kajal Dey, who hails from Agartala (Tripura), is India's one and only table tennis coach without hands. He has been playing table tennis with a bat tied between his bones for the last 27 years. He is the only table tennis Coach in government club of Tripura called Pole Star Club affiliated by state sports council where he has been coaching kids for free since 2003.

Dey devoted all his life to table tennis, his love for the sport made him play even till today, and producing champions from Tripura. Dey then decided that he would not stop under any circumstances and would keep achieving the goal.

And so, he did by grooming state champion and National players from his club but till now even after trying hard himself, Dey who offers free coaching till today has not been affiliated as government coach there yet.

Dey has been handover the state championship prize by the governor of Tripura for his performance as a table tennis player in 2004.

Dey has lived a tremendously challenging life, from an amputated wrist to a successful table tennis coach. He is currently working as a Group D employee in the Public Works Department (PWD) under the state government. So, he participates in the inter-office tournaments and won four silver medals in a row that too competing against physically able players.

Even after years of laborious training, many people are unable to achieve what Dey has done because it requires deep passion, courage and strength.

Kajal lost both his hands in political violence after Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991. At 21, He was working as a driver at a nursing home until the fateful evening of May 21, 1991, which changed the course of his life for good.

One late night Dey was returning from duty and got caught in front of an irate mob. There was so much violence on the streets. Someone in the mob cut off both his wrists. Nearly a year later he got operated in Pune based centre(ALC) Artificial Limb Centre, where he got his amputated wrists. Table tennis was his turnaround since the accident, and Dey is playing table tennis and coaching as well with the help of wearing rubber sheaths.

There is an Egyptian Para table tennis Champion Ibrahim Hamato, who lost both his arms as the result of a train accident when he was 10 but despite major humanitarian challenges, he is world table tennis circuit renowned player who made the impossible possible. And so is our India's Kajal Dey whose aim is that one day his students bring a National's gold medal home. Such people are our Inspiration and those who give up early in life should make them their role-model.

Meanwhile discussing more his thrilling and aspiring sports journey on how he managed to reach podium Vishal Sharma had an exclusive interview with Kajal Dey.

Q: Tell us about your inspiring sporting journey as table tennis coach so far?

Kajal Dey: My journey began in 1991 when I lost both my hands in an accident, and I was completely clueless about my life after the trauma, there was no happiness at all. A day I got to know that in my area's clubhouse some members used to play table tennis on an abandoned table, I also wanted to play willingly after all like other teens, I was also a sports lover. Subsequently, I realize suddenly after my accident nobody wants me to join them as they knew I won't be able to play anymore. But anyhow I wanted to play as I need to divert my mind because I belong to a society where mental health is the least discussed and where men's are not meant to cry, open up their feelings.

I found table tennis was a suitable sport for me. It was there as a day and night hope in my dark life but as I just lost my hands, I wasn't even able to hold the racquet. I asked for help but what all folks did was to demoralize me saying that I can't play anymore, my life is meaningless, I'm worthless etc.. It surely hurts me but it motivates me even more and finally, I hold the racquet comfortably.

They just allowed me to be in there, I used to sit there silently and keenly watch them playing. I used to observe them and then do practice over the wall after 8:30 when they usually left the clubhouse.

Kajal Dey getting felicitated by the then Governor of Tripura

Sooner just started loving the sports as it was there with me when there was no one else. Seeing my dedication, late Mr Prithish Debbarma former table tennis coach of the centre helped me then with my practice, rules and all. I went to nationals and learned many new things like techniques, advance training which was useful for me and my trainee. I soon started playing in the state championships, but with the physically able players in the normal category as there were no other players like me in the state.

Soon my journey as a player turned into a coach, I used to train beginners. And then he passed away, since then I run the centre single-handed to produce more young table tennis players. I believe it was my mother's blessings. In the last 10 years, my club became one of the most well-known table tennis coaching centre in Tripura because of the track record my students have, and I'm proud of all of them. I still offer free coaching and I'll keep doing it.

Q: You are an inspiration yourself then who is your role-model in this sports if any?

KD: I belong the era when there was only a few who have a television in their house, I never really had the opportunity to get inspired by anyone. After my father's demise, the whole family was my responsibility. Nobody helped me that time so how could one have a role model or something.

The only inspiration for me was my belief, in myself and my God. And as a role model, I have my mother, who never left my side, never stopped believing my abilities and always encourages me.

Q: Who were your biggest challengers/competitors in the coaching career?

KD: I surely have some clear names who were my challengers, I together call them 'the society' who first made me feel that without hands I'm worthless. When I, myself tried to do something they were there to demotivate me. When I started participating in the state meets they put me in a normal category saying, they don't have any disabled players in the state, and I at that moment, knew why they did so.

I had no other options, so played with physically able players and still manage to hold a position many times but maybe they weren't satisfied enough with me to provide anything for my coaching career.

In my whole coaching career what I got was, objection letters for teaching table tennis not being a government physical instructor, nobody supported me. But I'm happy that I never gave up and now after years has passed, they have to appreciate me for my student's performance.

Q: How many professional players you have produced like State level or National level paddlers could you please tell us about some?

KD: I have produced many state and national level players out of which several are even champions and frequently won medals. Some of them are Hrituparna Dey, Dwapaiyan Dutta, Saikat Datta, Moumita Saha, Suparna Debbarma, Aritra Patari, Sreyashi Chakrabarti(who won state player of the year award two times in a row), Deep Dey, Arghayjit Chowdhury and he even groomed his daughter Kalyani Dey who has played 19 National zonals in her table tennis career. Also, Kalyani and Shreyashi have won several medals in PYKKA (Panchayat Yuva Aur Khel Krida Abhiyan) which is only a team National event.

I have no count of them as I never had a record of players. I know how much change sport can bring in one's life and money shouldn't stop anyone's dream. I tried my best to introduce table tennis to people belong to every strata of society. It is my mother's blessings that I can offer free coaching today. Not each of them but many of them have a good name in the state among the fraternity. From a few years, the top 2 seeded players are my students and I'm proud of each them ", he added.

Q: What kind of help you are looking for in terms of table tennis coaching and development?

KD: I was looking for help for many years now. Many promised me but consequently, nobody helped me. After years of struggle, one guy helped me to get in touch with para table tennis federation, I'm still the only earner in my family. Still, my whole family forced me to live my dream as participating in the para table tennis would be my first fair chance. I went there but it was like my worst nightmare! All the unfair, unjustifiable things happened there. Now I have lost all my hopes toward my playing but all I want now is to give my students a bright future for which I'll need help from my state association, as of now, I arrange everything on my own either equipment or required necessities even though many of the rank holders of the state championship are my student.

I'm selflessly doing things without being a government-affiliated physical instructor without having any facilities or help. Only for the players who are the future of Indian table tennis. I gave my life to table tennis and now I want a little respect in return, all I want them to affiliate me as a coach.

Q: When and why did you choose table tennis even after not having both hands?

KD: It took me some time to get over this trauma. It was undoubtedly the most difficult time of my life. But as soon as I was back to normal life after that incident, I did all the hard work to earn for my family. I used to work part-time day and night to earn at least something and to divert my mind.

Then one day like table tennis came to my hopeless life. I am thankful to my mother and my wife who just somehow felt that I wasn't ok! They made me realise that people can just overtake me in the race of life, but no one can take me out of that race. After their motivation, I decided to at least try that game, I tried first to hold my racket as my comfort and then tried playing over the wall.

I started trying every day and slowly I can feel that It was healing me, whenever I start playing I used to forget everything else and that's how it becomes a part of my life forever.

Q: What sort of struggle do you face in life? How do you overcome out of those situations?

KD: It was undoubtedly the most difficult time ever of my life when I lost my hands. It took me some time to get out of this trauma. But, I belong to a lower-middle-class family and after my father's death, the whole family was my responsibility. Mental health is the most ignorant health issue in our society. At times, I have been demotivated, people used to laugh, they made me feel worthless! After several failed attempts, I somehow managed to do some work having no other option left. It was my mistake to think it would be an end of my struggle, but I was very wrong, as this was just the beginning.

Playing against abled paddlers crushed my confidence! Though I didn't give up because of my supporters. After years I start holding up a position with those physically able players. Many suggested that I should go for para-nationals and a lot of fake promises has been made to help. I began teaching beginners but have got stopped many times. I know sports can heal up many wounds, I want no one else to suffer what I had gone through.

After doing a lot, all I received was no help but objection letters! For not being a government-affiliated coach. I asked the association to help me as I was nurturing players who are eligible enough to hold up ranks, they refused!

The sad part of my life is, I gave my whole career to sports, but in return, I got ignorance, injustice and thread from the state association, para-federation and my fellow National player. But still, I'm happy because I have never given up. I thank my family for never leaving my hand even in a stormy situation. I was strong enough to fight and learn table tennis, swimming, football, etc. I do my daily tasks, also can drive a car now. Life is far more different unrealistic films. So never gave up and fight against your struggles, one day you will succeed.

Vishal Sharma is a Delhi based sports journalist. An enthusiast who loves to travel and explore things around. He analyses sports and observes in-depth manner. He is a news and features writer on several online publications. His life is all around sports. Some of his hobbies are blogging, singing, research, travelling and meet geeks. He is a Wikipedian too.

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Read more about: tripura table tennis
Story first published: Monday, June 29, 2020, 16:56 [IST]
Other articles published on Jun 29, 2020
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