One game which was very popular among young persons in the decades till nineties was table tennis. I started playing this game seriously when my family moved to Matunga in ’64. Matunga Gymkhana was near my home. And there are [perhaps there were] two shops selling sports material opposite Ruia College. So I started playing TT.
Matunga Gymkhana then had somehow classified players based on their proficiency in the game. Beginners like me played on one table, which always had a long queue of boys waiting for their turn. The big boys played on other table and I watched their game hoping to be on their table someday, playing against them.
Two years later I joined SIES College. There were three TT tables on the ground floor. Boys played there, and so also girls though their number was small. Almost everybody playing there was very proficient. A science student got very little time to play TT in college, so I rarely played there.
Then we moved to Tata Power’s colony at Kalyan. I played there with my friends. There were not many families in the colony so we could play for few hours together. Playing there improved our game very substantially.
Then job took away free time. When my son was about seven years old, I engaged a coach to help him with his game. This really helped. He asked for a ‘sandwich bat’ which would have cost me Rs 1500, which was a large sum for a man of my means. ‘You win a tournament then I will get you a sandwich bat’ I told him. ‘My coach says in order to win tournament you must have a sandwich’ he responded next day! He later made it to the quarter finals at the District level, a proud moment for his parents.
The game was different from the way it is played now. The ball was white, not orange as they use today. They have also increased the diameter of the ball from 38mm to 40mm. They say that this has increased the air resistance and slowed down the game. [And I can tell you that it also does not smell the same! It has a sweetish smell of the plastic. There is hardly any TT player who has not smelt the TT ball!!].
The rules have also changed. It is no longer a 21 point game. I believe that a 21 point game has greater drama than an 11 point game. Slowing down of the game and making it 11 point was all done to suit TV shows. TV cameras couldn’t catch the very fast moving 38 mm ball, they had to slow it down.
If TV has changed the game, it has in a way killed it too. With Football getting more popular among the youngsters in India and basket-ball in the West Indies the future of Cricket is seriously under threat. So also some of the popular sports like TT.
And interestingly it is TV which is now reviving some sports. Kabaddi, for instance. And TT too with Ms Vita Dani taking the lead. Times says, “China’s Wu Yang won the ‘Ultimate One’ prize of Rs 1,50,000 for scoring 456 points and being the leader in the points table along with winning the title of Most Valuable Player – Female and a cash prize of Rs 1,00,000.”
And now Vishwanath Anand will join in promoting the game. The press release of UTT says “India’s Chess Grandmaster and former World champion Viswanathan Anand will unveil the winner’s trophy of CEAT UTT along with league promoters Vita Dani and Niraj Bajaj. He will then meet and greet all teams participating in the CEAT UTT before the first tie between RP-SG Mavericks and Falcons TTC at Nehru Indoor Stadium on July 13, 2017 at Nehru Indoor Stadium.”
Wikipedia tells us “The sport originated in Victorian England, where it was played among the upper-class as an after-dinner parlour game. It has been suggested that makeshift versions of the game were developed by British military officers in India in around 1860s or 1870s, who brought it back with them. A row of books stood up along the centre of the table as a net, two more books served as rackets and were used to continuously hit a golf-ball.” It was initially called ‘Whiff-Whaff’ and later ‘Ping-Pong.’
Ms Vita Dani plans to promote the game at the school level too. Wow! Table tennis is finally getting the status it so richly deserved.
Vivek S Patwardhan