by Chaitanya Halgekar
‘The rising table tennis star’, is how a news report from The New Indian Express describes Koumudi Patankar from Belagavi. She has represented the state at National level and also has a silver medal at the nationals to her name. She is definitely someone to ‘watch’ and she is just 14 years old.
Silver medal at national’s year is not her biggest triumph. The triumph is the way she carries the medal. When asked about the famous pessimistic saying, ‘You don’t win a silver, you lose a gold’, she answers with profound belief, “For me the silver medal is for the hard work I did in the tournament, the struggle and fight I showed and importantly for winning league, knock-outs, quarter finals, and semifinal matches.”
A 14 year old girl, hailing from a small town beating pros at national level has surely something to do with an inspirational tale.
Koumudi comes from a well-off family and the word, ‘struggle’ stays at bay. Her father Milind, is a table-tennis coach. Choosing table-tennis thus was not a big decision but a natural development for Koumudi. Her story is not about doing something different or challenging the orthodox. Then what is Koumudi Patankar’s story?
Koumudi Patankar is surely nervous and she talks with hesitance and shyness as I ask her questions. She uses words cautiously and talks as if on budget. However, this is not the case when she is playing. She is vociferously aggressive and dominates the opponent in all manners. On her day, the opponent stands no chance as she throws strong smashes and tricky spins.
This aggression is reflected in her ambitions as well. After representing the state team last year, she now aims of captaining the side in the upcoming season. Captaining the side will be difficult. Is she prepared for the responsibility? “Yes, it’s tough. But I have to improve myself and continue learning. Hence, I want to lead my team as it will enhance my game,” you forget she is in class 9 when she answers with such clarity.
Milind used to give free advance level Table tennis training at Union Gymkhana. One day he took four year old Koumudi with him. For the first few days she watched from the sidelines and was thrilled to see this sport. And one day she took the racket in hands to play. She was never forced neither discouraged to play. For her parents whether to play table tennis or not is always her own decision. She should play if she enjoys it, is what they believe. Koumudi began playing for fun and today ten years later she plays for the same fun.
Fourteen is not the age to think about future or career. However, this is the juncture where life spans out. Decisions at this age affect everything directly or indirectly. For Koumudi at this stage table tennis is something she plays because this what she knows and it feels good. That’s it.
Of course, table tennis is at the center of Koumudi’s life. Her day begins with one hour fitness at the morning. Late morning and afternoon is spent at school. Evening is reserved for table tennis practice which extends for roughly two and half hours. Remaining time is occupied by homework and family conversations.
The Schedule is broken on Sundays. Sunday is a full free day with no school and no practice. Sundays are spent in front of TV or with friends. Dance comes to rescue when boredom inflicts.
Strangely Koumudi does not watch a lot of table tennis. She watches her own match videos to make notes but is not actively following the sport in terms of international matches. She studies occasional international match videos but this exposure is limited.
Her school St. Joseph’s High School Belgaum,holds a special place as this is where she enjoys the most. School has always supported her according to Koumudi Algebra and Biology are as exciting as a table tennis match.
Even though a national level table tennis champion Koumudi is still a regular teenage school going girl whose idea of party or celebration is enjoying pastries and cakes with friends at the bakery near school after exams get over.
Parents are an inevitable part of Koumudi’s journey in the realm of table tennis. Milind was her first coach and even today serves this job. (But he clearly points that dual role of father and coach does not bear desired results as it is impossible to demarcate between the two roles. Hence, Koumudi trained for some time at Vipul Chougule’s Academy in Belgaum.)
Until last year both her parents accompanied her at every match. Last year only one of them went along with her. This year, they want her to play matches alone. Moreover this transition is happening unhurriedly allowing Koumudi a breather space.
Like many others, Koumudi also considers her first prize as her favorite and best achievement. “It was the first time I won something. So, that one will always be special,” delight clearly reflects off her face while talking about that first trophy she won when she was in class 4.
Today, she hardly remembers the details of that tournament and how it happened. She vaguely remembers the match and the prize distribution ceremony. But she conspicuously recalls that after winning the trophy she couldn’t sleep the entire night as there was massive excitement to share this accomplishment with friends in school.
Saina Nehwal, Sachin Tendulkar and Archana kamat are Koumudi’s idols. Saina and Sachin are quintessential symbols of resistance, calmness and hard work, hence Koumudi finds them close to her heart.
The third name is not an international star and is known to a limited circle. Archana is a Bangalore based table tennis player in the same age group of Koumudi. Both of them have played each other at occasions and are considered equals. Finding an enemy in opponent is quite natural but respecting and learning from an opponent to an extent of idolizing her is quite impressive at this age.
The story of Koumudi Patankar is packed with achievements and glories but that is not what stays for the longer run. It is the human in a sportsperson which decides the sporting destiny of an individual. Success is surreal. Attitude is the catalyst. And it is the grooming and nourishing of the talent along with the mind which shapes the attitude.
Koumudi’s story is not about those achievements. Having the infrastructure and an encouraging background surely made it easy for her to choose this sport. But her excellence and impressive feat talks highly of her discipline, ethics, persistence and quality.
Her story is about her maturity beyond age. It is about her effective tendency to understand the opponent. It is about the childish innocence which enables her to digest defeat as a part and parcel of game.
About the Author- Chaitanya Halgekar is a Freelance Journalist plus motivational speaker by profession, and Cricket Commentator by passion, Chaitanya Halgekar is elated about anything and everything in life. Ping him at [email protected] to strike a conversation or to know what’s happening around you.