I remember when I was just eight years old, my father took me to the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium in Kolkata for my first table tennis practice session. I was pretty new to the field, and I hardly knew the top players back then, apart from Poulami Ghatak and Mouma Das, and few more. What I did not realise that they were not the first group of women in India with such prolific records and international performance.
Inside that quaint table tennis club, I came across an old photograph of a woman hanging on the wall. The dust settled on the top of the photo frame did not bother me to recognise that it was the photograph of a woman in action in front of a TT table, wearing a low-knee-length skirt (seemed very uncomfortable as it was quite long for a TT player). On enquiring about her to my coach, I was introduced to Indu Puri, one of the first top female paddlers India ever produced, who holds a record of winning eight national championships. Her performance had set the benchmark, which even Poulomi wanted to break.
Indu has gone down the history of Indian table tennis not just by creating records; she also broke many binaries as well.
Born in Kolkata in 1953, Indu suffered from chronic asthma and had failing eyesight, when she took up TT as a career despite her doctor’s opinion, she shifted her base from Kolkata because of the humid condition to the dry weather of Delhi, which eased her asthma to an extent. She not only knocked hard upon her physical conditions but also the patriarchal beliefs prevalent in society.
She remained India’s top female paddler for over a decade from 1970. In 1985, she won her last national title in Kolkata. She represented India in six Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships and six World Table Tennis championships, eventually holding the runners-up position in the Commonwealth in 1982 and later remained as a national level sports coach. Indu was the chairperson of the committee constituted by the Ministry of Sports to select the awardees of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna 2008 and Dhyanchand Award 2009.
In her international career, she made it to the highest world ranking of 63 in 1985, eighth in Asia and second in the Commounwealth. She also has the record of being the first Indian to beat a world champion, Pak Yung Sun of North Korea at the 1978 Asian TT Championship in Kuala Lumpur.
She was awarded the Arjun Award for the year 1979-1980. She has served on India’s Anti Doping Appeal Panel as well.
Indu Puri was one of the first stalwarts of the game India ever witnessed and yet it is surprising nobody remembers her. While we still delve into the question of why we don’t consider table tennis as a significant sport in India, we can be proud of our forgotten heroes and their magnificent feats.