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What drives a young woman towards a career in table tennis? Meet Takeme Sarkar, a rising Table Tennis player who’s aiming for an Olympic gold.
Takeme Sarkar created history when she bagged gold (as an Indian Railways team member( in the World Railway’ Table Tennis Championship held at Berlin in 2016. Takeme is a well-known player in the world of Indian TT and has always entertained TT fans with her game and victories. I thought it would be a great idea to learn more about her struggles as well as future goals.
The city of Siliguri in West Bengal, where Takeme hails from and lives, is known as the ‘city of Table Tennis’. Reputed training centers in the city and table tennis stars like Mantu Ghosh (an Arjuna award-winning TT player) inspired Takeme to try TT as one of her co-curricular activities. Gradually she fell in love with the sport and decided to make table tennis her career.
To begin with, I asked her how it feels to be highly successful at such a young age, since Takeme is still in her early twenties. She said, “I feel very good and lucky. Getting a job in the Indian Railways got me a better platform. I am trying to improve my performance which would help me to get more victories and I am looking forward to it.”
Talking of how she chose TT as her career, she became nostalgic and said, “I always dreamed of becoming a sportsperson. As the TT craze is quite dominant in Siliguri and the development of this sport then was great, I was fascinated by it. That’s why I opted for TT out of all other sports.”
Shamini Kumaresan (who won Gold in the Commonwealth Games 2006) became her role model and Takeme kept herself motivated by Shamini’s game, her struggle and victories.
As we know well, most Indian parents are afraid of their children neglecting academics and focusing on sports. So, I wanted to know how she coped with studies and managed a career in sports as well. To this Takeme replied, “I got immense support from my school. When I had tournaments away from my hometown, I always got my leave applications granted. That helped me a lot to carry on my studies side by side along with TT. But I used to reduce my practice hours one or two months before exams and my parents never pressurized me about studies. They acknowledged my love and dedication for table tennis. They have always supported me to excel in this field.”
Currently she is dedicating a rigorous three hours in the morning and three more hours in the evening for her training. When I asked her to share that one moment in her professional career that absolutely stands out, she said, “Our victory in the World Railways’ Table Tennis Championship 2016 was an overwhelming experience for me. Indian Railways have never been in any such position in this tournament. But in 2016 we bagged Gold there. It was really a special triumph for team India.”
Remembering the hardest time in her career, she added, “Last year in Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Patiala due to an accident I had to undergo a ligament operation to my leg. At that point, I was in the fifth position in India. I couldn’t participate in many international championships and I was in the Commonwealth Games team as well. But unfortunately, I couldn’t participate in it.” She continued, “I made myself realize that this is not the end of my career. And there are lots of other opportunities coming my way. So, I focused on recovering quickly and started practicing for the upcoming matches.”
Regarding the challenges of being a sportswoman in India, she spoke about the stereotypical idea that girls can’t compete with boys. She feels it is one of the major roadblocks in the career of a sportswoman. Takeme said, “People start judging women players on the basis of their gender, rather than performance. If we see, in almost every sports girl are winning medals like boys in national and international games. They are nowhere less than boys in the world of sports.”
Family and friends stood beside her in her triumphs and losses. “I am grateful to have such a supportive and caring family. It happened many times that I lost important matches in spite of hard work and dedicated practice. My parents, coach and friends were always there to motivate me and guide me towards the right direction,” reminisced Takeme.
After representing India on an international platform and becoming a champion, her next milestone is to win a medal for India in the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Takeme is currently working with Indian Railways. I asked her how she manages both office and practice, to which she replied, “Indian Railways facilitates us by sparing half a day for the players. I manage my office hours and practice within that schedule.”
As we conversed more, she spoke about what else she would like from the authorities and sports federations. “I think if the government can arrange more seasonal camps with international coaches for national and young players, we can improve our skills a lot.” feels Takeme.
To motivate young sportswomen in India, she said, “I want them to have faith in their hard work and always stay determined. In recent times many tournaments like Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) are taking place, where international players are participating. Young generation players from India can really derive motivation from them and develop their skills.”
As we were about to wind up the interview, I asked her what she does when she is not playing TT. She mentioned swimming and football as her leisure activities. (And she loves movies too, with her favourite movie being 3 Idiots).
Takeme Sarkar is now at that point of her career where people have started noticing her because of her performances. She believes fully that she is the future of Indian Table Tennis. Here’s hoping for her dreams to come true in Tokyo 2020!
Images provided by Takeme Sarkar
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