Facing life like a champ
Randeep Wadehra

My Fight Back from Death’s Door
by V. Chandrasekhar
East West Books, Chennai.
Pages ix+121. Rs 150.

When limbs are strong and reflexes panther-like, when one is in the prime of youth and is blessed with rare talent, success in the chosen field is a foregone conclusion, especially when one is ambitious, focused and hard working enough. But when adversity strikes only a true champion has enough grit to overcome. This is the story of the iconic Venugopal Chandrasekhar, the former national table tennis champion who earned the Arjuna Award as well as lifetime achievement award. He was striding towards the acme when the cruel blow of fate in the form of negligence by a reputed hospital turned this potential world-beater into a vegetable.

He was already the national champ and was making his mark on the international TT scene when he had to go in for knee surgery in a world class super-specialty hospital. He should have been up and about in three or four days. But destiny had plotted something tragically different for him. Things went horribly wrong on the operation table and Chandra suffered brain damage that cost him his vision as well as control over his limbs.

Known for his aggressive play, Chandra refused to turn into a rotting vegetable. The extent of brain damage was such that experts gave little chance of recovery. But he refused to accept this verdict and fought with his back on the bed. Moreover, he had decided to thwart the cover-up efforts of the hospital authorities. Thus began his war of attrition against fate that involved battles on several fronts, viz., health recovery, fighting court cases, mobilizing funds and support. It was not easy. There were many heartbreaking phases when despair and defeat stared him in the face, when those expected to stand by him disappointed and sheer helplessness of his father only added to the dismal scene. But there was help from unexpected quarters as well as friends and society at large.

Although a champ to the core he did display some contradictions in his character. For example, he preferred to surrender his finals match to Manjit Dua than take personal insults from the rowdies amidst the Delhi crowd, but he pocketed the insult when someone called him a drunk mistaking his post-operation slouch ‘n’ shuffle for inebriation. Nonetheless, all through the narrative one is impressed by Chandra’s champ-like demeanour – whether he is negotiating better financial deals for himself and fellow table tennis players or playing mind games with rivals. When some players began suspecting him of using ‘supernatural’ tricks to win matches he did nothing to allay their fears. Instead he played on their ill-informed belief to psyche them! He was friendly and helpful towards all, although not an extrovert. But he was always relentlessly competitive. This trait stood him in good stead while dealing with the vagaries of time. Today he is contributing his mite towards making table tennis a nationally popular sport. And, more importantly, he coaches children in Chennai in his effort to nurture world beaters. He played like a champ, fought like a champ and is now living like a champ.