Mouma Das: A permanent fixture in the evolution of Indian table tennis
On January 17, 2014, Mouma Das from West Bengal reiterated her dominance over women’s Table Tennis in India by winning her fifth senior national title, at the age of 30. Her victory in the singles category highlighted how the ‘little golden girl’ has groomed herself through the national setup.
Das’ domestic performances have seen her represent India at the World Table Tennis Championship, for a record 13 times.
Starting her career from the back alleys of Kolkata, Das’ journey has been one of hard work and dedication. After picking up the sport at the age of 11, her talent was spotted by several national coaches.
In 1997, at the age of 13, Das made her first appearance in an international tournament (Commonwealth Championship).
The 17 year journey has seen her notch up over 150 state, national and international medals. The five-time Nationals winner and five-time runner-up was bestowed with the precious Arjuna award, in 2013.
Despite such great performances, women’s table tennis in India has not been able to leave a mark on the international stage.
Das said, “The national structure prior to 2010 was very weak, introduction of the Commonwealth Games has seen us participate in more tournaments. We now travel to places such as Paris and Germany to groom our skills.”
Recent resurgence and lack of playing time
A recent drop in form saw her being ousted by several younger competitors. However, a resurgence of sorts has happened over the past few years. From 1999 to 2006, Das was clearly topping the charts, but recently she had a massive dip in form.
She said, “Post-2006, I was struggling to go beyond the semi-finals stage. But, Coach Petr Engel has helped me a lot. He helped me learn how to surprise the opponent, which has seen my performances get better.”
Despite some hiccups at the International events, Das is optimistic for the sport in the country. She said, “At this point, International events are to learn from our mistakes, so that we can climb the Asian ladder. That can only be done if we play full time, so that we can progress to the knockout stages.”
Women’s table tennis players in India have never been able to pursue the game full time. Das herself is an employee of ONGC and has to work daily shifts to support the monetary side of things.
She said, “How do you expect us to win medals, when we have to work part-time? If you have a look at the Chinese players, they play full time. We are far behind, but we are growing everyday.”
India’s highest ranked player, Achantha Sharath Kamal became the first Indian player to ply his trade abroad, when he signed for German side, Borussia Dusseldorf, in 2014. Das had the opportunity to become the country’s female equivalent, after she received offers from Spain.
The Kolkata-born paddler would go onto refuse the chance to go abroad, in order to grow with the Indian table tennis community. She revealed that positive changes are being inculcated by the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI).
She said, “When I started off there wasn’t as much infrastructure as there is now. Slowly, there are more tournaments happening, a proper ranking system has been put in place and now we travel abroad to train.”
The same year as the foreign offer, Das became the latest entrant to the 24-paddler Arjuna award list. However, Das is aware that for her and India to progress to the next level, going abroad is the only way.
What lies ahead?
Das said, “I request all budding players and the Federation, to make arrangements to send players to Sweden for training, so that they don’t pick up a faulty action at a young age. Talent at a young age needs to be nurtured.”
Das is currently participating in the on-going national games and she is confident of West Bengal’s performance at the event. She said, “The West Bengal squad is very good, Poulami Ghatak, Ankita Das, Kritika and Mousumi Pal are in good form and we will be aiming for gold.”
However, Das’ main goal is to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics through the Asian Championship this year.
“My main goal is Rio 2016 and the dream to play against the Chinese is always on,” She said.
With Indian table tennis slowly increasing its representation abroad, Mouma Das has most definitely been a key figure in the sport’s growth trajectory in the country.