V. Chandrashekhar had a career that promised much. By the time he was 27, he held a Commonwealth championship bronze medal and three National titles. These were the days, in the mid-1980s, when it was believed Indians matured late in the sporting arena.
However, after the 1984 Central India final against Manjit Dua, in Indore, Chandra decided to go for an operation on his right knee in Chennai. What appeared to be a routine surgery turned Chandra’s life on its head. An inaccurate dose of anaesthesia sent him into coma for 36 days; he almost lost total vision, limb movement and mobility. What followed was a 10-year legal battle with Chennai’s Apollo Hospital before an out-of-court settlement fetched Chandra around Rs. 30 lakh as compensation.
In the meantime, Chandra needed the help of cricketer Kapil Dev, who requested then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to intervene so that he could travel to Chicago for advanced treatment.
The ongoing legal battle saw objections being raised over Chandra’s travel on the grounds, when quality treatment was available in India, why was he leaving the country?
Mercifully, the support of Mr. Gandhi helped and for around three years, Chandra stayed in Chicago with one of his relatives. The treatment showed results as he regained 70 per cent of his vision, he could walk without support and move around on his own.
In the 1990s, Chandra restarted his life as a coach, with his employers State Bank of India standing firmly with him. He got married to his office colleague Mala, and had a son, Sanjay, who is currently studying engineering.
As a player, Chandra brought about a perceptive change among Indian players towards forehand topspin. When he returned after training in South Korea and later in Japan, in the Academy owned by twice World champion Ichiro Ogimura, Chandra owned a much-feared forehand.
Since his backhand was not as effective, Chandra would pivot, move around more to the backhand flank to take the ball on his forehand and unleash topspin winners.
“My lasting image of Chandra remains the way he hit those forehand drives from the corner of the table. Amazing,” remembers former National champion Monalisa Barua-Mehta and continues, “He was a very fine strategist too. He worked out ways of nailing his rivals and that reflected on his brilliance.”
Chandra was wise enough to know he could not progress unless he worked on his backhand. He wisely chose a pimpled rubber on the backhand side of his racquet to slow down the pace of the rallies, so that he could chose his time to pivot and hit forehand drives even from the backhand corners.
“He was brilliant,” remembers Kamlesh Mehta, an eight-time National champion and husband of Monalisa and adds, “A terrific fighter and extremely stylish player to watch. Chandra was a great team man and played hard. He never gave up, either on a table tennis table or in life. Not just that, he gave back to the sport as a coach and produced a number of players like Chetan Baboor, S. Raman, M. S. Mythili, N. R. Indu, Arul Selvi, G. Sathiyan. He was an amazing character,” says Kamlesh who captained the Indian team, including Chandra, in the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi.
“He was a brilliant boy,” gushes Manjit Dua, who like Chandra is a three-time National champion. “He knew how to change his game when in trouble. Great reader of the game and his intelligence always came through. Only if the knee-surgery had not gone wrong, trust me, he would have brought several laurels to India. He had the grit and the hunger to go win at any cost.”
S. Ramaswamy, who like Kamlesh stayed in touch with Chandra and spoke to him after he was hospitalised on May 8, recalls, “His fighting qualities could not be matched. Once during the Eastern India championship at Bhilai, Chandra trailed S. Sriram (another former National champion) 1-15 (in a 21-point set). He not only won the set but also the match! Such was his grit. I think, it was this fighting quality that stayed with him. He never got anything easily. Truth to tell, even after producing a few Arjuna Awardee players, Chandra regretted not getting the Dronacharya Award. When Chandra was ignored for the award in 2020, he was very disappointed.”
Indeed, nothing came easily to Chandra. He accepted the physical challenges post the messed-up surgery and battled on. Chandra’s lower-vision remained affected but that did not prevent him from holding his head high and looking at life in the eye!