Well done Didi

Madhumita's was a career which lasted for more than 25 years - she made her debut for the first time in the sub-junior section way back in 1977. Her achievement was all the more creditable as girls in our country have a very limited playing span not only in badminton but also in other sports due to our social conditions.

During her career she won a record number of National titles in all the three events in which she took part - ladies singles, doubles and mixed doubles - a rare phenomenon indeed in these days of specialisation. She was equally adept in all the three events.

Speed was her main forte and she was probably one of the quickest women players India has ever produced. While most of our players depend on strokes and accuracy, Madhu chose to be different. She was a naturally gifted athlete and was extremely fleet-footed from a young age.

I first saw Madhu playing in the late 70s in the sub-junior category. She was Madhumita Goswami then and represented West Bengal in the inter-State and Nationals as she was based in Calcutta. Railways was the first institution to spot her potential and offered her a job at a very young age. It was not common in those days to get employment so easily, especially in a public sector undertaking. I remember many eyebrows being raised when she first joined Railways. Since then she has never looked back and has served them in various capacities for more than two decades.

In this article I would not like to go into her records of how many National titles she has won, how many times she has represented India in the various international events such as Uber Cup, Olympics, World championships and Asian Games but try to analyse Madhu as a player and as a person.

One of the first incidents which immediately comes to my mind when I think of Madhu is our mixed doubles encounter in the 1986 Asiad in Seoul, Korea, against a fairly high-ranked Hong Kong pair, Chan Chee Choi and Amy Chan. Our opponents at that time were ranked in the top eight in the world in mixed doubles. As is the normal practice of BAI, I suddenly realised, on reaching Seoul, that I was entered in the mixed doubles along with Madhu in the individual events. I do not remember when was the last time I had played mixed doubles in my career before this but nevertheless we decided to fight it out. We somehow managed to win two rounds including a victory against the fancied Hong Kong pair and made it to the last eight stage before we were outclassed by a Chinese combination. But I still have very sweet memories of our win against Chan Chee Choi and Amy Chan.

One of the secrets of Madhu's long tenure at the top was her total dedication to the game. She was a fighter to the core and never gave up easily. Her never say die attitude and fighting qualities are worthy of emulation by the present day youngsters. These, precisely, are some of the qualities that the present generation of players lack. The very fact that she could represent the country even at the age of 38, albeit only in the paired events, speaks highly of her calibre. She was also one of the first badminton players to set the trend of tying the marital knot with a fellow player. She married Vikram Singh in the early Eighties and shifted base to Delhi.

Vikram was an international player himself and has also won many laurels for the country just like Madhumita. It would not be out of place to mention here that Vikram played an important role in moulding Madhumita's career at a later stage. He sacrificed his own career to a certain extent and helped Madhumita grow as a player, which is indeed commendable. Madhu's only drawback was that she was a little inconsistent and was prone to making unforced errors. But to a certain extent that was to be expected as she was playing at a much faster pace than the other Indian girls. If only she could control her strokes a little better, she could have perhaps produced even better results on the international scene.

At 38, Madhumita has shown tremendous character and willpower to hang in there despite many hurdles. In the last few years, she bravely fought a number of injuries and made many successful comebacks. Right now she is associated with the Sports Authority of India Centre in Delhi along with Vikram. She is also the chief coach of the Indian Railways team. Didi, as she is fondly called by many, will certainly be missed as a player but knowing her fondness for the game, I am sure she will continue to help the youngsters for a long time to come. Well done Didi and keep up the spirit!