Table Tennis fraternity remembers Manmeet Singh

For the past two years, Manmeet was suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALC), a neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal chord. He passed away on Tuesday.

Manmeet Singh seen in action during a table tennis tournament in New Delhi in 1986.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Former National men’s singles table tennis champion Manmeet Singh passed away in Montreal on Monday. Survived by wife and two daughters, Manmeet was 58.

For the past two years, Manmeet was suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALC), a neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

Former National champion Manjit Dua remembers Manmeet as an extremely competitive and hard working player. “It seems like yesterday when his father came to me and asked me to take time off training to impart some tips to Manmeet, then a youngster who went on to become the National junior champion. We played a lot together in Delhi, domestic events and later as part of the National team.”

Vinay Chopra, Manmeet’s school-mate from Manav Sthali, and partner in winning the National doubles final against favourite Kamlesh Mehta and S. Sriram describes him as “extremely temperamental, yet a go-getter.”

“Once Manmeet set his eyes on something, he wouldn’t rest till he got it. He was desperate to win the National title and once he did it, he turned his focus on making a sound livelihood. He shifted to Canada, where he joined his brother. From being in garment business to real estate, Manmeet did very well.

“As part of the Manav Sthali school team, Manmeet, Girish Miglani and me, never lost the inter-school final. Manmeet was a cut above the rest of us. Due to Manmeet’s presence we never lost. Today, his loss has left me gutted,” says Chopra.

Kamlesh, who like Chopra, stayed in touch with Manmeet and wished him on his 58th birthday on April 24th, recalls, “He was the favourite to win the Nationals in the earlier years, but was destined to win when not many expected him to.

“I remember, Manmeet’s international debut was a dream one during the 1980 Asian championship where he beat two North Koreans, ranked World No. 6 and 13. to put India 4-2 ahead but eventually the Koreans won 5-4.

Kamlesh, an eight-time National champion, adds, “Manmeet was the first Indian player to execute the high-toss serves. He learnt it during one of the training stints in Japan. I remember, soon after he returned from Japan, I played him in Mumbai. Trust me, I couldn’t figure out his serves. Later, we all learnt the trick.”

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Rinku Gupta, winner of the National women’s singles title when Manmeet won the men’s crown, remembers Manmeet for not only his fierce forehand top-spin and timely backhand openings but also fondly recalls his caring ways.

“Manmeet was like an elder brother, always encouraging and motivating me. That season, we won the zonal titles in Kolkata and Indore. I remember, after the National team championship final in Hyderabad, Manmeet told me, ‘Everyone remembers a National champion - but not a zonal champion.’ Just stay focussed, you can be a National champion here.”

Rinku recalls, “In Hyderabad, match after match, Manmeet wore the same T-shirt and shorts. In fact, I also made a similar choice and it worked for me, too. After I beat Varsha Chulani in the final, Manmeet was entering the arena for the men’s final. As I wished him luck, he flashed a thumps up sign and said, ‘Rinku, now that you’ve won, I’ll also win.’ Before that match, Manmeet always lost to Sriram. But that day, Manmeet’s immense confidence made the difference.”

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The news of Manmeet’s passing away cast a spell of gloom in the country’s table tennis circle.

Table Tennis Federation of India secretary M. P. Singh, advisor Dhanraj Choudhary, among others, expressed shock and grief at the passing away of a “fine champion.”

As Kamlesh sums up, “Manmeet was a fighter in the arena, very aggressive but off the table, he was a great pal. We were of the same age and shared a lot. It’s hard to believe Manmeet is no more.”

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