Picture by Vaqaas Mansuri

Mother's sacrifice: The driving force behind Sutirtha Mukherjee's Olympic dream

She was introduced to the sport by her mother Nita, an indoor sports enthusiast, at a club in her hometown Naihati
By Samrat Chakraborty

Rising Indian table tennis player Sutirtha Mukherjee, set to represent the nation at her maiden Olympics in Tokyo, attributes her success to her mother. She was introduced to the sport by her mother Nita, an indoor sports enthusiast, at a club in her hometown Naihati.

That was the start of the journey for Mukherjee, who went on to become India No 1 (after clinching the Nationals in 2016) and an Olympian.

"I was young at that time. My mom liked playing indoor games but for some reason she couldn't play. As a youngster, I was young and healthy, and at that time I was enrolled to the Naihati club and started playing table tennis for the first time there," Mukherjee told the Olympic Channel over the phone from Doha.

Mukherjee's hometown -- Naihati -- is also the birthplace of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, who wrote India's national song 'Vande Mataram'. And the 25-year-old takes a lot of pride in coming from that small town.

Sutirtha Mukherjee in action (Courtesy: WeAreTeamIndia/Twitter)

"Actually, coming from a small town becomes challenging and exciting, We have to face a lot. In a way, it is exciting, to prove yourself (at international level) coming from a small town," she said.

Mukherjee learned the basics of table tennis from her childhood coach Mihir Ghosh. With better learning and understanding of the game, she later went to Jadavpur to train under national coach Soumyadeep Roy and Poulomi Ghatak.

It was in Jadavpur, where Mukherjee developed her A-game but not without the support of her mother, who would often leave behind the family to stay with her.

"I stay in Jadavpur in a rented apartment and work very hard for mom. There have been days when she used to stay with me in my apartment, leaving behind her family, and my Olympics (Tokyo 2020) qualification is a gift to her. Hopefully, I will give many more gifts to her in near future," Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee, a part of the women's gold medal-winning team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, was a work-in-progress before signing up with her current coaches at the Soumyadeep Poulomi Dhanuka Dhunseri UTT Table Tennis Academy. They gave her small, achievable targets to bring out the best in her.

"Six years ago, I had no vision. My coaches encouraged me with small targets. From being ranked 500, I made it to 400, 300 and so on. All the tactical decisions and changes are decided my coaches," she said. "I want to give my best at Tokyo 2020".

Mukherjee beat India's top-ranked women's player Manika Batra at the Asian Olympic Qualification tournament this week to book a berth for Tokyo. The girl from small-town Naihiti has come a long way.