– Paromita Sengupta (Bengaluru)
Back in Kolkata from the XIX Asian Games — which concluded in Hangzhou, China with a blaze of colour on October 8 — Ayhika Mukherjee (26) and Sutirtha Mukherjee (28) brought home a bronze medal in table tennis (women’s doubles). En route, they derived considerable consolation from having bested world champion Chinese pair of Chen Meng and Wang Yidi in the quarter final. That’s quite an achievement considering that TT is China’s national sport.
“Defeating the Chinese in their national sport was like climbing Mount Everest. We are hugely motivated by this achievement which can only help us improve our game further and win more tournaments,” says Ayhika.
Born and raised by sports loving families (Ayhika’s father was a member of the Border Security Force football team while Sutirtha’s father is an Army officer and plays multiple sports) in the Naihati suburb of North 24-Parganas of West Bengal, Ayhika and Sutirtha met in 2003 at the Naihati Youth Club where their parents had enrolled them to learn the nuances of this fast-paced game.
“Sutirtha was my senior at the club and became my role model as she started winning district, state and national tournaments. Although I have studied her every move we have completely differing play styles. I play defense while she attacks. Last year (2022), we started playing professional doubles tournaments and our contrasting styles have paid off,” says Ayhika, who moved to Kolkata at age 19 after she landed a job with the Reserve Bank of India as assistant manager. Likewise, Sutirtha relocated to Kolkata after Indian Railways appointed her a commercial inspector.
Currently the duo trains for 3-4 hours daily at the south Kolkata-based Dhanuka Dhunseri Academy. Looking ahead, the girls are training intensively for the Paris Olympics scheduled for March 2024. “Although the women’s doubles event was scrapped in 1988, we are determined to win an Olympic medal for India by competing in singles and mixed doubles events. We are very grateful to Dhanuka Sir for all his support and are on the lookout for more sponsors. Unfortunately, our salaries cover only part of our training expenses.” says Sutirtha.
Power to your elbows!