In the wee hours of September 17, 2015, people exchanged hugs at the newly-built T20 international airport in Mumbai, just before they boarded their flight to Sweden. Twelve Gujarat shuttlers belonged to the Indian contingent that took part in the VII World Senior Badminton Championships held in Helsingborg, Sweden, from September 20, 2015. Indeed a matter of great pride! Standing in the huddle, that pride was writ large on the wrinkled face of Taramati Parmar.
Anyone would have been forgiven for thinking she was a grandmother holding her grandchild’s badminton kit.
But this was no ordinary granny. The 56-year-old ‘girl’ was about to fulfill a dream that was conceived some 30 years earlier. By taking the flight to Sweden, Taraben fulfilled a lifelong dream of donning India’s colours, albeit at the ripe age of 56! Though she lost in the first round of women’s doubles, the gritty lady was all smiles after finishing her 15-day sojourn to the Scandinavian nation. The India Post employee has a long story to tell.
It begins with how she started her career as a sportsperson, and how representing India made her proud.
Born into a Dalit family in February 1959 at a government hospital near Kalupur Railway Station, Taraben, daughter of Ramji and Maniben Parmar, was one among eight children – four elder brothers and one elder sister, with two younger than her. “My father, an ordinary worker, took good care of our family of 10. We lived in a one-room kaccha house in Khasipur area near Raipur Darwaja. He gave me the freedom to express myself when I was young,” she reminisced.
“As a toddler, I fell off the bicycle I rode for the first time. I hurt myself, and my mother wanted me to abandon the thought of getting back on the cycle.” Ramjibhai told his wife, “Let her fall today, she will stand up tomorrow.”
Taraben’s first acquaintance with sports happened after she began her job as a postal assistant with the Department of Post in Ahmedabad in 1982. “During my time at the foreign post office, I was introduced to badminton. In an open court, as a 26-year-old, I first held a racquet in my hand under the guidance of Imam Khan Pathan, my senior and my first coach,” she said. “My first national tournament was in 1987 at the All-India Interdepartmental badminton meet in Delhi.”
“I was part of the winning squad of the women’s team, and got a women’s doubles title as icing on the cake,” Taraben says, strolling down memory lane.
Innumerable medals and many increments in her job which came by way of her success on the badminton courts were enough for Taraben to keep going on and on and on. Despite all the success she earned for her department, she itched for just one more high – to play for India. “In 1987, when I brought the winning shield to my house, my father went around the whole area distributing sweets and announcing my success. He put the shield in front of Mataji and prayed for his daughter’s success as an international player.”
While she could not realise her father’s dream while he was alive – Ramjibhai died in 1996 – the fond daughter marshalled a good performance at the Senior Nationals Badminton Meet held in Dharamsala in 2015, earning her a ticket to Sweden. It was her first, and perhaps the last, chance to live her father’s dream, even if it meant she had to withdraw ₹1.5 lakh from her General Provident Fund. “Look at the irony. My father was the one who showed me the way, and when I did accomplish the feat, he was not around to see it.”
Taraben also credits her success to the support of her department. “I became a sportsperson due to my job. They gave me special leave time off all this while, so that I could bring back laurels for my department.”
Now 58, Taraben recently took part in the 35+ women’s doubles event at the Open State Badminton Ranking tournament in Rajkot in June, and won gold there. “My sole aim is to continue to play for as long as I can. Age, for me, is just a number. Even today, I practice for two hours a day, and want to set an example to society,” says the waif-thin Taraben, who has stayed below 40 kg. for the last 10 years. “It’s because of the game that I have managed to stay light,” she remarked with a grin.
Apart from being a seasoned shuttler, Taraben has tried her hand at table tennis too, and is currently a qualified state-level badminton referee.
So when is she retiring? “Not anytime soon. I want to take part in senior nationals in the 70+ category. I am sure I will.”
Currently living in a pucca three-storied house with her two younger brothers and their children in the same area, Taraben is a figure of grit and perseverance among the Dalits. “Every year on April 14, they honour me. That is enough for me. I want more players from our society to play and outshine me,” Taraben says about tomorrow.
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