The memory of 21st May 1991 is still etched in the nation’s mind. It was the day Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. That day changed many lives, but none more so than that of Tripura’s Kajal Dey.
The driver at a nursing home, he often worked late nights and was returning from duty, when he got caught in front of an irate mob. According to the Indian Express, the violence that ensued caused him to lose both his hands.
Kajal was rushed to a local hospital by friends, where they tried to manage the infection and reduce the blood loss. It would be at least a few weeks before Kajal could interact with people.
The damage, however, was irreparable. To find a solution, he went pillar to post, visited many prosthetic centres in Kolkata, Rajasthan and Chandigarh, but with no luck.
It was only a year later that following a suggestion, he went to the Artificial Limb Centre (ALC) in Pune. A unit under the Armed Forces Medical College, it was the place where Kajal was treated for five months and 17 days. He told the publication that the discipline was exemplary, and he had to work out things for himself.
At the ALC, Kajal was asked to consider a special operation, one that would separate the radius and the ulna of his hands. Gradually, skin and muscle grew around the two bones, giving him two large fingers of sorts, which have enabled him to manage everything, from using a spoon and fork and a mobile phone, and even playing table tennis.
It was the sport that helped Kajal turn his life around. Barely 21 years old then, he was grounded at home, wistfully watching while his friends played cricket.
Table Tennis got Kajal’s attention, and he consulted with a few local coaches, before getting his first TT racket.
Kajal began by fixing the TT RACKET between the two bones on his arm and then, used a rubber sheath to tie the bat to his arm, presumably for better control.
In the three decades that followed after Kajal lost his wrists, he has been playing table tennis in Tripura with a bat tied between his bones. It is as if the bat is an extension of the man, the evidence being the 45 kids he has coached, since 2003.
Working as a Group D employee in the Public Works Department (PWD), Kajal has participated in some inter-office tournaments, winning consistently. He then joined the National Para Table Tennis Association but didn’t find luck there.
But Kajal is not one to give up. He has been living his dreams through his students. One of them, Dwaipayan Dutta, was a champion at the North East Table Tennis Tournament in 2017. Others like Omkar Debnath, Moumita Saha, Aritra Patari, Shreyashi Chakraborty, have won medals in national and regional tournaments.
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Even Kajal’s daughter, Kalyani Dey, went on to contest in 19 national tournaments, winning four silver and bronze medals as well as several accolades in state tournaments.
Kajal Dey still coaches children in Tripura interested in playing table tennis, from 6:30-8 am, and 3-5 pm every day. Hopeful that more children will take up sports as a career, Dey is always ready to lend a selfless guiding hand to those who require it.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)