| Rupa Banerjee at her city residence on Wednesday
Calcutta: She has this picture-perfect poise that some NRIs show: contented, confident, efficient, happy and eager, still. This genre in sport may have heard of her, or may not, but you cannot deny her the history and her position, quite like the one she holds today in the grievance cell at Ontario’s government employees’ union.
That is the basic profile, today, of Rupa Banerjee (nee Mukherjee), national women’s champion in table tennis in 1973 (beating Indu Puri in the final in what was then Madras). That was a position she relinquished then, having just married Prasad Banerjee and having decided to immigrate to Canada. She went to the US Open with the Indian team, and then over to Canada.
“I was itching to be back at the table in Canada,” she said talking to The Telegraph in the city where she is now, having come down for, among other things, a family marriage.
She did, soon, working under a coach from Yugoslavia, and climbed effortlessly to No. 1 spot. A rule that allows an immigrant to play for the country after a two-year stay let her play for Canada in many international meets and suddenly she was as famous in her adopted country as in India, if not more.
“I have coached the Ontario team to the Canada national meet and have been in a number of other coaching assignments too, but then I decided it was important to take my career more seriously and give ample guidance to my son (Raja, now 22, preparing to study business management), in his career,” said Rupali, which happens to be her real name.
It’s been some time, actually. Raja (or Ronnie, as his school knows), has taken to chess, kick-boxing, table tennis and a lot more, none professionally though. And Rupali suddenly reveals she isn’t going to take Canadian citizenship (she can, any time). “Look, if this dual citizenship issue is cleared (by the Union government) ever, I will opt for that, but I remain and would like to remain an Indian citizen.
There is a message in that. “I remember the tough conditions we (with Indu Puri) went through,” she says. “Just two tables at the YMCA and that too being shared with all members and time was so short, I could push in two 20-minute sessions a day sometimes.”
That was a challenge, or a way things were, “so different from when I went to Canada, where there were tables and no one to practise on them.”
So what is the idea' She wants to give something back. “One day, when I am older, I would want to be back here, I want to give the city what it gave me. An academy, perhaps…”
All that is a few years in the future, but as of now, she wishes Mantu Ghosh all the best for her Arjuna. “You know, the year they were thinking about that great award for me, I went off to Canada. I missed it. One year, on my way back to this country, I had landed in Delhi and Indu (Puri) had come to receive me and I went to her house. We were like sisters, you see, when we played.
“And Indu showed me her Arjuna Award,” said Rupa, “and I was so happy for Indu, but suddenly, I was missing it all, too.”
Basically from a rather extended and religious-minded family, she was born into activity and sport — four brothers and three sisters all in some level of activity. Brothers Bachchu (Rajendranath Mukherjee), Kachchu (Dwijendranath), Sachchu (Robin) and Nachchu (Rathin), and sisters Babli (Gouri, now in London) and Lovely (Shefali) had all earned reasonable respectability in their fields of sport, in this state and around this country. “My racket used to be kept with the idol in the house,” said Rupa. That was religion, too.
When she thinks of now, when she talks of the new scoring system (“it confuses me a bit”), she also wants to know how the champions are treating their own aura. “In Canada they gave me a $ 100,000-limit credit card to use,” she says. “It’s an honour, for a champion of the country.”
That is more than anybody can ask in this country, but then one really needs to break the country barrier and move up, and that’s where Rupa could come in, maybe bridge the gap.