Dey is India’s only TT coach without hands

The internet is replete with examples of sportspersons and coaches overcoming their disabilities to make their country proud. Naturally, names like Oscar Pistorius (strictly for his on-field antiques), Rockey Bieler and Deepa Malik instantly come to our mind. But did you ever hear about a table tennis with no hands? Think it isn’t possible? Think again. Kajal Dey is India’s table tennis coach – with no hands.

The Tragic Incident

Hailing from the northeastern town of Tripura, Kajal was always leading a normal life, plying his trade as a driver at a nursing home. But fate had hatched some different plans for him. On 21 May 1991 the country went into shock when the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. The sad news plagued the country with violence.

An uninitiated Dey was returning late from work when he was confronted by a group of goons on streets. Before he knew, a man from the irate crowd cut off both his hands, down the wrists.

Dey was rushed to a local hospital, where the doctors struggled to manage blood loss and infections. He only became stable a couple of weeks and another week to get things back to normal.  But could things ever be normal for him?

In desperation, he traveled as far as Kolkata, Rajasthan, Chandigarh and consulted as many prosthetic centers as he could, in the hope of mending his hand in some way. But sadly he got the same negative reply.

A New Lease of Life

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Kajal Dey’s ‘fingers’ (Credit:Indian Express)

Approximately a year later, someone recommended him to try his luck at the Artificial Limb Center in Pune. And his luck shined at last!

He got admitted in the ALC. He was treated for the next 5 months and 17 days. But the treatment was certainly not easy. Being a unit of Armed Forces Medical College, Dey was literally made to work things out for himself, such was the discipline of the facility.

Although his hands could not be brought back he did receive a consolation. An expert at ALC in a special operation separated the two arm bones of radius and ulna. The plan was simple, to develop something for Kajal to hold on to. Fortunately, muscles started to grow around these separated bones. Dey now had sort of two giant fingers in the form of these two bones.

It was more than sufficient to carry out certain basic, day-to-day tasks. Kajal could now manage to use spoon and fork and mobile phone with relative adroitness. But one sport that he took up as a hobby changed his life.

Second Innings – Table Tennis

“Table tennis was literally my turnaround since the accident.” said Kajal,  “ I was barely 21 at the time and found it very tough to see all my friends play with cricket bat and ball while I was grounded home.”

In those days, a local social organization based in Agartala, Pole Star Club, would provide free sports education to children. It was here that Kajal consulted few coaches about his desire to take up TT, as the sport is popularly called, seriously. He also got his first TT bats here.

“There are so many different qualities of table tennis bats,” he explains, “ It all depends on the kind of wood and the quality of rubber you use. I started fixing the bats between the two bones of my hand and played. I found it worked better if I tied the bat to my hand using a rubber sheath”

There was looking back after the incident. Kajal Dey has been playing and teaching TT in this fashion for the last 25 years. In fact, he has coached over 45 children in this way since 2003. He was also working as a Group D employee in PWD and would regularly participate in the interoffice tournaments. He won three silver medals in a row. More importantly, those came against able-bodied opponents.

Inspiring a change in Tripura’s Table Tennis scenario

Although he could not achieve relative success in the para games, his students have achieved what he could not.

Dwaipayan Dutta, for example, is one of his students who was a champion at North East Table Table Tournament in 2017. Many others like Omkar Debnath won a series of medals until 5 years back when he started his college. Likewise, there are others like Moumita Saha, Aritra Patari, Shreyashi Chakraborty, who have won medals in national and regional tournaments.

Kajal has also groomed his own daughter Kalyani Dey. She went on to contest in 19 national tournaments and won 4 silver and bronze medals there apart from many medals in state tournaments.

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Kajal Dey during a coaching session (Credit:Indian Express)

Even today, Dey offers free coaching to interested students in the evening every day.

Recently, Dey appealed to depressed people to choose sports over suicide, claiming he could help those interested in sports.

Kajal Dey is an inspirational figure and a sporting idol in the truest sense.

Monish Gadiya is a Pune-based sports author at KreedOn. He is a thorough tech-enthusiast and believes innovation is the answer to the problems prevalent in the society. Monish graduated from University of Pune with a degree in civil engineering before pursuing a post-graduate diploma course in creative writing and intellectual property rights. A die-hard football fan, he has represented his college at various football competitions.

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