Agartala: He may have lost his hands but not his hope and spirit. Meet Kajal Dey, a table tennis coach from Tripura who plays the game, and gives lessons on it, too, to others, with a bat tied between his bones.
Yes, you heard that right.
Like any other 21-year-old, Dey was a happy-go-lucky youth working as a driver at a nursing home until the fateful evening of May 21, 1991, which changed the course of his life for good.
"It was May 21, 1991, the day when ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. The entire country was plagued with violence. I was returning late from work… there was so much violence on the streets. Suddenly, some stone-like object was hurled at me… I caught that and the next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital," said the 49-year-old resident of Agartala.
Dey's friends and family members rushed him to the hospital, and he was kept under observation for a long time. Ultimately, both his wrists had to be amputated to save himself from infection and blood loss.
Dey realised that life won’t be the same for him ever again. "I was barely 21 at that time and found it very tough to see all my friends playing cricket, football and other games," he said. "I used to just sit there and watch them play," he added.
The TT coach visited many prosthetic hospitals but all his efforts proved futile until one day when he was advised to seek treatment at Pune’s Artificial Limb Centre, a unit of the Armed Forces Medical College.
"I was advised to undergo a special operation… it separated the two arm bones of radius and ulna. Gradually, muscle grew around these two separated bones," he said.
Dey now has two large fingers in the form of these two bones.
They enabled him to manage his daily work, starting from using spoon and fork on the dining table to operating a mobile phone. Being the sports lover that he is and with cricket no longer part of his routine, it was table tennis that he chose.
"Table Tennis caught my attention. I consulted a few coaches and got my first TT bat. I started fixing the bats between the two bones of my hand and played. Later on, I found it worked better if I tied the bat using a rubber sheath," he explained.
So, here he is now, playing table tennis and teaching the sport that he loves with a bat tied between his bones. He has been coaching kids since 2003 creating time from his daily job, becoming a champ in the juggling act called life.
No matter how much of a pro he is at that, however, he couldn’t represent his country in Paralympics 2018, despite many trials. "I wanted to represent my country in the Paralympics. But due to some issues with the authorities there, I couldn’t," he said.
However, his students have achieved what he could not. There is a galore of medals won in national and regional tournaments by his kids, as he likes to address them.
Dey, undoubtedly, is an inspiration to many who believe that if you are determined enough, no matter what, you can bend fate in your favour.
Kajal Dey has a lot to do and far more to achieve. But for now, at least, all we can is that his students are in good hands.