Manika Batra’s father has been home for the last many years, recovering from a mental health condition that forced him to watch from the sidelines and cheer silently as his daughter brought home the medals. But the day Manika returned to New Delhi from Hong Kong, where she had secured a berth for her first-ever Olympics, her father joined the rest of the family as they went to the airport to receive her. “We danced our way home,” recalls Sushma Batra, Manika’s mother.
As a four-year-old, Manika would tag along with her her elder sister Anchal as she trained at Hansraj Model School. Anchal would soon leave table tennis while Manika would go on to become India No 1.
Ranked 115th in the world, Manika claims she began thinking about taking up the sport professionally when she was 11. “Since I was nine, I have been winning all Delhi tournaments. So I thought it was time to move to bigger events,” says Manika.
Her mother Sushma says Manika, the youngest of her three children, was always determined to pursue the sport. “She loved fooling around and playing with her toys as a child. But when it was time for practice, somehow she would always be serious and determined. We never forced her to play, but we could tell that she was enjoying it,” says Sushma.
Soon, a growth spurt kicked in and Manika, now a 5’11’’ youngster, made her way into the senior national team, while simultaneously playing in the juniors.
At home, Sushma did her best to ensure Manika was not distracted by her father’s illness. “I doubled up as her mother and father while she was growing up. I made sure nothing got in the way of her training,” Sushma adds.
Soon after returning from the Commonwealth Games in 2014, Manika worked on her fitness and the medals followed. She won two silvers in the team events and a bronze in the singles at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships last December.
She followed that up with an unprecedented feat, winning gold in the 2nd Division of the World TT Team Championship in March.
Her successes have meant fewer hours with family, but her mother says she looks forward to their weekend shopping trips. “Sometimes she buys me things that she likes but knows I will not. And then she keeps them for herself,” says Sushma.