In April, almost three years after giving birth, 38-year-old paddler Mouma Das reached the women’s singles final of the TT Senior Nationals. Remarkably, she had trained for only 15 days in that entire duration.
Mouma was at it again at the 36th National Games being held in Gujarat. Using her wealth of experience and all her reserve energy, she beat 19-year-old Diya Chitale, who represented India at the recently-held Commonwealth Games. The win gave West Bengal a crucial 2-1 lead over Maharashtra in the women’s team event, which ultimately saw them triumph 3-1.
The win also gave Mouma a newfound hope, one that may seem farfetched but for someone who has come back so strongly from a three-year break at the age of 38, it’s difficult to ignore. The dream of getting back into the Indian team.
After giving birth in December 2019, Mouma had told herself that she would get back to playing the sport professionally within six months’ time. After all, she had a terrific 2018, winning the Commomwealth Games women’s team gold and silver in women’s doubles, partnering Manika Batra. In 2020 though, the world came to a standstill with the Covid-19 pandemic and Mouma got busy looking after her little girl.
In early 2021, she again backed herself to make a comeback, but with the Omicron variant of the virus spreading, she had to shelve her plans. This year, she told herself that if she was ever going to get back to the sport, it had to be at the Senior Nationals which was held in Shillong.
And with no real training, just a few gym sessions and shadow table tennis practice, Mouma went for the tournament with nothing to lose. That nothing-to-lose attitude, she says, helped her tremendously, and was the primary reason, she says, why she made it to the final of the tournament.
“Everyone was tensed since the Commonwealth Games was approaching. I had nothing to lose. Though I wasn’t physically fit at all, I just stuck to the basics and played out the games,” she says.
While she knows she has the game to back herself, it’s the physical aspect that she has been struggling with the most. It’s not that she doesn’t want to work on it, she simply doesn’t get the time, she says.
“I never expected to be so busy. I really don’t know how moms who are professional sportspersons manage to get time to exercise,” she says.
So what’s her daily schedule like?
“Well, my daughter takes an hour to eat breakfast, an hour for lunch, and an hour for dinner. Then there’s snack time in between. Oh yes, I have to cook the food too,” she says with a laugh.
“I have to plan my day around her schedule. For now, I train for a couple of hours in the morning and that’s it. Thankfully I have a very supportive husband and family who know that table tennis is my life and are willing to do anything to support my career,” she says.
Making it to the Indian team will not be an easy task for her, and she knows it. For one, there are plenty of youngsters waiting to break into the team.
“I feel like in the three years that I’ve been away, the level of TT in the country has just gone up tremendously. Earlier you could slow down the pace of the game, but now everyone’s game has become aggressive.”
So does she really think she can get back into the national team?
“Right now I have to push my body but at the same time be mindful of injuries. An injury could be a huge setback for my career. As soon as I get back for these National Games, I’m going to work with a physio and trainer. I think I have to reach the finals of a few national-level tournaments and then see what I can do. I’m very excited,” she says.