A Tribute to Table Tennis Champ Vilas Mantri by Shri Ulhas Shirke

Down Memory lane…

I will always remember Vilas Mantri as a good Captain

The greatness of a person is noticed when you find a huge gathering of people attending his funeral after his death. Also the tributes paid to him by his well wishers on social networking sites, after hearing about his sad demise, speak about the respect he commanded from the society. Former TT Champ Vilas Mantri deserved all this, as his well wishers turned in large number for his funeral yesterday evening at his Vile Parle residence. Even 24 hours after his demise, condolence messages are still pouring in on social networking sites not only from this city but from all over the world.

Since my childhood, I was witness to his growth in the game of Table Tennis, as he was not only my idol , but inspired me with his consistent and attacking game. As a child, I saw him practice in our colony club, with my father, who was not only a fine cricketer, but also a good TT player. Vilas showed further progress by not only representing Maharashtra in Juniors, but also won doubles championship with his partner Uday Gurjar. When he joined Reserve Bank of India on sports merit , Vilas proved to be an asset for RBI team, winning many trophies and knocking down many top ranked India players of that period.
What was good about his game was his consistency and his deceptive forehand finish which he hit from his backhand side to earn his points. He had a wonderful ball control during rallies and he displayed this when he beat the then national Champion Niraj Bajaj and Gautam Diwan in Inter Office-Club league. It was Vilas Mantri who insisted me to join RBI. He had seen my game, while playing for Proctor YMCA team against RBI ‘C’ team, when I had won all my three singles matches in the Inter-Office /Club league. (Clubs and Offices were allowed to participate in the same League at that time) . Those days, I was working as a Medical Representative in a reputed company and was selected in another company. But, around this period I had also given my exams for RBI and also passed the test. At that time, I was not very serious about taking any sports seriously, as I used to play all the sports leisurely, due to my busy outdoor work schedule.

When I took the decision to join RBI, Vilas not only welcomed my decision, but also took extra efforts in training me to play at the professional level . It was practice practice and practice almost everyday, including Sundays and within one year, I jumped to RBI ’A’ team, winning all my matches during selections. So, I joined two great players Vilas Mantri and Jagannath Mohite and thereafter, there was no looking back. Both these players were responsible for my progress in this game and in the company of V.S.Bhagnani another senior player, we won the First All India RBI offices Trophy at Kanpur beating the strong team of Kanpur, which comprised of Uttar Pradesh State players.

There was no stopping thereafter , as our RBI team remained unbeaten in many team events those days. The team events were held only after 8 pm and hence we used to finish our matches sometimes by 12 midnight. I still remember those two memorable matches I played in the company of Vilas Mantri. One of them was Bandra Gymkhana and the other was Punjab Association Sports Club ( Now called North Indian Association at Kings Circle). Team matches of these two clubs were played best of three basis. First Singles, doubles followed by 2nd singles. In both these matches we had lost doubles and the deciding crucial match was won by me. On both the occasions, Vilas as captain handed over the huge trophies to me and asked me carry them home. It was a fine gesture from the captain, who was so impressed with my performance. It was also a pleasure to play with him in All India RBI Sports meet in 1982 and win the team event and thereafter receiving the trophy from Dr.Manmohan Singh, who was then Governor of RBI.

Last month, before leaving for Jaipur Veterans TT Nationals, I had visited him along with Jagannath Mohite and sought his blessings. And with his blessings I brought two medals for Maharashtra. I will always remember Vilas Mantri as a good captain, as he planned his strategies very well and his advice during matches turned very useful. With his untimely sad demise I surely miss my Guru in table tennis, who always motivated me from time to time.

Photo Caption:

Photo 1 ( L to R) Jagannath Mohie, Myself, Vilas Mantri & V.K.Bhagnani.
Photo 2: Vilas & Myself receiving Bandra Gymkhana Trophy
Photo 3: ( L to R) Jagannath Mohite, Bhagnani Vilas Mantri & Myself with Mr. Bannerjee Chief Manager RBI & P.Manager Dr.Bagai
Photo 4 L to R ( Colour) Myself, Milind Ajgaonkar, Jagannath Mohite, Bhagnani( Partly hidden) and Vilas Mantri with Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Photo 5 : ( L to R.) Myself, Vilas & Milind with Punjab Association Trophy.

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