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Sport - Badminton

Madhumita calls it a day

NEW DELHI, MARCH 27. "The journey must one day end,'' she read out from a prepared statement as she announced her retirement. Madhumita Bisht has finally bid adieu to the game she so splendidly served for two decades and more in the country.

At a function at the Railway Officer's Club here on Wednesday, Madhumita announced her formal retirement. As the former Asian champion, Dinesh Khanna, suggested on the occasion, she could in fact continue at the masters level in the age group competitions around the world. If she was in the mood, that is.

On Wednesday, Madhumita was in a pensive mood. Understandably so for someone who had been wielding a badminton racquet for 27 years and was quitting the game at the highest level. Was it just incidental that the day happened to be the 27th day of the month?

"I have been planning it since September,'' she said. Everyone including former internationals coaxed her into yet another World championships, her sixth, last year. But now, it was time to say a firm "I am through''.

Her family was there. So too a horde of Railway officials and friends from the Delhi Badminton Association, not forgetting several players, past and present, including Abhinn Shyam Gupta. Husband Vikram Singh, himself a former international, made sure that everyone was feeling comfortable in an evening which was obviously very special for the family.

Little Harshvardhan, Madhu and Vikram's son, unaware of the significance of the function, was running around. He is already following in his parents' footsteps. "Will you want him to continue with the game''

"Why not'' came the counter from Madhumita. She felt that with the Union Government putting badminton in the priority list and the sport getting a boost following P. Gopi Chand's victory in the All England last year, the game did have a bright future in the country.

"We never got so much of exposure as today's players are getting,'' Madhumita bemoaned. "I wish I had.''

Dinesh Khanna also pointed out the laurels missing in Madhumita's cupboard. "She had not won enough international laurels,'' the veteran observed in his short, but forthright speech. "She deserved more.'' Khanna also felt that the exposure received by the players at that time was far less and as such someone like Madhumita could never rise to her full potential in competitions abroad.

In her long career — she won her first sub-junior girls National title in 1977 as Madhumnita Goswami — she claimed a treble in the French Open at Toulouse in 1989. In terms of number of title, that was her best, but she rates her victory over the then world No 2. Kusuma Sarwanta of Indonesia in Jakrata in 1992 as her most memorable and satisfying moment at the international level.

At the National level, though, Madhumita was incomparable after the exit of Ami Ghia. Even when Ami was around, once Madhumita got over her mental block against her senior, she was able to beat Ami. They have remained good friends off court and even these days, Ami makes it a point to encourage her old `foe'.

It was at the Uber Cup trials at Patiala in 1980 that Madhumita beat Ami for the first time. Two years later, at the Ootacamund National, she beat Ami again, this time for her maiden senior National singles title. Seven more titles followed, the last one in 1991. She also won nine doubles titles and 12 mixed doubles titles, most of the `mixed' ones coming alongside Sanat Mishra, Harjeet Singh and Vinod Kumar. With husband Vikram Singh, she just played one National, in 1986, when they lost in the final.

Madhumita used speed and power to good effect when she was at her peak in her illustrious career. Added to it was her deception, not so effective as Ami Ghia's but match-winning all the same. Her fitness was everyone's envy. And even now, at the age of 38, she looks fitter than most after having taken a brief break from the game in 1993 to have her baby. In 1999, during the Bangalore camp, another break was enforced through an injury. This time it lasted eight months. But she was not the one to give up.

"I was very disciplined and determined always,'' said Madhumita as she looked back at those years when she toiled in a sport which might have lacked in popular appeal in this country but had always a tradition to talk about. ''It is not like cricket of course. But sometimes people do recognise me,'' said Madhumita.

A Sports Officer with the Northern Railway, Madhumita had a special word of praise for triple hockey Olympian Harbinder Singh for encouraging her to continue after motherhood. Of course she thanked everyone in the Railways plus the Badminton Association of India.

Surely we will miss Madhumita's shrieks as she goes up to smash. But not that patented, radiant smile around the courts. For, she said she would be there. As a coach, that is.

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