Former table tennis ace Indu Puri recalls her formative years at Kolkata’s Loreto College

I went to Loreto, which was a women’s college in Kolkata, an educational institution anyone would be proud to be associated with. The college has an existence of 101 years now and it has been a privilege that I went to such a prestigious organisation.

I was born and brought up in Kolkata because my father was employed with a jute mill. We lived on the outskirts of the city and I would commute in public transport. Kolkata was a lovely place to live in, it still is, and I have some very fond memories of time spent in this city of great history and culture.

My best years were spent at St. Agnus Convent, near Howrah, and then at the Loreto College, close to Park Street. My college was not good for sport at all. The nuns were strict, as they were at St. Agnus, but I had no choice then but to study at Loreto. It was close to YWCA, where I would practice. The YWCA was the hub of table tennis in Kolkata and my college was walking distance from it, which, I must confess, was a huge benefit those days.

I was a science student at school but had to take up psychology in college because I had to combine it with my sporting activities. I was keen on studying English Literature but the college refused it. I enrolled in BA and studied from 1971 to 1975.

The nuns, as I said, were strict and did not encourage sports. They insisted on full attendance and it was tough for me really. I had my tournaments to compete in and also the classes to catch up with. It required discipline and there, the college played its role. There was no concession on any front and it ultimately helped me.

I followed a tough schedule. I would leave home at 8 a.m. for college and report for practice at 3 p.m. I would be back home at 8 p.m. It was my routine and let me tell you, I never missed my classes when I was in Kolkata or when I was not playing.

I never felt like a star at college because of my achievements in table tennis. I won my first National title in my first year at Loreto. That opened the doors to relaxation from the college a bit. I enjoyed the freedom to miss classes but not at the cost of studies. I was a good student and understood the importance of finishing my graduation. The teachers came to trust the fact that I would not let them down and everything worked in my favour.

The college ensured that my studies did not get distracted by my table tennis commitments. My home was far way from college and it would consume close to 90 minute of mine by bus. Those days, there were hardly any facilities at the college barring a table tennis table in the common room, which was more for recreation than any serious training. Sports was more of a time-pass thing at Loreto then.

I was a serious person, sticking to my studies and table tennis, and had few friends. Two of them, Pushpa Subramaniam and Nilima Samsi, continue to be friends. I met my college principal at Connaught Place many years after I had finished my studies. She obviously did not recognise me but my name stuck. I reminded her how strict she was and she smiled, “Don’t you think I was right?” I can say she was right because she helped shape my career. I retried from the Union Bank (September 2013) as Chief Manager after 32 years of service. The foundation was laid at Loreto.

The college canteen and the library were nice places to frequent. The library was very spacious and the canteen offered some delicious stuff. Though the puchkas (gol gappas) were available only outside the gate of the college campus.

Loreto was a great experience, a college as strict as school and one that never tolerated indiscipline. Ragging was unheard of and bunking classes was rare. Given a chance, I would love to study at Loreto and relive those wonderful years spent learning the good things in life. The Loreto has a motto, “Do Good and Do It Well.” I firmly believe in it. Loreto may curtail some of the independence of a college student but it is a great place to study and learn.