T. D. Ranga Ramanujan is remembered as a messiah of table tennis in India. But few know of his key role in organising the first Asiad in New Delhi and other unique contributions.
FEW ADMINISTRATORS of contemporary Indian sport filled quintessential parameters and carved new dimensions in sport management as much as T. D. Ranga Ramanujan, who organised the two world table tennis championships at Bombay in 1952 and again at Calcutta in 1975.
"I began work for the 1952 World Championship, the first ever world event for any sport in the East, without money even for postage. Yet, we managed even to pay entertainment tax to the then Bombay Government headed by Morarji Desai, who refused to give exemption. The paying public and income from souvenir helped us through the memorable venture in the improvised structure at the CCI and Barabourne Stadium," recalls the 85-year old in a mood of introspection and nostalgia. Even in 1975, nothing changed much in Calcutta: "We paid for conservancy and police for security, which had to be tightened enormously because of the first ever visit to India by the Chinese team for the World Championship."
Talking to Ranga Ramanujan is an experience in itself. He reels off statistics, dates, venues and members of the team with beaming nonchalance.Conducting the second World Championship in Calcutta was not easy notwithstanding the organising committee headed by the then Chief Minister, S.S. Ray, projected as a dynamic and erudite politician. The pace of work towards completion of the Netaji Indoor Stadium was tardy. But the whole project was completed in 72 working days with the aid of outside labour force numbering over 600. For many, Ranga, as he is affectionately called, continues to be the father of Indian table tennis, a nondescript sport in the early Fifties. But by sheer dint of hard work and enterprise, he gave this discipline a different dynamics, made it a most talked about one. Who else in Indian sport today has the honour of being invited for an audience with no less a person than Mao and Chau-En-Lai in 1952? Ranga also has the distinction of taking the Indian team, the first sporting outfit in the world to visit China in 1950. He recalls how Mao visited the Imperial Hotel hall, where the match was played.
For one who began life in a humble, middle-class, orthodox family, Ranga's scale of achievement is phenomenal. Born at Chintadripet, Ranga had schooling in several Andhra centresand obtained Masters' Degree in Economics from Loyola in 1942. His diligence and dedication won him a distinctive status on the city's sporting scene. It was only after moving to New Delhi that Ranga's ingenuity came to be appreciated by the Government and other national bodies.
What Ranga regrets today, and rightly so, is that the sports fraternity identifies him as the messiah for table tennis. Not many are aware of his involvement in more than one project. He was a limb of the organising committee for the first Asian Games in New Delhi under Antony de Mellow. Asiad Emblem, which passes hands from Mayor to Mayor in host cities, was designed in his Chintadripet house for a paltry sum of Rs. 17. The silk cloth was bought in Pondicherry and flag posts were made at Gudiyatham? "I carried the whole cargo in a third class compartment from here to Delhi. I am yet to claim the train-fare," he says in a lighter vein.
The annual Arjuna Award given to sportspersons was his brainchild, and so was the Dronacharya Award. The suggestions were accepted immediately by the then Chairman of the All India Council of Sports, Yadvandra Singh, Maharajah of Patiala. In fact, Ranga even put forth the plea to have special awards, the Chanakya Award for carrom and billiards. The concept of Bharathiyam is again a scheme worked out by Ranga.
Ranga is also the author of the Rajkumari Amrit Kaur coaching scheme and formulated the programme for the launch of the National Institute of Sports at the Motibaug Palace in Patiala. He was instrumental in recruiting celebrity players, who were without moorings in the wake of independence to get gainful employment as coaches. These included Lala Amarnath, C. K. Nayudu, Capt. Dhyan Chand, A. G. Ram Singh, C. K. Nainakannu, V. Sivaraman and Mrs. C. K. K. Pillai. Most of them were paid as much as Rs. 1,200 per month, not a small amount in the early 1950s.
The sports fraternity should also remember Ranga for taking the initiative to bring the famous Harlem Globe Trotters, the magic basketballers from the United States, for a series of exhibition matches to offset the loss incurred by hosting the World Championships at Bombay. He also provided the athletics community a chance to witness the legendary Jesse Owens and the Zatopeks, Emil and Dona, whose exploits on the Olympic arena need no reiteration here. The visit of Russian gymnasts and Chinese acrobats was also organised by Ranga.
What Ranga cherishes more than any other achievement is the success gained in forming the Swaythling Cup Trust, which includes top former National champions like Gautam Diwan, Farookh Khodaiji and Niraj Bajaj. The trust ensures a small monthly payment of Rs. 800 to needy players, the list till recently included the former national champion, V. Sivaraman. Among the many, receiving this pension is Mrs. C. K. K. Pillai, former champion and coach.
It is difficult to identify another administrator of sport from this country to have earned so much goodwill both from the national and international community. At the twilight of his life, relaxing in his hometown at Cuddalore, Ranga has a vast panorama of moments and memories to introspect and educate the modern controllers of sport.
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