Venugopal Chandrasekhar’s fight back from paralysis to the TT table

Medical negligence cut short Venugopal Chandrasekhar’s table tennis career, but his inspirational fight back is a story to be told.

While the year 1984 might be notorious in India’s memory for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the month of September in that year was also a period of obscure misery for Venugopal Chandrasekhar, a former National table tennis player from Tamil Nadu who was quick to win accolades in the sport even in the short span of his career.

Chandrasekhar is also the founder of Chandra’s Table Tennis Academy, based out of SBOA School in Anna Nagar, Chennai, which he intends to be the stepping stone to his vision for a world class sports complex. His journey to where he is now is no ordinary one, plagued as he was by a case of extreme medical negligence at the peak of his career.

When at the age of twenty-five, Chandrasekhar had to undergo a minor knee surgery at a prominent Chennai hospital, he had already obtained national recognition for his talent, having won an Arjuna Award in 1982. However, due to an erroneous dosage of anaesthesia on the operating table, Chandrasekhar’s operation took a turn for the worse and rendered him paralyzed and blind, with brain damage to boot. A procedure that should have required three days for recovery instead left him comatose for over a month, with the following two spent in rehabilitation sessions.

Chandrasekhar’s case was the first of a spate of similar medical negligence cases by the same hospital, and a lawsuit filed in 1985, during his arduous recovery process, finally bore fruit in 1993 in his favour. Whether or not this was a satisfying outcome, however, is entirely a subjective matter, as Chandrasekhar, once a gold medalist from Madras University, was reduced to being a cashier. Over time, he regained about 70 percent of his eyesight but claims to still have trouble with his peripheral vision. When asked about how much this has affected his ability to play table tennis, he says, “I am guided mainly by intuition now, by the timing and the sound of the ball.”

Chandrasekhar’s unbelievable misfortune has led him to being quite misunderstood in the past, when his narrow vision would cause him to stumble on the footpath, leading people to mistakenly think he was under the influence. He talks openly about his struggle and recovery in his book My Fight Back from Death’s Door, which stands as an inspiring example of tenacity: after being thoroughly debilitated, Chandrasekhar fought for normalcy by working as many as 12 hours a day, a third of it spent guiding young table tennis players. Indeed, S. Ravi recommends the book to “every boy or girl, whether sportsman or otherwise”, in order to learn about an individual’s inner strength.


“My wife, my lawyers, my fellow players—a lot of people, they all helped me recover and stood by me through the lawsuit,” he says. “Now I want the sports complex to bridge the gap between India and the world level of table tennis.” The complex, now under development at Nolumbur, Chennai, is planned to have a gym, sports store, and several Table Tennis rooms, along with other facilities. Chandrasekhar says, “I want it to be open to all, even beginners. The coaching will be complimentary, and apart from myself, there are five instructors.”  It is his desire to see the sport gain recognition in India, and he realizes that training children alone isn’t enough: he wants to create an interest for the game in the market.

It is in aid of this pursuit that the government of Tamil Nadu granted him land to construct the facility, for which Chandrasekhar busily procuring funds. This led him to meet the Prime Minister earlier in August, with Modi ensuring him of help in completing the project. On the subject of India’s skill at table tennis, Chandrasekhar says, “India is only okay… A lot still needs to be done. I want my project to produce players at an international level.” The ambition doesn’t stop there, as he wishes to see involvement from the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) and establish the coaching centre as a place for national level play. He encourages donations and contributions from anyone with an interest in the game, and earnestly says, “I need all the help I can get for this, to help me make my dream come true.”


Currently pursuing an engineering degree from BITS Pilani, Goa, Sanjana is a Chennai-born girl settled in Mumbai, and writes for The Alternative in a humble attempt to fulfill the stereotype of being a frustrated engineer. more


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Currently pursuing an engineering degree from BITS Pilani, Goa, Sanjana is a Chennai-born girl settled in Mumbai, and writes for The Alternative in a humble attempt to fulfill the stereotype of being a frustrated engineer. more

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