Monty Merchant, India’s first table tennis pro, dies in US

by Varghese on September 13, 2008

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This is a news came in Times Of India, the Indian News Paper.

MUMBAI: Virendra ‘Monty’ Merchant, the first Indian table tennis player to turn professional, died at the age of 64 on Monday in Washington US where had migrated in the 70s.

He was cremated on Thursday. Monty, who had just retired from his garment designing business, is survived his American wife Bobbi, his sister Jyoti besides the mother.

Monty, with a mop of hair and superb attacking as well as defensive play, was a crowd-puller in the 70s. Monty was the finest player not to win the national title. But when he turned pro in 1972 he beat Japanese Shigo Ito to win the World professional title. He was banned by the TTFI for that. He went to the US.

TT was however not too popular in the US and Monty turned to tennis becoming a sparring partner and coach one of his wards Sean O’Neill reaching the top 50.

Farokh Khodaiji, who beat Monty in both the national finals, said: “Monty was a nice guy, big-hearted, an interesting personality and graceful player. Mayur Vyas, Ravi Kamat, Monty and I made an inseparable foursome. Ravi, who is in the US, was the last one of us to meet Monty. I was his first house guest in Washington. Having retired, Monty was keen on coming here for a longer while and with his wife. Alas it was not to be.”

The ties with his mom and sister brought him here twice in the last year. On the first visit he knocked with German Herman Gerdes at the PJ Hindu Gymkhana and had a reunion with oldies like Gautam Divan, Khodiaji, Ratish Chachand, Niraj Bajaj and Bomi Amalsadvala.

On his last visit he was felicitated during the finals of the Matunga Gymkhana event by Kamlesh Mehta along with 90-year-old Uttam Chandarana.

Gautam Divan, all-time India great, said: “He never beat me but he made me proud twice. The Maharashtra team led at the Jallandhar Nationals, was level four-all with Hyderabad with Mir Khasim Ali beating all three of us - Khodaiji, Monty and me. Monty won the deciding ninth tie to get us the title.

Again against Madras Monty’s win in the eighth tie after we were 4-3 was crucial in the 5-3 win as I was to play G Jagannath in the decider and was not sure of winning. Monty got us two of our ten wins in the Barna Bellack Cup. He was a superb player, fast on his feet and could control the ball even four feet away from the table.”

Divan said it was sad Indian officialdom didn’t treat Monty well. “If he blossomed in Maharashtra it was because of well-meaning officials like CR Kelekar, Eruch Mistry, PV Hazarat, Kumar Velkar, Bhatkal and Thaku Shivdasani,” said Divan who added: “They may have made mistakes in selection but there was no blatant bias as there was at the national level.”

The bias was evident, as Bomi Amalsadvala pointed out when Monty played in Japan as a pro and was suspended by the TTFI run by the autocratic TD Ranga Ramanujam. “Monty had duly informed Ranga about his plans, yet he barred him forcing him to leave the country to seek other pastures. Had he stayed on Monty would have gone on to become the Indian all-time great.”

Bomi, one-time national coach, recalled Monty’s versatility. “When he saw that he was making no headway with his defensive play and losing to Khodaiji, Monty changed to an attacking style. He came back and defeated Khodaiji at the St Xavier’s College tables. He also beat an emerging Niran Bajaj. But he could not balance his attack and defence.”

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