Son of the legendary singer Probal Chowdhury of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra fame, Dr. Manash Ranjan Chowdhury is a versatile talent from the port-city Chattogram. He has already stamped indelible imprints of extraordinary successes both as a leading Table Tennis player of the country as well as a professional playback singer since the year 2000-01. What makes him stand apart from others is that he became the national table tennis champion for the first time in 2009 at the advanced age of 33 years, considered to be past one's prime, after giving a break to his favourite sport for long five years from 2001 to 2006 in order to facilitate his undergraduate education in dentistry. That first national crown was probably a Guinness World Record, as becoming national champion in any sporting discipline for the first time at thirty-three years' age is unheard of anywhere in the world. Earlier, Manash shot to prominence by becoming the national boys' TT champion for the first time in 1991 at the tender age of fifteen years. He played in his first men's singles final in 2001, but lost due to sickness with high fever during the match.
The most stylish TT icon of the country, Manash started playing table tennis in his childhood at the Agrani Nabin Sangha Club of Chattogram with a racquet presented by his expatriate uncle Swapan Chowdhury. After that, he joined the Nabin Mela Club, where the local champion Dr. Arup Datta and his brother Rupam Datta were his mentors cum coach during the 1980s. He became champion in the National School Table Tennis Competition in 1988, and then played in the Bata School TT Tournament of Dhaka in 1989. He first played in the National Junior TT Championship in 1990 and then went on to become champion in the junior group the very next year. He won most of the junior trophies after that, and finally burst onto the senior scene by becoming national men's singles runner-up in 2001 despite his illness.
Manash returned to the TT arena in 2007 after obtaining the bachelor's degree in dentistry in 2006. During the subsequent 13 years since then, he won the national men's singles crown five times (2009, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015) and the men's runner-up title three more times (2010, 2016 and 2019). In fact at 43, he is the current national men's singles runner-up as well as the highest ranked TT player of the country. His accomplishments so far in the international TT arena include winning the teams' bronze medal in the SAARC-ASEAN TT Tournament in 1998, teams' event bronze medal at the South Asian Games in 2010, and reaching the pre-quarter final stage in men's singles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He represented Bangladesh in two Commonwealth TT Championships (2007, 2019), three Asian TT Championships (2009, 2015 and 2019), and four World TT Championships (2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017).
As for music, it has run through the blood of his ancestors for many years. Apart from his father - the legendary playback singer cum musician Probal Chowdhury (one of Chattogram's roads has been named after this valiant freedom fighter), his two aunts Kalyani Ghosh and Uma Khan were also famous singers at the national level during the decades of 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Known as Ranjan Chowdhury in the musical circle, Manash inherited this love and passion for music and started taking lessons from his father during his childhood. As of today, 27 of his albums have been released including four solo albums. Besides, he has lent voice to about 30 films as a playback singer since 2000, with his first album getting released in 2001. The bard of his first song was the renowned lyricist Kabir Bokul, while its melody was composed by the national award-winning musician - the recently departed late Alauddin Ali. Manash is also an enlisted special-grade singer of Bangladesh Betar and Bangladesh Television. Besides, he has composed numerous songs sung by famous singers of the country. Produced by 'Sangeeta', his first album was a best-seller. He has also been nominated a number of times for the national music awards. As singer Ranjan Chowdhury, Manash now runs a popular YouTube channel as well as a Facebook page.
When asked what his views were about the state of table tennis in Bangladesh, Manash opined that apart from a handful of games, people's craze is not observed in other games like table tennis, which mainly emanates from problems in the areas of planning, organization, investment, infrastructure and commerce. The sporting authorities of the country as well as the organizers and paddlers also do not appear to be much concerned about the status of table tennis due to some pre-conceived notions about its popularity. A professional paddler in India gets all kinds of assistance including government jobs and sponsorships, which is missing in Bangladesh. Most of the organizers in our country are also deficient in organizational acumen and skills as they do not have the required sporting or professional backgrounds.
Side by side, there is rampant mismanagement and financial uncertainties in advancing the cause of sports including table tennis, Manash claims. Consequently, how can one expect a bright future when we lack proper patronisation, organisation, sponsorship, as well as professional opportunities for players? We need to put in place a long-term plan for the development of table tennis in the country by emphasising proper grooming and coaching of players as well as ensuring their professional growth, sponsorships and jobs. The banks and financial institutions of the country can be encouraged to engage in this process in greater numbers and volumes. Besides, talent-hunt schemes and residential training programs can be started at potential sites under separate or independent bodies dedicated to the flourishing of table tennis.
At a personal level, Manash is currently grooming and mentoring some young players of Chattogram, one of whom (Sajib) is already ranked no. 3 in the country. Besides, he plans to set up a table tennis academy for providing training to the new generation with the patronisation of philanthropists and corporate sponsors.
In his personal domain, Manash leads a disciplined life, but tries to enjoy every moment that life has to offer. His days start with about two hours of musical sadhana. Then after breakfast, he undertakes rigorous table tennis practice for around 2-3 hours. He also studies regularly to keep himself abreast with latest developments in dentistry. Then his afternoons and evenings are mostly spent in his chamber near the Chittagong Medical College Hospital, where he is quite popular among the locals as a professional dentist.
In fact, passion and love for music and sports have been the driving forces in Manash's career. Earning name or fame has never been his priority, and the only motivation for his cultural and sporting pursuits has been to find joy and solace in them. He also likes to cook and gossip with his family-members that include his mother Meera Chowdhury, wife Tonima Chowdhury, son Indraneel and daughter Oindrila - all of whom are music lovers. At the end of a day's hard work in his chamber, he also engages in free-flowing 'Adda' with his friends. In the words of Manash, 'I always try to spend each moment of my life nicely and honestly, with the blessings and grace of God. You can say in a way, I love to celebrate and enjoy life, as we are not here forever'. That certainly is a beautiful expression on the pursuit and philosophy of life from the country's leading paddler.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly. Email: [email protected]