Game, Set, Match? Recreation at SPS

The following is a stylized account of an evening at the SPS Campus based on actual events.
Once a year, the Baba Amte Center for People’s Empowerment, as known as the SPS Neemkeda Campus, takes on a new purpose to host the Western Madhya Pradesh Table Tennis (TT) Classic: Men’s Singles Championship. Considered to be the Wimbledon of recreational table tennis, the match takes place on center table–the only TT table–housed in the larger covered space next to the computer room. Distinguished by fast-paced night-time play, the matches are fought under the fluorescent lights of the brick building and, sometimes, with flashlights when the power goes out. Occasionally, a crowd of one or two  bystanders gathers outside the screened walls to referee the game and keep score.
The 2015 Finals saw defending champion, Vinay S., an SPS employee of the livestock program, face off against the Vinay D., an up and coming university student out of Delhi and son of the SPS campus manager.  The match was highly anticipated amoung the five or six regular TT attendees on campus, since the two players held an even record in the regular season. On one hand, Vinay D. plays for showmanship–to make the high profile trick shots that would, in theory, appear on a Top 10 Plays of the Week list. On the other hand, Vinay S. plays methodically, almost as a scientific process. Keep the ball in play, calculate the angle and speed of return, and wait for the opponent to mess up before you do. Equally matched, the finals were set to be heated, and not just because the ceiling fans weren’t running in the room.
With a wave of  his hands and repeating the word “Come on, winner!” Vinay D. served the first shots like a magic trick, and the finals were underway. The first serves landed and quickly spun out of reach leaving Vinay S. at a 5-0 deficit at the start of the game. Not one to let the match slip away quickly, Vinay S. responded precisely placed serves and returns that forced Vinday D. to sprawl over the court, sprinting from edge to edge of the five foot wide table (regulation size). Soon, the winner of the individual points alternated back and forth like a ping pong ball in a game of table tennis. Tied at 16 all, Vinay S. moved to return a lob from Vinay D., but as he wound up to smash the ball like a home-run derby, the rubber pad of the paddle slipped loose. The ball whiffed into the net, and Vinay S. cried “Reeee!” (a re-serve) because of the technical error. Neither playing wanting to give up a point towards the end of the game, Vinay and Vinay argued the legitimacy of the “re-serve” call. Pradeep stepped in as referee to allow for the re-serve, and the melodrama of the match continued, both players with a renewed drive to claim the accolades of victory that would be carried until the next games of the following night. At 20-19, game point for Vinay D., Vinay S. managed to return a difficult serve that Vinay D. wasn’t able to reach in time, leading to a tie-break round. In a turn of events at the third serve of the tie break, Mogambo, the resident dog of campus named after an infamous Bollywood super-villian, ran into the TT room and snatched the ping pong ball in her villainous teeth. This was the last intact ball, and as Mogambo crunched down on the plastic, so she did on the end of the match, at least until someone could buy a new set of ping pong balls from town. With an inconclusive ending, the players and spectators left the TT room and left the hardships of the match on the table.
Even though the “2015 Finals” may not have had a clear winner or ever actually been a real event, table tennis has been a great source of entertainment and camaraderie  during my stay with SPS.

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About Andrew Shannon

UPenn Earth and Environmental Sciences '15, Masters of Science in Applied Geosciences '16 Intern with SPS for the summer of 2015 in Bagli, Madhya Pradesh