Ruma Chatterjee died the way she lived, on wheels. For her, life was essentially about hours on the bicycle saddle pushing pedals. First as a competitor and for the past 20 years as India coach. She was 51 and is survived by her mother and five sisters.
A spinster, Chatterjee was a senior accountant with BSNL and occasionally stayed in the south-west Kolkata suburb of New Alipore with her ailing 77-year-old mother.
Most of the time she was at preparatory camps putting the national women's team and from this year, according to her friend and Cycling Federation of India (CFI) treasurer Bani Ghosh, the men's too through their paces. Chatterjee was an executive committee member of the CFI. "She was a stickler for punctuality. Such was her personality that even the boys were scared of her," said Ghosh adding it was difficult for her to be talking of her friend in the past tense, a friend with whom she sometimes shared lodgings in central Kolkata. Staying there made it convenient for Chatterj-ee to take trainees to the eastern centre of the Sports Authority of India or to the Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue for practise.
"We met in 1979. I am six-seven years older and was on the verge of retiring. She was a newcomer," said Ghosh.
Among Chatterjee’s career highlights, Ghosh said, were representing India in successive Asian championships from 1983. She fractured her hand in a competition in Bangalore and that fast-tracked a coaching career, said Ghosh. Chatterjee coached India at the 2010 CWG, Asian Games and Asian championships.
"None of us married so it was sports and our friends that actually keep us ticking," said former India cricketer and selector Mithu Mukherjee, Chatterj-ee’s friend for over three decad-es. "We met at the White Bord-er Club (on the Kolkata Maidan) when she had come to play cricket. She chose cycling thereafter but the friendship stuck."
Mukherjee said Chatterjee was "like a father figure in the family. And whenever something heavy had to be moved or lifted, we would ask Ruma to do it." Years ago, Chatterjee, Ghosh and another lady friend had overpowered a gang of men who had broken into a shop.
With India winning four medals in the last Asian championship in Delhi under Chatter-jee, Mukherjee said she had asked for a sumptuous treat. "We were waiting for her to come to Kolkata for that."
Her body will be brought to Kolkata on Wednesday, said Ghosh.