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‘I fought ten years to convince myself to move on’

As the table tennis queen Zobera Rahman Linu writes her autobiography this year, it is not going to be just about her undying passion for tennis and sheer determination that brought her the Guinness Book of World Records, it is rather going to be more about her last few years of struggle to prepare herself to leave the love of her life. It is going to be the tales of sacrificing, being the odd one among her friends and the struggling moments like the SAARF games where she had to inject fourteen Voltarin injections in order to play with a severe back injury that ultimately, strained her to leave the job. As Linu steps down from her throne, being the only one to have won the table-tennis championship 16 times at the national level, in many ways she longs to relive the old days. ‘I am satisfied with what I have achieved, but at the end, it is always difficult as my life was associated with sports since the time I was seven,’ says Linu as we seat ourselves in the spacious drawing room in her Dhaka apartment. She has been out all day working on her new business, yet she looks as energetic and charming as ever. There is an unmistaken spark in her doe-shaped eyes, as she shows me the certificate of the Guinness World Records. Her tall stature, combined with a marvelous composure, exudes an immense amount of energy and confidence. The cup-board right behind her is filled with trophies and medals that she has won throughout her thirty years of sporting rule. Linu has won all sorts of awards, including the National Award in 1999. She also played in the international games such as Asian Table Tennis in Japan, Pentangular TT Championship in Hyderabad, Korea and many others. Although, she has retired after a career that span three decades, she is still an active organiser and UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador. ‘It all began when I was seven,’ she remembers fondly. ‘We use to live in Shahzibazar, where there was a huge field and we could play there all day. My father use to take my sister to play tennis in the Officer’s club and I use to feel very jealous,’ she remembers fondly. Soon, she persuaded her father and started playing at the club every evening. ‘I was addicted to it in no time!’ she remembers. And with that began Linu’s career. At eight, she participated in the open table tennis competition. ‘My sister and I were the youngest and we made it to the final round. That was perhaps the beginning of my life as a tennis table player. I do not remember a time since then that I did not play!’ While wanting to continue her passion, Linu has had her own share of compromises as well. ‘It is never easy to be the odd one out, I guess, but somehow, my father and the sport itself had instilled in me so much of confidence that, waking up early in the morning at five and running miles and rushing to school did not seem to be a big deal,’ she says. ‘It was of course at times stressful, to have the physical strength and practice, while studying. But I never liked studying, so I just completed my master’s degree from Jagannath University and devoted myself completely to sports. I knew what I wanted- it was to be at the top.’ The next twenty six years between 1977 and 2001, Linu put in all her zeal and willpower into tennis and won sixteen national championship, which remains the best-ever in any country in the world. ‘I had this constant voice at the back of my mind- ‘I cannot let anyone down and most importantly, I have to retain my position- I cannot lose in any game.’ According to her, losing would have let her position down forever and that was something she could not accept in anyway. The constant determination and yearning to be on the top was not easy. A back injury while playing in one of the national tournaments soon became a reason to leave the love of her life- tennis. ‘I fought with my self for almost more than a decade to come to terms with it. I had to prepare myself to accept the fact that I will not be playing and also that someone else will replace me,’ she says ruefully. Her struggle to continue playing was undeniably stressful. ‘I took fourteen Voltarin injections just to be able to play at the SAARF games, it was during those years that I realised I had taken my passion so seriously and I had fallen in love with it so much that I had not learnt to leave it,’ she says with an evident sigh of sadness. As time passed by, she started playing with younger players. ‘With age, I did not have that physical strength anymore, it was just my experience and skills of many years that earned me championships,’ she admits. ‘I think the players today lack the determination and patience to work hard before gaining fame. They need to practice and take it up more seriously if they want to continue.’ While on one hand, in 1996 she decided to retire from table tennis due to the sever back injury and age, she was informed by the former table tennis player Helal Uddin that she could be making a record if she continued a few more years. ‘He had helped me so much and in fact he has been so determined about it that I had to continue. He sent all my documents and data to the authority of the Guinness Book of World Records. And after that, in 2002, they confirmed it,’ she adds. Has it been difficult being a female player? ‘I never felt it in anyway. I was lucky that my father was an avid sports lover and he inspired me to play more and take it up as a career. It was also because I never had any financial problems, so it was easy for me to be in a career like this,’ she explains. But in terms of lifestyle, hers was different. ‘I practiced all day and made it a part of my life. I always had limited friends and loved being alone.’ Now, Linu is trying to start up a new business and living with her parents. ‘I did not get married because I did not probably have the time or did not find the right man. I will marry once I find someone who understands me and values me for what I am.’ ‘The greatest love of my life will remain to be tennis. It has given me invaluable things like honour, prestige and satisfaction, that will last a life time,’ she says smiling. Being the general secretary of Abahani, Linu feels more talent needs to be given the support and incentive to play and go a long way. She plans to continue training young talents and ensure she can do something to build this area to become stronger.

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