Zobera Rahman Linu- the living legend who won the national table tennis championships in the individual category 16 times. Instances of such endurance and dedication are truly rare in both the local and international arena and it has been deservedly recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records.
But are words strong enough to reflect the achievement of this luminary? Even an interview session of two to three hours will not suffice to capture her remarkable life and career; but, The Pages team were not disappointed with the brief time we spent with her – we had the privilege to be in a legend’s presence, that too in her home in an intimate setting.
We got to hear her inspiring stories of achievement and received invaluable bits of wisdom. ‘Linu apa’sits in her exquisitely decorated drawing room and shares with us, and our dear readers, the story of her incredible journey to success.
The Pages: Let’s start with your childhood.
Linu: I was born in Kaptai, Chittagong and lived there till I was five. From there my father (a former Engineer) was transferred to Shahji Bazar, Sylhet. Perhaps this was the main reason why we became closer to nature; began to participate in sports. Chi Buri, Gollachut, Marbel- were some integral parts of our life, I liked to forage blackberries a lot.
The Pages: How did you come to play table tennis?
Linu: Father used to play table tennis in the Engineer’s Club. My elder sister, Munira Morshed Helen, was the first national champion in the history of table tennis in Bangladesh.
One day I followed my sister when she was going out to play and it was love at first sight! A tiny ball was being hit over the table endlessly, but it was not breaking. That single ball was grabbing and keeping everyone’s attention.
I had fallen in love. We also started to play at home. Father noticed our enthusiasm and bought us a new table.
I started when I was eight and participated in an open table tennis tournament at the age of nine (1973). I participated in the tournament wearing shorts, while all my opponents were very senior in comparison. The next year (1974) I played at the National Table Tennis Championship. My elder sister Helen was the favorite to win the tournament and in the final she found a nine-year-old girl standing in front of her. It was me. Helen apa became the champion, while I took second place.
The Pages: Your education?
Linu: It started in Kaptai. Then with every single decision made by my father’s office superiors, I was moving constantly – Shahji Bazar, Dhaka, Narsingdi, Lalmatia and then, at last, entered Jagannath University (Masters in Psychology).
The Pages: Let’s discuss the technical aspects of your game. Which one is more important for the game- eyesight or technique?
Linu: It’s actually not like that. Table Tennis is a complete game. You need to combine everything – eyesight, technique as well as your brain. I was quite aware of my stamina, worked really hard at the gym and my lifestyle. Studied up a lot on nutrition. At one point, I found my stamina level going down. Then I tried to use my brain more – to study my opponent more closely.
The Pages: Did you study psychology for this very reason? In order to study the opponent’s mind?
Linu: (Smiling) not really. I took psychology long after. From an early age, I was very much interested in studying human psychology. Later when the opportunity came, I took psychology. It went like that.
The Pages: If you could start all over again, what would you do differently?
Linu: I never liked the idea of working nine to five. I would have developed a plan and kept sports at the center of my focus. Besides that, I would definitely try my hand at many more things.
The Pages: What has been your most remarkable achievement so far?
Linu: Of course, the record I hold in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Pages: How did it feel having your name being added into an internationally recognized publication and authority like the Guinness Book of World Records?
Linu: No words would be good enough to describe that feeling. But, it was never easy. In 93 I had a serious back injury and I was planning to retire. I never placed third, I was either the champion or the runner up. So at one point, I decided to quit. At that time, the General Secretary of National Table Tennis Federation said- don’t quit. You have a shot at breaking the world record.
It was very difficult to start again. Age was not on my side and neither was fitness. Therefore, I started to work hard again.
I worked tirelessly, gave everything I could in preparation for the National Championship (1999). But, the tournament didn’t take place! I decided to keep going anyway and kept working hard for the year 2000 championship.
Fate was unbelievably cruel again, the tournament was postponed once again! This time, I lost all hope and motivation to fight back. Nothing was in my favor – but all my family members and well-wishers urged me to keep going and kept encouraging me nonstop. And so I started to work hard once again, and finally broke the record at the 2001 championship.
The Pages: Regarding the future of our country’s sports?
Linu: Nothing will change if we don’t see things from a professional perspective. In most cases, sportspeople participate just to earn their livelihood. For them, sports is just a means to pay the bills, not a passion.
Organizers also consider sports as a kind of social work. They receive no support from the governing people. This is probably the reason structures are breaking down.
The Pages: You are an icon in a country in which women don’t receive enough freedom and respect. How do you feel about those youngsters who want to be involved in sports, but society won’t permit or accept them?
Linu: This is what upsets me the most. There is a common misconception – sports will make you dark, which will become an obstacle to finding a good husband. This is the area where change is absolutely necessary. Education does not necessarily mean attaining higher degrees such as a Ph.D. you also have to be generous and cultured enough to learn the art of respect.
The Pages: Other than table tennis, what do you like the most?
Linu: I always considered travelling to be a vital part of education. My life will be nothing if there is no travelling. Travelling helps me to pass time on my own.
I travelled to many places still wish to visit Sweden, Mauritius and Poland.
I want to see Auli (ski destination in the Himalayan Mountains), want to visit Rishikesh and see the life of the saint. Shopping is good, but my main desire is to have a bit of time to be with myself.
I don’t want anything big, it’s just the little things in life that make me happy. I love literature, poetry and drama. Till date, four dramas of mine have been aired- ‘Valobashar Holud Bristi’, ‘Nirjone Nivrite’, ‘Neel Megher Shopno’, ‘Megher Barri Jabo’, ‘Mono Nandini’.
The Pages: your favorite sports, other than table tennis?
Linu: Lawn tennis. I am a big fan of Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, and Chris Evert. In cricket, I like watching Sachin Tendulkar’s batting.
The Pages: Your favorite writer?
Linu: Sunil Gangopadhay, Maitreyi Devi, Humayun Ahmed… and is it even necessary to mention Rabindranath Tagore distinctly?
The Pages: Your Favourite novel?
Linu: Shesher Kobita, La Nui Bengali.
Days of winter are relatively short in nature. At one point, we suddenly feel it’s time to wrap. Being a little awestruck, I was wondering about the value of perseverance and devotion. How can a person have so much endurance? What could possibly be the secret of such incredible success?
I asked her the question and it was sort of off the record, I was not fully aware. Linu apa became a little nostalgic. She was staring at the wall for a moment and then shared a story that she never told anyone before.
Linu apa was the fourth baby girl for her parents. Her parents were a little disheartened by the fact of having four consecutive baby girls. In her childhood, Linu apa sensed and felt a hint of that sadness.
Then the day came. In the middle of the table tennis table Linu apa saw the solitary ping-pong ball grabbing everyone’s attention. That was the day Linu apa planned the pathway to her glory. She took up the solitary ping-pong ball and the racket and used it to fight all the challenges and discrimination she faced. Deep inside her heart, she planned to do something that would make her family stop feeling the sadness.
She started at the tender age of eight, by now you must surely know all about her achievements.
The Table Tennis board in engineers club, National competition in Dhaka, Asian Games- she conquered everything and won the recognition and admiration from all over the world. Not only the pride of her family, Linu apa is now the pride of the entire nation, she is the champion of Bangladesh and its people.