On May 12, 1989, a girl was born to a schoolteacher father and a housewife mother in Goa, India. The father -- a Brahmin originally from Uttar Pradesh -- decided that the child be called Shikha which translates to 'Holy Flame'. Deep in his heart he had a dream that his daughter would one day be a leading light among women.
Almost 25 years later, the flame burns brighter than the dream. That child is a 24-year-old woman, Shikha Pandey, who pushes herself everyday beyond the boundaries of the ordinary.
Shikha is now a Flying Officer in the Indian Air Force and is also representing the Indian national team in the Women's World Twenty20. She is the first lady officer from the Indian forces to represent the national team and only the second (after Dileep Sardesai) to come out of a football-crazy Goa into the Indian national side.
At first sight, Shikha looks quite the next-door-girl, the sort of conscious middle-class girl that you would come across every street in urban India. But when she speaks, there is an unmistakable confidence and determination in her voice which sets her apart from most.
"I always dreamt of becoming a pilot," Shikha says. "That's the reason I chose engineering and I had always been good in my studies."
Shikha was brought up in a liberal Brahmin family which allowed her the freedom to express herself but at the same time taught her the values of good education. She was always brilliant, 'scoring 90+ in both 10th and 12th' and earning accolades.
But while she nurtured her dream of a pliot's life, she suddenly fell in love with cricket, thanks to her father's passion for the game. Shikha delves deep into the recesses of her memory to pinpoint the first time she fell in love with the game.
"I saw my father follow cricket on transistor when I was a kid. But it was probably in 1998 in the Sharjah series, watching Sachin [Tendulkar] play, that I took a real liking to the game," Shikha says.
However it was many years since, and after many a day spent in gully cricket, that Shikha realised she had a real knack for the game. She started playing professional cricket in 2007-08 and impressed one and all, thereby earning a call to the State U-19 team the next year and a Board President's XI call in two years' time.
But despite being on the periphery of the national team -- playing for the Board President's XI for quite a few times -- she was yet to make it to the grandest of stages. That only made her resolve stronger. She took time off her studies to give more time to cricket. Eventually, Shikha's perseverance was rewarded when she was announced in the Indian side for the Women's World Twenty20. She has also been felicitated by the Indian Air Force for becoming the first lady to represent the national team.
Since coming to Bangladesh, while Shikha has not set the world alight, she has proven that she has enough in her to share the dressing room with the likes of Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj. And she wants to keep going as long as she can.
"My father always says one thing. 'You should do what your heart tells you to'," Shikha says. And she has been doing just that.