Her mother Nomita once took her football, punctured it and cut it in half. The vehemence in that simple, brutal act may not be obvious at first. A girl raised in poverty wanted only to play her favourite sport in the evening, and a desire as innocuous as that led a mother to bring out the knife to cut it down.
The girl who was moved to tears by her mother's action is none other than Krishna Rani Sarkar, the captain of the Bangladesh U-16 women's team that emerged Group C champions of the AFC U-16 Women's Championship Qualifiers earlier this month. She led from the front, scoring eight goals in matches against Iran, Chinese Taipei, Kyrgyzstan, Singapore and United Arab Emirates as her side put together a display of dominance that belied their humble origins.
Not just for Krishna, it is a reality for most of her teammates that playing football and winning are the least of their struggles, which began with the very decision to play the sport they love. In the acutely conservative societies of rural Bangladesh, the pursuit of sporting excellence by girls is frowned upon.
“What could I do? I could not control myself after the non-stop aggravation from neighbours and also because of the uncertainty surrounding my daughter and my family's uncertain future,” Nomita said.
The neighbours' tongues had been wagging ever since Krishna, aged only four, started playing football with local girls and boys at a playground adjacent to her house. That she was good in her studies -- her exam results placed her at or near the top of the class from classes one to five -- did nothing to diminish the prejudice.
Nothing changes attitudes like success, however, as the same neighbours are now full of praise. Her and the U-16 team's rousing success has lifted the profile of the remote Uttar Pathiala village, populated by around 300 families. Now people from all over the country come to see Krishna.
Neighbour Badsa Miah said that previously almost no one from outside the village had visited the area prior to Krishna's success. “We are amazed at Krishna's success and she has enabled us to hold our heads up in pride in front of others,” he said.
“Now the situation has changed and the same neighbours and villagers are coming to my house and expressing their delight and pride at my daughter's success,” Nomita, singing a different tune now, added.
When Nomita destroyed her daughter's football, it was Krishna's paternal uncle Gour Chandra Sarkar who kept the flame alive by buying her a new one and inspiring her to keep playing.
“Girls are playing football and doing well now, but girls who want to play need the support of their parents, relatives and neighbours,” Krishna said, who believes that the support from her father, her paternal uncles, primary school teacher Sayim-Al-Mamun and high school teacher Golam Raihan Bapon have proved crucial in her development.
“Of them, Bapon Sir not only gave me inspiration; he actually made me a footballer,” she added.