Raipur: From being a popular `gali` hockey player to leading the Indian women hockey squad, Saba Anjum has travelled a long way fighting abject poverty to set a benchmark for underprivileged aspirants in sports.
Saba, the veteran striker and former captain, will be awarded with the prestigious Arjuna award in Delhi on Saturday.
The 28-year-old made it to the national squad in 2000 with the U-18 AHF Cup and has never looked back since then.
"This has been the most special year so far in my life as I was blessed with a baby a few days back and now getting Arjuna award for hockey. What could be more special for a woman," said Saba.
"I never expected to come such a long way as it has been 18 years` journey with the stick. Getting this award is also an encouraging sign for the budding hockey players from the small state of Chhattisgarh," she said.
Sharing her early times, she said, "In 1994, I picked the hockey stick for the first time seeing some male children, who played in my locality Kelabadi in Durg town and eventually I started playing with them."
Daughter of a muezzin in a mosque, Saba is the youngest of four siblings. She used to wake up at 6 am to play hockey. Although she was not good at studies, she never let her passion for hockey take a back seat.
"Earning two meals was not an easy task for my family that time. I remember once my mother sold some house items to buy a pair of shoes for me," she said.
"My father used to tell me that a smooth sea never makes a good mariner and following the same lesson I moved ahead."
During her 13-year-long international career, she scored 92 goals in 200 matches.
Saba came into the limelight as the youngest of all participants in hockey competition in the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games.
She has played in three Asian Games, four Asia Cups, Commonwealth Games, junior world cups and many other international hockey events.
Recalling her best moments in the game, she said, "I struck six goals including the winning one in the final of Shastri cup 2007 and was awarded player of the tournament."
She consistently maintained her position as a good forward striker and was elevated as skipper of the women`s squad in 2011.
But it doesn`t matter much to Saba, who says that it`s an honour to play for the country whether you are leading a side or not.
On the game of hockey, she says, "when you are in contest with a team inside the field, then a fraction of second, an ounce of effort or a moment of indecision can turn the outcome of whole game. The same way hockey progresses in the field."
She is currently away from the field as she has been blessed with a baby recently. However, she often visits local ground `Mahamaya` where she practices with her coach Tanveer Akil.
"I cannot leave my obsession for hockey. I visit my home ground where several young girls are learning hockey from coach Mr Akil. I give them tips whenever I visit there. It makes me happy when they say they wish to become like me and other women sportspersons including Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal," Saba said.
Commenting on the performance of women`s hockey squad, she says, "Our team is really doing well which was clearly evident in their performance in in recent world cup. More youngsters are coming in and showing good strength and skills. They can do a lot better if they continue with the same performance," Anjum said.
She also felt that playing against countries like China, Australia and Argentina makes a side more strong.
On her comeback in the team, she says, "I hope I will be on ground in a couple of months.
Saba was earlier honoured with Chhattisgarh`s top Gundadhur sports award, besides Shaheed Kausahal Yadav sports award.
She is serving as deputy superintendent of police in the state police department.