Bandipora: Looks can be deceptive and that holds true for Tajamul Islam, a seven-year-old soft-spoken girl from a remote north Kashmir village, who is the national kickboxing champion and is all set to represent India at an international event in Italy.
Tajamul won national recognition when she bagged the gold medal in sub-junior category at 2015 National Kickboxing Championship, held at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi.
Her achievement at the national level got her an entry to the World Championships, to be held in Andria, Italy, in November. She would be the first-ever Kashmiri girl to do so.
"I felt so happy that I won and would be going to Italy.
"My mother, who was with me in Delhi, told me that is how you play and knock down your opponent. My father, whom I spoke to on phone, told me that I will get a treat once I reach home and I was treated with my favourite Biryani," Tajamul said.
Tajamul, hailing from Tarkpora village of Bandipora, 65kms from Srinagar, is now a heroine in her village and school -- Army Goodwill School, Bandipora. In fact, kickboxing is not even her forte. She excels in wushu and is also doing well in taekwondo.
Her journey started in 2014 when she joined a local academy, which trains young boys and girls in martial arts.
"I was walking near the stadium here when I saw many young boys and girls training. I saw them punching and all that and told my father that I want to join them and he let me," Tajamul told PTI.
She was declared the best fighter of Jammu and Kashmir after she won the state-level championship, held last year in Jammu, and took home a gold medal.
The chief coach at the championship, Kuldip Handu, impressed with her skills, pitted her against a competitor weighing eight kgs more than her. The lean but agile Tajamul, weighing just 25kgs at that time, got the better of her opponent.
The win at the state-level championship earned her a place at the 2015 National Kickboxing Championship in New Delhi. Despite kickboxing not being her forte, Tajamul, a student of second standard, participated in the championship.
Her opponent was 13-year-old but that did not deter Tajamul, as she knocked her down in just 15 minutes and became the youngest girl to win a national medal.
"I was a little afraid when I saw her (opponent). But then I said to myself that age or body structure does not matter. I will remain focused and give my best shot," Tajamul said.
"I want to win the international championship for my family and my school. I have some amount of fear as I think what will the international players do to me in the ring, but then I know I will knock down everyone," she added.
Her brother and two sisters also practice kickboxing and have taken part in many state-level championships.
"It is in their genes. All the siblings are champions, but Tajamul is far ahead of the pack. She has a fighting spirit even as she looks soft-spoken and cute. Do not be fooled by her innocent looks, they are deceptive," Shabnam Kounser, principal of the school, said.
The principal also said that besides sports, Tajamul is good in studies and other extracurricular activities.
"She dances well. She has her own team here and teaches them dancing. She is a bright kid and very good at studies," Kounser said.
Tajamul said she wanted to become a doctor, and when asked why, she said with a smile: "It will have its own benefits. I will first break bones of my opponents and then treat them."
Her favourite movie is Spider Man but she said she wants to become much bigger than a hero that Spider-Man is.
Having set her eyes set on the international event, Tajamul is eagerly waiting for November, but her father, who works for a construction company, cannot afford to pay for the event fee and players kit.
However, Army, which has supported Tajamul for the state and national events before, would facilitate her Italy plans as well.
"We will be facilitating her participation in the world championship. We have asked her father to forget about the financial problems as we will take care of that aspect. We just told him to not stop her from playing," a senior army official in Bandipora said.
He said the process of acquiring Tajamul and her father's passport is being facilitated by the army and the document will be provided to them in time so that her entry to the world championship is confirmed.
The official said Tajamul's success is an inspiration to the young boys and girls of the Valley.
"She is an inspiration for all. Even I have learned a few things from her. She is a champion. All that the army can do is to inspire children like her and support them. It is their parents who have to see to it that their children chase and realise their dreams," he said.