Despite the proverbial neglect and indifference of their male counterparts, all-encompassing social taboos and family restrictions, as well as lack of patronisation by sports authorities, the sportswomen of Bangladesh have continued to bring laurels for the country in different disciplines. The recent examples include the exploits of our female cricketers, who defeated the Indian women's team in the T-20 women's Asia Cup final in June. The readers may recall that this very Indian team had emerged runners-up in the 2017 women's world cup cricket. As for individual sports, the former Table Tennis queen Zobera Rahman Linu has been a Guinness World Record holder after winning 16 national singles titles and 50 titles overall in her career.
The long-running Chess Queen of Bangladesh Rani Hamid is yet another star, who has been illuminating the country's sporting scene for over four decades. Only recently, she won her 19th national women's chess title following her 75th birthday. Significantly, she has regained the title she last won seven years ago in 2011. In fact, her titles would have totalled 22 if the ones she won before formal recognition by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) were counted. Even if the number is 19, she has most probably set a world record, which should now be accorded due recognition by the Guinness World Records authorities.
The legendary chess queen of the country Rani Hamid (full name Sayeda Jasimunnessa Khatun, nick-name Rani) was born in an aristocratic family of Sylhet in July 1944. Her husband was the renowned sports organizer and longest serving vice-chairman of National Sports Council late Lt. Col. Abdul Hamid, while her two sons Kaiser Hamid and Sohel Hamid were national football team captain and national squash champion respectively. She started playing chess at the age of 34 years, and shot into prominence in the mid-1970s by playing alongside men in the country's chess tournaments. She won six consecutive national women's titles beginning from 1979 since the commencement of national chess championships in Bangladesh.
Rani Hamid was awarded the Women's International Master (WIM) title by FIDE in 1985 after a string of domestic and international successes. In between, she won the British Women's Championship jointly with Helen Milligan in 1983; she followed this up with individual triumphs in two more British championships in 1985 and 1989. She has represented Bangladesh on its women's team at all Women's Chess Olympiads (except 1988 and 1992) since 1986, playing on board no. 1 on every occasion. She also represented the country as a member of the men's team in 1984, 1988 and 1992 Chess Olympiads - a rare feat indeed. Only last year, Rani emerged champion at the Asian Zonal Championships held in Kathmandu, Nepal by beating all her South Asian rivals including those from Bangladesh, by earning eight points out of a maximum possible nine. It was a qualifying event for the World Women's Chess Championship, and Rani has now qualified to take part in the first round of the championship scheduled to be held in Russia towards the end of this year.
Among all games and sports, chess is the game where mental prowess is required most. By winning the national women's chess title in her 75th year, Rani Hamid has once again proved that age is irrelevant when the mind is strong. After winning her 18th title in 2011, she had said, "I am not too excited with the title. I enjoy playing chess as I have always done. I don't set any specific targets now, since I have achieved all that I have wanted from the game. But I will keep playing chess as long as I can". At the end of that championship, the general secretary of Bangladesh Chess Federation had given assurance that they would request the authorities of Guinness World Records to extend recognition to Rani as the winner of the highest number of women's national chess titles. But no visible progress has been made in the matter till now, possibly due to a communication gap with the Guinness authorities.
Rani Hamid's devotion to the game was quite evident even during the recently concluded 38th national chess championship. Her triumph also meant that she won half the titles on offer since the formal commencement of the national chess championships in 1979. Against her phenomenal record, only Shabana Parveen could manage five titles, while Grandmaster Ziaur Rahman could win 11 times amongst men. Although she was assured of the title even before the conclusion of the last round, her concentration did not budge a bit until she won. She could celebrate the regaining of her national title with poise, calmness and style.
In fact, Rani Hamid has now become a luminous symbol for the potentials of women's chess in Bangladesh. Respect and reverence for her among her fellow female chess players was evident from the words of this year's runner-up Nazrana Khan. While speaking to the press, she said, "Rani Apa is different from others; just see how she is becoming champion even at 75 years. Some may claim that age is not a big factor. But you cannot exclude that also. One cannot perform so well without complete devotion and dedication".
Rani Hamid looks at the age factor in a different way. As reported in the media, she said after winning this year's title, "I saw in a foreign newspaper a few days ago that a person became champion at the age of 76; so I thought I should try to become champion at 77". She looks at winning titles at this age in such a simplistic manner. After beating FIDE Master Zakia Sultana in the last round of the recently concluded championship and thereby earning eight points in nine games, she told the press, "See, I was champion for consecutive six times from 1979 to 1984. I won the title after participating for the first time in 1979. At that time, winning championships appeared to be a matter of compulsion. But now no such urge exists. I find joy in seeing so many talented girls coming up to play. I feel good when playing with them. But I also keep the issue of record in my head". It was quite evident how serious this pioneer of Bangladeshi women's chess was on setting records.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is an editorial consultant of The Financial Express and former editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.
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