Swimming splendour

Aspiring to become a Medical Doctor, Zarka Najeeb Drabu, became the youngest and only girl swimmer to swim across the Dal Lake. A decade later her record remains intact.  Shiekh Tabish traces her journey as she anxiously waits for her record to be broken

Zarka Najeeb Drabu

Imagine swimming a distance of 15 Kilometres for seven long hours without a pause. Now, before you think that act was done by some trained swimmer, then hold your breath. The feat was achieved by 8-year-old girl from Srinagar’s Karan Nagar area! When her mates and friends were still busy playing with their dolls and toys at home, Zarka Najeeb Drabu in 2004 became the youngest girl from Kashmir to swim across the Dal Lake.

But her achievement was no way a throwing surprise for those who had seen Zarka growing up while floating with and against the water currents.

She was the only girl and the youngest participant among hundreds of boys when she went for a Dal cross with her school, Mallinson Girls School Srinagar. However, crossing Dal Lake at a tender age wasn’t a cakewalk for her. The feat needed lot of strength and talent. But as Zarka plunged into the waters, she soon left scores startled at the scene. It was display of passion and perseverance when she swam continuously for seven hours to cross the water body with a big smile on her face.

But before she received accolades for her performance, Zarka was practicing hard by putting up some serious efforts. It was her mother who stood by her side every time she went for swimming practice. Despite being a working lady, her mother always spared some time for her.

“My mother is my inspiration,” says Zarka, now 18, and a Class 12 pass out from Mallinson. “She is the one who sensed my inclination towards swimming as a kid. And then she stood like a rock behind me.”

Zarka, who is presently preparing for the Medical entrance exam, didn’t disappoint her mother. She kept winning and fetching laurels for herself. It was due to her persistent good show in swimming that she was awarded as the best swimmer in 2012 in her school. But before that as well, she had won many award certificates for swimming.

Aspiring to become the best in the business, Zarka says will power and dedication for swimming keeps her going. “Dal Cross has taught me that there are no shortcuts in life,” she says. “If you are focused and determined to swim continuously for seven hours, you are capable of achieving anything you want to.”

Her parents are her greatest strength, who have taught her to dream big. But apart from her parents, Zarka gives credit of her successful swimming stint to her teachers. “It was they [teachers] who supported me to make my dream come true,” she says. “I can never forget Savita kaul [her teacher in Mallinson] for encouraging me and cheering every stroke of mine.”

Now after a decade, her record as the youngest swimmer to cross Dal Lake is still intact. During all these years, her ties with swimming grew only stronger. And, she is now eager to represent state at the larger platform in near future.

Other than swimming, Zarka is fond of reading. Unlike many teenagers of her age who seem devotional towards social media, she wants to spend most of her free time with nature. “I think, being a nature lover teaches you how to stay realistic in life. This is entirely different experience which one can’t get by devoting his/her time to virtual space, which is making many of us think and behave in weird manner.”

Like her father, she too wants to become a doctor apart from continuing her passion for swimming. “Being in medical profession is something very meaningful to me, but it is no way an attempt to severe my passion for swimming,” she says.

Already a record holder, she wants more and more girls from the valley to take swimming as sport. “I want someone to break my record,” she says, “so that swimming as a sport would touch a new height in the valley.”

Zarka wants to convey to all those girls who want to take swimming as a sport that they can “achieve their goal” without anybody raising objections if conduct themselves with “decency and discipline”.

“But any goal which is achieved with dignity and uprightness can help one to rewrite some conventional codes of society,” she says. “And yes, swimming is one such sport which has ability to do so, if only pursued with a sense of dignity.”


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