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Deepak Kumar grew up in Jagatpur, North Delhi, where street fights were a way of life. To ensure his son stayed away from trouble, Deepak’s father Raj asked him to enrol in a vedic school in Dehradun, where he spent a decade reading the vedas and upanishads. It is a touch ironic that the sound of bullets being fired echos at the 10-metre air rifle hall of the Karni Singh Shooting Range drowning out the voice of a very sagely-sounding Deepak. He has become a shooter but not the kind who will have a run-in with the law.
It is perhaps apt that the 29-year-old, who can reel off theories of the alternate universe will compete in an event which was dominated by the zen-like Abhinav Bindra who retired last year. Gagan Narang has decided to focus only on the prone and in the absence of the two top guns, Deepak, along with Ravi Kumar and fairly experienced Satyendra Singh will represent India at the ISSF World Cup in the 10 metre air rifle. They will be up against an extremely strong 10m air rifle field, which comprises former World Champion Peter Sidi of Hungary and Iran’s Hossein Bagheri.
On Friday, Deepak will make his World Cup debut. How he took to shooting when people expected him to become a teacher of vedic science has to do with him wanting to disprove the general perception.
The reaction of people when they saw him in the dress-code of the vedic school- dhoti and kurta — was ‘yeh dhoti kurta pehenkar kya karenge. Shikshak banenge kya?’.
But Deepak was influenced by the cadets at the Indian Military Academy, which is based in Dehradun. He was determined to join the air force and made the cut. It was after joining the services that Deepak took up shooting. “My father Raj wanted us to get out of that place (Jagatpur). His priority for us was not a nice job or to earn a lot of money,” Deepak says, switching between Hindi and English. “He had just one aim — acha insaan banana hamein. Not machines.”
On Friday, Deepak will hope to make a mark at the biggest shooting event to be held in India since the World Cup in 2003. Although it is not a qualifying tournament, the stakes are high for Indian shooters, looking to cement their place in the squad, which is going through rebuilding phase after the Rio Olympics debacle, where the contingent returned without a medal for the first time since the Athens Olympics of 2004.
The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) has since appointed Olek Mikhailov. The Ukrainian was the coach of the Brazilian team at the Rio Olympics and was originally scheduled to join the camp two months ago. Because of visa-related issues, though, he took charge just a couple of weeks.
The Indians haven’t won big in the rifle events globally of late but have consistently challenged at the Asian level. Mikhailov’s challenge will be to ensure the transition remains smooth going into the new Olympic cycle. “We have traditionally been a competitive side in rifle shooting. So it’s an important for us to prove that rifle shooting is in safe hands after Abhinav’s retirement and Gagan’s decision not to continue shooting in this event,” Deepak says.
Deepak is the youngest member of the rifle squad. Ravi, 27, has won an Asian Games team bronze in 2014 in this event along with Bindra and Sanjeev Rajput but apart from that, he hasn’t competed much at major events.
Satyendra, an armyman, is technically the most experienced shooter in the team. He has been active since 2004 but has competed in just 11 out of 48 World Cups conducted since then — the last being three years ago at Fort Benning, USA.
Things aren’t too different on the women’s side as well, where India’s campaign will be led by world university champion Vinita Bhardwaj. Former Asian champion Pooja Ghatkar and Meghana Sajjanar are the other two members of the squad. Olympian Apurvi Chandela will compete in the Minimum Qualification Score category and will not be eligible for finals.
There will be new faces in the trap events as well. Apart from the veteran Seema Tomar, young shooters Rajeshwari Kumari and Manisha Kheer will be a part of the team that will compete on Friday. The focus will firmly be on the two rifle events. And Deepak knows this will be the best chance for him and the others to make an impression. “It’s important to overcome bhay (fear) and ved (anger) on the range. Shooting is all about shanti (calmness). That, I can do. Hopefully, high scores will follow.”