Jitu Rai scrunches his eyes and shakes his head violently just thinking of the prospect: reading books. “They give me a headache… The words get all scrambled and annoy my eyes,” he says. He points accusingly at his head and says: Mota dimaag. (Thick head).
“I hate books. I just can’t bear to read them. I guess my base in reading was weak, because the school I went to wasn’t much of a school. When the base is weak, you fear even going close to the thing. I just don’t feel like picking a book!” Rai says, summarily discarding big tomes and slim paperbacks as possible recreations when taking time off guns and pellets.
The international pistol shooter has been in the form of his life this year with seven podiums at top meets — and he’s medalled at them all — Commonwealth Games, World Championships and Asian Games in just three months. Shooters yearn for that sort of perfection, and go to insane lengths of fine-tuning when chasing the coveted “zone.”
Jitu Rai shoots down all talk of that “perfect mental state” in his sport of extreme precision, with a dismissive brush of his hand. “There is nothing called perfection, and you can’t humanly control everything. All you need to remember is the pistol is not firing you, you are firing the pistol,” he says.
At a felicitation function where he’s handed a trophy by Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan, fellow shooters talk of Rai’s uncluttered mind, which has helped him strike the consistency that helps him bring back a medal from every meet he heads to. Olympic Gold Quest’s Viren Rasquinha calls him the Devendro Singh of shooting, the comparison with the fearless boxer not just about how diminutive both are, but about how little they fuss over anything in their sport.
“That’s the beauty of Jitu Rai. Nothing fazes him. Not missed flights, not how the Games Village is, not rivals’ reputations, nothing,” Rasquinha says.
At another felicitation earlier, Jitu Rai is introduced to one of the biggest icons from his field, and the Naib-Subedar from the Gorkha Regiment flashes his beaming smile for the lensmen, posing with the gentleman. When asked if he knows who he stood alongside, Rai simply says ‘No’ and heads to the buffet.
Ask him if he finds the sunset as seen from his sea-facing hotel in Mumbai glorious or the sea vast and immense, and pat comes the bubble-burster — “Marine Drive, yeh toh woh pyaar waali jagah hai” — a matter-of-fact description of cuddling couples along the promenade.
After dozens of interviews answering similar questions politely, another bunch drags him back to the corner to unleash more of the same. He chuckles uncontrollably recalling something. “It’s like that scene from Salman Khan’s Tere Naam. He realises there’s nothing left for him, so he goes and quietly sits back in the van to be taken back to the mental hospital,” he guffaws. “I’m like that today.” Indian shooting’s brightest star right now, likening himself to an asylum inmate; he wears his new-found fame lightly. His biggest concern for the day is the speech he’s been told to make at the reception-dinner which he says will kill his appetite.
Just to make things interesting and making up a contingency, Jitu Rai has been trying out a spare weapon. “There’ve been times when shooters get affected by that. We want to make sure he’s used to a second gun,” Rasquinha explains. “Oh that! Yes, I didn’t feel any difference,” Jitu Rai says, of a weapon in a precision sport that has 50 different parts. “I rule the pistol, the pistol doesn’t rule me,” he adds.