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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Target: Take it Easy

Could the right parenting lessons be behind the success of Rahi Sarnobat,the first Indian to win a World Cup gold in pistol shooting?

Written by Shivani Naik | New Delhi | Updated: May 28, 2019 12:05:27 pm

Could the right parenting lessons be behind the success of Rahi Sarnobat,the first Indian to win a World Cup gold in pistol shooting?

For someone pursuing a precision sport,which demands relentless focus on the bull’s eye for hours,shooter Rahi Sarnobat’s childhood was dotted with many distracting pastimes (rolling in the haystack in her home in the most rustic of Maharashtra’s cities,Kolhapur,was just one of them). Her grandfather,Narayanrao Sarnobat,an idealistic patriarch of the joint family,would sit her down and encourage little Rahi — even then quiet,chubby and sharp-witted — to take up different activities,like writing prose,drawing sketches and still life,or doing a long-distance course in English. He also read short stories and novellas in Marathi to her,and got her hooked to the satire of Marathi litterateur Pu La Deshpande. It gave her just the right dose of irreverence that now takes the edge off her sport’s maniacal intensity. Things can get rough in pistol shooting,for every day is not like winning India’s first gold,like Rahi Sarnobat did at the shooting World Cup in Changwon,Korea,this month in the 25-metre sports pistol event.

None of these childhood pursuits were intended to be useful,or shoved down her throat as a part of a grand career plan. It was to be a part of her childhood experience,not a preparatory boot camp to adulthood,and she was often reminded that life wasn’t a rat race. “She scored 80 per cent in her Class X examinations. But I was determined that she would not do medical (college) or engineering or an MBA or anything else that everyone runs after. My daughter would not do anything routine,” says father Jeevan Sarnobat,a businessman who deals in spare parts for sugar factories.

It’s tough,therefore,to credit the monkish strain shooters are known for to anything particular in the 22-year-old woman’s genes. Or to gauge where her dedication comes from,except that it seems to be present in her naturally.

Far from the maddeningly silent shooting range,Rahi loves romantic novels,and can hold forth on the pathos of a typical short story by Shankar Patil,Kolhapur’s own perceptive writer of rural and social themes. She even shot the final in Korea in keen anticipation of what would happen to Priya,the character from the TV drama series Bade Achhe Lagte Hain. “Korea is behind India by three hours,and my roommate had to shoot her match the next day,so we couldn’t stay up. But I woke up at 6 in the morning,and downloaded the previous day’s episode. Imagine everyone else knowing what’s happened to Priya,and not me!” she says.

It’s the same lightness of purpose and ambition that Rahi carries onto the firing range,with her family watching over her,so that goals and targets don’t get too overbearing. “I’ve told her that the day you come home sulking and cry and mope after a medal,I’ll stop your game. Nothing should be so stressful that it makes you depressed. The day it becomes a chore and brings insecurity or greed or jealousy,I’ll pull you out,” her father says.

No one speaks about her sport at home,except a blanket send-off when she travels abroad — eat properly,stay safe,shoot on target. Neither was Rahi asked to bring home glowing report cards from school. “The only thing we stressed was that she should go for NCC (National Cadet Corps) regularly so she would learn discipline on her own. Never mind if it affected her studies. I wanted a strong girl,someone who would be physically and mentally sturdy. We don’t like girls who cry timidly in our homes in Kolhapur. They should be gritty,” says Jeevan.

Rahi started out with the bulky rifle,but her parents were most encouraging when she moved to a handy pistol in shooting. She travelled out of Kolhapur and brought home a school record in air pistol. Since Kolhapur didn’t have a 0.22 range,Rahi would stay half the month for training at her maternal uncle’s home in Mumbai,before she would come to national prominence with medals at the Commonwealth Youth Games and at an event in US’s Fort Benning.

At the London Olympics,Rahi finished 19th,but the family shrugged it off,refusing to analyse a setback. “We don’t ask her why she did not return with a medal,and till date we’ve never discussed the Olympics with her,” her father says. At home,mother Prabha would instead fuss over whether to feed her child chicken in the griddle’s spicy Kolhapuri red,or the more fiery white curry. “And we let her sleep,” she says.

Always a khushaal chendu (happy-go-lucky child) and her grandfather’s favourite,Rahi believes her family has moulded her character by simply letting her be. “The way they are has rubbed off on me. In shooting,personality matters a lot,and I have that quiet confidence. I don’t have trouble concentrating and I’m definitely not satisfied with winning just one World Cup gold medal,” she says,allaying fears that this early success might stagnate her ambition.

Jeevan Sarnobat’s earliest advice to his daughter was: “You are not the only shotter training hard in the world. Someone will be better than you on a given day. So keep up your training,but don’t presume you deserve to win always.” It’s something Rahi has internalised as well as her new gun-grip. “My grandfather (he died in 2006) believed in always doing the correct thing even if it didn’t always benefit him. Other family members would be angry with him because he would be taken advantage of,but he’d tell me it’s the simplest,stress-free thing to do. Never worry about consequences,he’d say,” Rahi recalls.

It has shaped her interactions with the media,her composure on the firing range and her idea of success. No wonder the din in Changwon,with Korean spectators banging their clappers,and egging on their own shooter in the final duel didn’t bother her one bit. “I knew they could clap all they wanted for their own shooter. In the end,they’d have to clap for me,” she says.

A bold markswoman had the last laugh — one her favourite satirist and writer Pu La would’ve been proud of.

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