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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Sanjay Chakravarty: A great grassroots coach who showed Indian shooters the path to glory

Former India international shooter-turned-coach Sanjay Chakravarty passed away in Mumbai on Saturday due to Covid-19. He was 79.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | New Delhi |
Updated: April 5, 2021 8:15:36 am
Sanjay Chakravarty with his trainees

In the winter of 1988, Anjali Bhagwat stood at the firing point of the Maharashtra Rifle Association’s shooting range in South Mumbai, fumbling with a rifle and struggling to load ammunition. The National Championship was just seven days away. But that was not the reason Bhagwat had hit the ranges – she was there as part of her National Cadet Corps (NCC) training.

“At NCC, it was only about (shot) grouping (to measure consistency and accuracy) and line positioning. I did not even know shooting was a sport,” Bhagwat says.

From a distance, a veteran shooter, holding a cup of tea in one hand and a cigarette in another, watched Bhagwat’s struggles. “Without hesitation, he walked up to me and taught me the basics,” Bhagwat, who not just competed at the Nationals days later but also won a silver medal, says. “That moment changed my life and the entire credit for that goes to Sir.”

‘Sir’ is former India international shooter-turned-coach Sanjay Chakravarty, who passed away in Mumbai on Saturday due to Covid-19. He was 79.

Bhagwat was one of the first shooters Chakravarty took under his wings. And from the years that followed, the Dronacharya Awardee produced shooters who have won hundreds of medals in international tournaments, including the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, World Cup and the Olympics. Some of them who trained under him include Deepali Deshpande, Suma Shirur, Anuja Jung, Gagan Narang and Ayonika Paul.

In the process, Chakravarty played an important role in developing the sport in which India is now one of the powerhouses in the world. “He was the first one to hold our hands and show us the way. We owe our entire career, entire life to him,” says Suma, a former world record holder and an Arjuna Awardee. “Who knew shooting is a sport! And 25 years ago, who could have dreamt about going to the Olympics? He showed us the dream, showed us the way.”

Self-taught

After a modest playing career, Chakravarty started coaching at a time when the sport – especially rifle and pistol events – was still in the nascent stages of its development in the country.

Chakravarty, who learnt the basics of the sport during his time with the Navy, was largely self-taught as a coach.

“We learnt a lot of things on the go and he made our basics very strong,” Suma says. “But he focused a lot on psychological training, which was mostly unheard of in the early 1990s.”

Chakravarty wrote articles on the importance of visualisation in shooting, prepared shooters to remain tough mentally and focused on understanding, and balancing, the body, given that the tiniest of movements can spoil a shot.

The lack of infrastructure, though, made technical training tough. The equipment was not easily accessible, ranges were few – Bhagwat says there was a time in the beginning when they used to practise for 50m events but cutting the target size and putting it on the 25m range.

Narang calls Chakravarty a ‘great grassroots-level coach who made champions.’ “During that time, it wasn’t about technique because getting an opportunity to train was a big task in itself. So, he did all he could to motivate us to keep continuing in spite of the challenging situations,” the Olympic bronze medallist, who was coached by Chakravarty during his early days, says. “His style was to recognise the strengths in you and build on them. He would be jovial and motivate you to realise your potential.”

In an interview with Scroll in 2018, Chakravarty said he did not marry ‘because shooting was everything for me.’ His students attest to that. Ashok Karande, a former marksman, says Chakravarty would spend the whole day travelling to shooting ranges and colleges across Mumbai to coach youngsters.

“He would not wait for a shooter to approach him, as is the case usually with coaches. If he saw potential in someone, he would volunteer to coach and never bothered about money. In the 18 years I have known him, he never coached for money,” Karande says.

Even after he was diagnosed with intestine cancer at the age of 70, Chakravarty did not stop coaching. “He would tell his family he is going downstairs for a short walk but then take an auto to the nearest range,” Karande adds.

Chakravarty leaves behind a significant legacy. After he set the ball rolling in the late 80s and early 90s, shooters started sprouting from different regions of Maharashtra. The state, as well as its capital Mumbai, now boasts of decent infrastructure while Chakravarty’s trainees have now turned to coaching and run academies.

Narang says the Dronacharya Award bestowed upon him in 2017 was a fitting tribute. “He could have stuck to one of his shooters and coached him or her till the Olympics. But he did not want recognition for himself. He instead continued to work behind the scenes and produced many talented shooters. In that sense, he was a great grassroots-level coach.”

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