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Arjun tease becomes reality
- Mother recalls ribbing yesterday’s boy who is today’s champion

New Delhi, Aug. 18: Among the photographs that adorn the drawing room in his officer’s quarters in Delhi Cantonment, Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore beams down from one in his staff duty uniform, just after being conferred the “Sword of Honour” for being the best cadet to pass out in his batch from the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun.

Such is the way it is in many army officers’ homes. The men of the uniformed services like to display the ornaments of achievement, medals won for courage in battle, citations won for serving in difficult conditions and mementoes of little wars that are so often forgotten.

There is one little silver medallion that will now occupy pride of place in the Rathore home because it has been won in a battle that will not be forgotten, a battle that was waged in the mind first. Just consider the facts: this is a country of more than a billion, the army alone is 1 million strong, and all of it put together goes into the making of one silver medallist.

What is it about Rathore that marks him out'

This is that story. And a chapter of that story begins with the narration of a tale that so many Indian mothers in millions of Indian homes tell their little children.

“When we watched Mahabharat on TV, I would tease him that you should be like Arjun and keep your eye on the bird’s eye. Don’t bother about who is doing what or who is scoring how much. You should know what you are doing. All these things only create distractions,” Rathore’s mother Manju recalls having told him time and again.

It is pleasant payback for her now. When Rathore called and finally spoke to his wife Gayatri and mother at 3 this morning away from the glare of the media, he told his mother: “When I took my last shot, I was thinking of you.” The final shot hit the clay birds.

There is an aptness about a soldier winning a contest for marksmanship. Rathore is a second-generation army officer in the Grenadiers’ regiment, in the same unit — 9 — that his father once commanded.

The Grenadiers are hardy infantrymen. The regiment was raised by the British from among the tall and the sturdy who could hurl a grenade a long way.

Rathore himself was in the counter-insurgency operations in the Kashmir Valley during Operation Rakshak from 1994 to 1996.

His mother, Manju, is asked if he served in the Kargil war of 1999. He did not for he had already been marked out by then as an achiever in sports and was well into his training regimen. But, Manju adds, he was in the Valley.

Rathore took to the sport seriously when he was an instructor at the College of Combat, Mhow, teaching recruits and juniors how to fire the medium machine gun.

“When you are looking at the enemy,” he would have told his trainees, “it is important to sight the target with both eyes, freeze at the moment of pulling the trigger, holding your breath if you have to. You shoot to kill, you kill the enemy first or he will kill you”.

There is this aptness in a soldier winning a contest for marksmanship. The difference in Rathore’s instance is that he was shooting for glory, not for a kill.

Gayatri gives a glimpse into the kind of mental discipline he put himself through. Hours spent in yoga and meditating about his shooting made for nerves of steel. And what does she admire most about him' “His determination to do what he decides to do,” says Gayatri.

Manju says there is a belief in luck that son “Chilly” has. For instance, he keeps in his gun case a seed that a Chinese shooter friend gave him.

It has been five months since Rathore touched base with his family as he has been busy training in Italy. Gayatri, a doctor who has just completed a short service commission with the army medical service, says Chilly is just relieved it’s all over.

“Thankfully, with this medal, I feel happy about coming back,” is what he told her after months of intense practice. “How much can you survive on pizzas and pasta!”

Their five-and-a-half-year-old son, Manavaditya, affectionately called Milo, plays with a toy gun his father got him from Italy. Daughter Gauri, at two-and-a-half, does not understand what has happened. “Is he coming back today'” asks Milo as he overhears buzz about his father’s return.

Grateful to the Indian Army that has backed his entire training from the word go, Manju says: “It is a big thing in the army when they spare one officer from active formation. In his case, they have helped us with everything.”

Chilly belongs not only to a family of good marksmen but also to Garabdesar village of Bikaner, which is the homeland of sharpshooters like Maharaja Karni Singh. His father, Colonel (Retd) Lakshman Singh Rathore, and his uncle, Brigadier (Retd) Jagmal Singh Rathore, were both good shots.

“As a child, he always had a good aim,” says Manju. His first success with the gun came at the age of 13 when his uncle had taken him to a shooting range in Jodhpur where he shot 25 out of 25 in the trap, which was a hand-driven one. Though they wrote to Maharaja Karni Singh about sponsorship at the Thunderbolt range, there was no reply.

He, however, trained for hours in the summer heat at Karni Singh shooting range at Tughlakabad in Delhi years later. Now that he is going to be back, the best celebration the Rathores can think of is “spending time together”.

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