Shimla, Aug. 3: When her son dropped out after Class X, Roshni Devi was frankly unhappy. Sixteen, she thought, was no age to give up one’s studies and join the army.
“I’d been unhappy when he refused to go to college,” Subedar Vijay Kumar’s mother admitted today at the family’s home in Harsour village, 181km from Shimla. “But now, by winning so many medals, he has made me proud.”
Vijay’s medal tally in international competitions alone is 27, including 13 gold, two of which came in the 2006 Commonwealth Games and three in Delhi four years later. He has another 60 gold medals in national meets and has won the Arjuna Award and the Sena Medal.
It was in the army that Vijay, 27, learnt to shoot — Himachal Pradesh doesn’t have a single civilian shooting range. It’s the army that paid for his training while helping him complete Class XII and go on to earn a BA.
“Full credit to the army, which supported his training. The discipline he imbibed is because of his defence background,” father Banku Ram, an army subedar turned farmer, said.
Harsour has about 60 households and all the basic amenities such as water, electricity, roads, a school and even a college. Ram described his family as “very average middle-class” but Vijay has an Innova and was gifted Rs 35 lakh by the state government last year.
Born on August 19, 1985, Vijay’s skill was honed at the Army Marksmanship Unit in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh.
“Yes, he’s one of our boys and visited us two years ago,” said Colonel Amit Tewatia, commanding officer of 16 Dogra, the unit to which Vijay belongs. The Dogras, drawn largely from the hills of Jammu and Himachal, make up one of the best infantry regiments in the army.
Vijay’s achievement means the army can claim it does shoot straight. When Rajyavardhan Rathore shot silver in Athens 2004, it was seen as inevitable that a soldier should be the marksman who gave India its biggest individual achievement in the Olympics at the time.
Abhinav Bindra’s gold in Beijing 2008 overtook that. Bindra, who had trained in his personal range and abroad, was appropriated by the army and conferred an honorary commission as an officer.
But the scale of Vijay’s victory is greater than Rathore’s given he is from the Personnel Below Officer Rank.
Ram said Vijay had called before the finals and sounded confident. “He sounded calm. He told me he would get a medal today. He was not sure which one but he said he would get one for sure,” Ram told a correspondent of firstpost.com in London.
The firstpost.com correspondent wrote after a recent interview with Vijay: “One thing which stood out during the interview was the frequency of him talking about ‘mental strength’.”
“I am concentrating more on mental strength,” Vijay was quoted as saying. “We don’t just keep shooting all day, we need to do a lot of yoga and other concentration exercises.” He spoke about how surroundings matter for a shooter. “The correct atmosphere is vital for a shooter to develop. Being in the army has helped me a lot.”
Vijay has two elder sisters who are married. He had promised grandmother Brahmi Devi he would tie the knot after winning an Olympic gold. He can’t do it this time, having finished 31st in the qualifiers in his other event, the 10m air pistol.
His mother said when Vijay returns home, he would first be taken to the local Jawaliji temple. “Then we’ll see what he decides about marrying.”