Members practise at North Calcutta Rifle Club under the guidance of P.K. Acharya. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Joydeep Karmakar no longer has acquaintances in his Nagerbazar neighbourhood asking him if he knows the “someone from Bengal” who made it to India’s Olympic shooting team. They know that “someone” is him.
Parents no longer drag their children to a para cricket coaching camp thinking it’s their one passport to fame in sport. They know that for every thousand children aspiring to be Sourav Ganguly on the pitch, there’s now someone else aiming to be Joydeep Karmakar in the shooting range.
The sterling Olympic performance of India’s marksmen — the two medal winners and the local boy who narrowly missed winning one — has had an immediate impact on enrolment at North Calcutta Rifle Club, Joydeep’s “second home” and the state’s most famous cradle of shooters.
“I just signed eight identity cards of new members. We also had four sets of parents and their sons making enquiries about how to enrol for shooting,” general secretary Debranjan Mukherjee said on a day Joydeep’s name was proposed for the Arjuna Award.
The club’s location seems to mirror the isolation of a shooter honing his craft in the silence of his small world. It is tucked away in a corner of what local residents call the Belgachhia Rajbari. At the entrance on Belgachhia Road, a solitary moss-covered pillar stands like a sentinel at what must have once been an imposing gateway. A brick lane veers by it into the compound, past a row of motor repair garages, and into a spacious nook.
This is where a 10-year-old Joydeep had come holding his father’s hand in 1989.
“The club is my second home. Its office-bearers are my uncles who bought me bullets whenever I fell short,” said the Olympian, a resident of Nagerbazar.
One of those “uncles”, club president Bijoy Kumar Chandra, who is also the managing director of P.C. Chandra Jewellers, has gifted Joydeep a gold medal to make up for the Olympic bronze he missed by 1.9 points in the 50m rifle prone event.
“Make it to the Olympics and such a medal would be yours too,” octogenarian Chandra has told the other club members.
The club has more than 60 active shooters, by far the highest in any range in the state. “The number has been growing ever since (Rajyavardhan) Rathore won a silver at Athens. (Abhinav) Bindra’s gold in Beijing triggered a spurt. Now with two medals coming from shooting and local boy Joydeep coming a fighting fourth, we are gearing up for a bigger rush,” Mukherjee said.
The club has three shooting ranges — 10, 25 and 50 metres, covering all the Olympic events. At the heart of the action is chief coach P.K. Acharya, also one of India’s national coaches. “We hold competitions every month. Ours is the most active club in the state,” he said, marking a pile of paper targets used in a competition held on Independence Day.
The club was founded in 1948 by Kumar Jagadish Chandra Sinha of the royal family of Kandi in Murshidabad, who owned Belgachhia Villa. “In those days, Calcutta had three clubs,” recalled president Chandra, one of the founder members.
Central Calcutta Rifle Club is history. South Calcutta Rifle Club limps along without a range of its own, leaving members to practise at the 25m ranges inside the Police Training School, opposite the racecourse. North Calcutta Rifle Club itself could do with an infrastructure overhaul.
“If the range in Germany where I practised with Bindra for the Olympics scores a perfect 10, our club will get 1.5,” said Joydeep, putting the target in perspective.
He would like an EST — short for electronic system of target — installed at the club and at least six top-quality rifles. “But with membership fees being such a nominal amount, where will the resources come from?” he said.
The club takes a one-time donation of Rs 15,000 from new members aged above 23 and Rs 500 each as annual membership fees. For students aged up to 23, the donation is Rs 3,000.
Chief coach Acharya’s wishlist is as long as the club’s revenues are short of its requirement. He wants the range to be converted into an air-conditioned indoor facility and EST installed immediately, among other things.
“Now the paper targets are fetched by a hand-drawn pulley system and manually changed by the shooters. Even at the national level, targets automatically change after a shot. Also, there is a monitor near the shooter and a giant screen for spectators to check where the shots are going,” Acharya explained.
Sports minister Madan Mitra, who attended Joydeep’s recent felicitation, was reminded of his promise to grant the club Rs 2 lakh. “If we get the money, at least the EST can be installed,” general secretary Mukherjee said.
While increased interest in shooting as a sport is being welcomed, accommodating everyone who turns up might be a problem in future. “Until six years ago, there would be 15 to 20 shooters on Sundays. Now there are 50 to 52,” Mukherjee said.
The 13-lane 50m range, he pointed out, has space for two more lanes. The 10m air rifle is the most popular event, so there are plans to build a second 10m range with seven to eight lanes.
Infrastructure isn’t the only problem area. Paromita Kundu, one of the club’s more promising talents, said more manpower was required to keep the club running. “There are at present four of us who usually volunteer to work alongside the seniors, doing backroom jobs like tallying scores after we are through with competing. We need younger members to shoulder responsibility,” she said.
Although the challenges are many, club officials are delighted to see shooters emerging not just from the city but also the districts. Schools are helping fuel the interest by setting up ranges. “My son’s school (Delhi Public School Megacity) and The Heritage School have shooting ranges,” Joydeep said.
As shooting is an expensive sport, experts advocate setting up air rifle and air pistol ranges for a start (like city club Space Circle has done).
“A 10m range can come up on 15-20sq m. Also, pellets cost much less (Re 1 a piece) than even practice-level 0.22 bullets (Rs 10-12 each). Air rifles are cheaper too, about Rs 1.5 lakh for the imported ones and Rs 15,000-20,000 for those made in India for novices. One does not need a licence to buy air rifles and air pistols. We will be happy to offer advice,” club president Chandra said.
Free advice from the veterans and inspiration from champion Joydeep — for the aspiring shooter, that’s one target down already.