Sounds unbelievable, but it's true. India's hottest world champion, Manavjit Singh Sandhu, does not have a gun of his own. In fact, he only got a firearm licence from the Delhi Police very recently. Till now, he was shooting as such, on borrowed time.
Having shot gold in trap at the World Championships in Zagreb, Croatia, a fortnight ago, Manavjit, who shoots with a Sports Authority of India (SAI) gun, has been soaking in all the attention. It makes a nice change from all the times when no one really gives a damn.
Manavjit has obviously made his peace with the compulsions of playing a "non-priority" sport in India and is happy enough with the Perazzi MX8, the gun he has been using since he first began training at the Karni Singh Ranges in New Delhi in 1995. Still, it is ridiculous that the world's top shooter cannot be given a gun of his own by anyone, the government, or the corporate sponsors who flock to cricket.
Now though, he is in two minds about the gun that brought him the World No. 1 ranking. "Mate, this (the Perazzi MX8) is all I have, I wanted my own gun but now that I have become world champion, I am not sure I want to dump this. It's almost a part of me, but yes, I did not have the permission to carry it around as it's on a SAI licence," said Manavjit.
So how did he manage to take a weapon around the world sans a weapon licence? "Well, this gun is almost ancient. The SAI had imported it in 1982 for the Asian Games. But since 1995, it's almost been like mine, and the 20-odd international medals I have won are thanks to this," he added. "Each time I take it out, I need to get a letter from SAI as they have the licence for the weapon I use, I don't."
Incidentally, two days ago, the burly shooter got a Rs 35 lakh cash award from the Punjab government. "I am finally going to get a Perazzi MX 2000 model which will cost around Rs 3 lakh. I don't expect it to be delivered before October. So even at the Asian Games, I will gun for gold with the SAI gun," said Manavjit.
For shooters who get the Arjuna Award, importing a weapon isn't tough. But the problem is that the money wasn't enough to extend to a gun and training in Italy under coach Marcello Dradi. He had to choose.
"Whatever the problems, I have a special relationship with my gun. There are times when it has almost given way and I have fixed the rib with Quickfix, like in 2005. Recently, I did get the stalk changed from Perazzi, but if you look at champions around the world, they even have a standbye weapon," said Manavjit with a shrug.
"Having the best weapon doesn't mean you will be the best shot but I was taking a huge chance by not having a backup weapon. But when I did not have a gun of my own, where is the possibility of a second weapon," he asked.
So what's next on his wish list? " I just love the SAI gun and hope they present it to me one day…" And why not? In 1994, after Jaspal Rana won the standard pistol jun ior gold in the World Champi onship at Milano, SAI gave him the weapon.