Today Mumbai is dotted with shooting galleries in Worli, Dadar, Kalina, Andheri, Thane, Dahisar and the number is growing.
“Rifle shooting is for anyone who can hold the weapon," says Jawahar Joshi, a banker and coach and owner of Academy of Air Rifle Shooting in Thane, Dadar and Dahisar. This sport is taken up mostly as a hobby by Mumbaikars, be they teenagers to senior citizens. Since 1987, Joshi has coached around 5,000 people.
Mahesh Lohima, former national level shooter has been coach since the last 10 years at the Air India Shooting Range. An airport security superintendent by profession, he recalls that there was a time when there were hardly seven to eight shooters representing Maharashtra. Today, he trains 160 students.
At the state championship rounds, of 200 shooters, around 90 are from Mumbai. The Tolani, Chetna, Poddar and Ruparel Colleges and Janaki Devi Public School have their own shooting ranges for students. As a competitive sport, shooters are also being offered employment with corporate houses, and public sector companies like the ONGC, Air India and the railways.
Lohima credits Abhinav Bindra for the mounting interest in rifle shooting. Soon after Bindra’s triumph at the Olympics, the coach was informed by the Sports Control authorities about the revamping of shooting ranges to meet international standards.
He rewinds, “When I had started shooting, my college principal had said I was doing something that terrorists do. Or people would associate the sport with the military services.”
There are three Air India shooting ranges at Kalina: a 10-metre one used for air rifles, a 25-metre one for advanced firing and a 50-metre one for 0.22 rifles for which a shooter must have a licence. Several clubs are associated to the Maharashtra Rifle Association at Worli Sea face.
It is mandatory to be a member of any of the clubs or of the association to be trained. Mumbai University’s inter-collegiate competitions, every November-December, attracts around 300 participants. The University’s initiative in 1997 has played a major role in making the sport popular.
Lohima who just returned form a national championship tournament in Kerala, believes hat the city should have more shooting ranges. “Setting up a new range can be done in around Rs 50,000,” he says. “Only 25-metre space is needed. Also it has become relatively easy to import weapons.”