At first glance, it seems the pace of life in Baraut is slower than even the hands of a clock. Cattle lazing around in the shade, villagers — mostly farmers — sleeping on charpoys on hot lazy afternoons in the verandahs of their small houses, ladies going about their chores as if in slow motion, all enthusiasm squeezed dry by the sapping heat and humidity.
Life in Baraut tehsil, a small district in the Baghpat district, is much like in any other rural area of the country — dull, monotonous and unexciting.
Even the mosque in the tiny village of Johri in Baraut, whose loudspeakers come alive only for a few minutes before the namaaz, looks lifeless despite the presence of scores of believers religiously attending prayers. Time, it seems, does not matter here and all that runs through the veins is monotony.
But that’s till the clock strikes one in the afternoon, when the small ground adjoining the mosque comes alive with the laughter of some 30 boys and girls. Suddenly, it seems that after all, there is a small ‘oasis’ in this desert of boredom.
Children of all ages, castes and communities — ranging from Jats to Pundits, Pathans to faqirs, Valmikis to dhobis — throng the small, dusty ‘arena’ with nothing more than hope in their hearts, hope that some day, they would go on to represent the country in international shooting competitions and come back with ‘loads of money’ and make the lives of their loved ones better.
It’s indeed a catharsis of sorts for these youngsters, a majority of them from extremely poor backgrounds, some barely able to get two square meals a day. In other times, these young boys and girls would probably have lived the lives their parents lived; in penury and utter neediness; but now the young of Baraut have found an outlet to vent their repressed emotions and dream big by associating with a ‘cause’.
Sure, their cause is noble, one that would bring their homes prosperity and their country laurels, but the chasm (paucity of money and equipment) is just too big and the means simply too meagre. But these children know how to try and give it their best shot.
Take the case of the 21-year-old Ravi Jatav, who refuses to give up despite his family’s paltry means raising a mountain of deprivation before him, right from the day he decided to become a rifle shooter some five years back.
Son of a brick-kiln worker and coming from a huge family of 10, and surviving on a monthly income of Rs 1,200, he has seen the worst of times — when there was not enough food for him and his siblings.
Though things have not changed drastically in the family as yet, a saving grace has come with his becoming an ‘earning’ member. He, like the other 30-odd wards at the Johri Rifle Association shooting range, now gets a monthly scholarship of Rs 600 from the Sports Authority of India; a part of this money goes to help his family, and the rest is spent on pellets for his rifle. And when he runs out of pellets, he simply points his borrowed rifle at the ‘target’ to hone his skills.
“The old rifle (donated to the Johri Association by a patron) was used by all of us. It broke a year back while I was coming back from Germany, but I couldn’t get any compensation from the airline I flew with. Now, I usually practice with the repaired rifle or the one I borrow from a friend whom I coach in the evening,” says Jatav.
“With the old rifle I had shot my personal best of 590 (out of 600) at the national trials… Now I am shooting around 585-87. I know that is not enough for international competitions but I am trying. I have an import licence for the last one year — but not the money to buy a rifle.
“I got about Rs 3,000 from the District Magistrate and bought a part of my shooting attire… the shoes cost in excess of Rs 10,000 and are thus beyond my means. Tell me, how can I buy a rifle worth 1.5 lakh when I don’t have money to buy even the pellets?!” says Jatav a Class XII Arts student.
This predicament haunts the lives of most of the trainees here. They have the talent to match — and maybe surpass — the best, but no support to reach the next level. “I know I can be as good as Abhinav Bindra (who won a gold medal at the World Championship in Zagreb recently) but I don’t have the money to buy even the pellets. I sell eggs in the evening but am not earning much as the sales drop in summers… To supplement my income, now I distribute milk in the mornings,” says Jatav.
For pistol marksman Farooq Ali, the national junior champion in 2004, the odds are still greater. He comes from the community of faqirs who survive on alms. His father has become a truck driver, but it’s still the same old story, the same old grind for him and his family.
The Sports Authority of India, despite providing them with a scholarship of Rs 600 per month — and for which all these youngsters are really grateful — has not yet fulfilled the promise of four rifles and four pistols, although orders for their sanction were issued as far back as 2002.
There seems to be another — and a different kind of — ennui at work somewhere else. For now, it’s the same old weapon being shared by a whole bunch of shooters, the same old pulleys that pull the targets, the same old rusting targets, the same dusty range. But sure, hope still spawns. After all, this range has given a new beginning to at least three-dozen shooters who are now either with the Army or some PSU. And many are with the Army Boys Company, preparing for the 2012 Olympics.
The great Olympic Dream lives here — the only thing lacking is support.