The Indian shooters returned with a rich haul from Doha on Friday afternoon, but the celebrations centred around one person — Jaspal Rana.
Much before the aircraft touched down at the IGI Airport on a day of heightened security due to a hijack threat, the music had arrived — not the typical dhol for bhangra dances but a toned down version, though loud enough. Perhaps it was in consonance with the star shooter’s haul — three gold medals.
The moment Jaspal walked out, he was carried off like a kid by his supporters, much to the delight of the TV cameramen and photographers. His father, NS Rana, under whom he had been training in Dehradun before the Asian Games, was smiling. “The elections are around the corner in Uttaranchal and I want Jaspal to contest,” he said.
His comments were not really far-fetched — some BJP flags were also on view at the airport. For the young man himself, who joined that party around nine years ago, this was not the time to talk politics.
Jaspal spoke about shooting, though he was not very caustic in remarks about the way people run the sport in India. “Yes, if we get better facilities, we can win more gold medals,” said Jaspal, just before someone stepped up to him and shoved a piece of burfi into his mouth.
Jaspal was enjoying all the attention — in 1994, he had returned to a similar welcome after gunning down the centre fire gold in the Hiroshima Asiad.
Jaspal answered all kinds of questions and said he would perhaps quit the sport in about three years.
But national coach Sunny Thomas was quick to comment: “He is just 30 and has enough years left in him.” But there is no denying that at 30, Jaspal is already talked of as a veteran.
Has he any plans to join politics? “I will let you know in some time,” he said. But there is pressure on him to join politics, and Rana Senior says he may even get a ticket to contest from Yamunotri.
Amidst all this clamour, his wife Reena stood patiently. She had only heard of her husband getting a hero’s welcome 12 years ago. Today was a replay, something Indian sport can do with again in the future.
For a man often reviled and ridiculed, this truly was a perfect homecoming.