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Remembering Maharaja

Though Karni Singh finds pride of place in the desert city, the sport seems to have got sidetracked. It’s ironical that Bikaner has not been recognised by the state rifle association, reports Ajai Masand.

other Updated: Sep 09, 2008 22:56 IST
Ajai Masand

The legacy of Karni Singh lives on inside the exquisitely beautiful Lallgarh Palace. Every brick, mural, sepia-tinted and coloured photograph has the late Majaraja of Bikaner's imprint. The palace may have been converted into a heritage hotel, but it has not taken away its charm, and the era when the pioneering shotgun shooter, a prince and a parliamentarian lived, comes visiting the moment one sets foot inside the red sandstone palace.

People come in drones, attracted by the priceless pieces of history and the reputation of Karni Singh amongst the highest echelons of sportspersons and rulers.

As the family and a small group of aides observed the Maharaja's 20th death anniversary on September 6 inside one of the gigantic rooms of the palace, embellished with tiger and panther skins, one was left in awe of the place. Garlands and speeches in memory of the man, who placed Indian shooting on the world map, made the atmosphere sombre and there were moist eyes in the crowd.

Just a few hundred metres away from the hall, on the other side of the lawn, craftsmen and labourers worked tirelessly to give finishing touches to the new museum where Karni Singh's memories would be relocated and given a fresh lease of life. Stacks of photographs are carefully brought in, while a denter-cum-painter works tirelessly, the oppressive desert heat notwithstanding, on Karni Singh's railway saloon that seems to have taken a beating over the years.

His ADC, Deep Singh, --- now in his mid-eighties — tells you the Maharaja left nothing for tomorrow. "He used to pen his memoirs on a day-to-day basis lest he forgot interesting moments or anecdotes." The book, 'From Rome to Moscow — The Memoirs of an Olympic Trap Shooter' is testimony to his meticulous ways.

The scores, which Karni Singh shot with his favourite 50 Winchester trap gun, are also proof to the fact that he was a born champion. His "Ten Commandments of Safety" point to his attention to gun-safety. It was the exploits at the 1962 World Championships in Cairo, where after a duel lasting two days, he ended second best to Russian Zimenko, that endeared the Maharaja to future generations. It took trap marksman Manavjit Sandhu and rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra 44 long years to better the performance at the 2006 World Championships in Zagreb.

Battle against odds

However, outside the place, all is not well. Though Karni Singh finds pride of place in the desert city, the sport seems to have got sidetracked. It’s ironical that Bikaner, despite organising the Nationals in 2001, four all-India invitational tournaments in Karni Singh's memory and an inter-university championship, has not been recognised by the state rifle association. But a handful of diehards are trying to keep the tradition alive. The royal priest, Swami Samvit Somgiri, got so inspired in 2001 that he decided to revive the legacy of the Maharaja by opening a small range.

Today, the priest's efforts have borne fruit and produced a crop of around 50 shooters. Samvit Somgiri ji, a 65-year-old and a product of IIT, Kanpur, knows the best way to circumvent adversity is to conquer it. "Invoke godly powers, melt your ego and you will be a winner. Shooting is played at a sub-conscious level. You have to enter the other person's mind to know what he is thinking," the priest says as his pupils listen with rapt attention.

"The mantra for success is to integrate volition, emotion and cognition and taking it to the highest level," he says. "We are handicapped because the state association doesn't recognise us. Hence, we have to spend more to get pellets and pistols, but we are producing results," says coach Akhilesh Singh. "We have problems but at least our initiative is in the right direction."

Bikaner has produced three Arjuna Awardees --- Karni Singh, his daughter Rajyashree Kumari and R.V.S. Rathore. Who knows, another champion could be in the making in this small 10m range.