Wildbuzz | The sniper legacy | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Wildbuzz | The sniper legacy

The word ‘sniper’ has an Indian history going back to the British Indian Army of the 18th century. Soldiers and officers wrote home to England describing a day of ‘sniping’ or snipe shooting, which was a formidable challenge, given that the birds were small and resorted to a fast, erratic and dodgy flight when flushed from wetlands.

punjab Updated: Jul 02, 2017 12:56 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
This turtle photograph was on display at Punjab Kala Bhawan.
This turtle photograph was on display at Punjab Kala Bhawan.(NIKHAT JAHAN)

Old shikaris and military veterans, who take great pride in marksmanship, took note of a recent military kill. A Canadian Army sniper shot a Daesh jehaadi at 3,540m in Iraq with a McMillan TAC-50 rifle, breaking the previous world record by 1,065m. The record shot factored in wind, curvature of earth, light, angle etc to ensure the bullet struck the jehaadi at extreme distance. Pakistani snipers are deployed on the ‘hot’ LoC in Jammu and Kashmir, where they have taken a toll on the Army/BSF. However, the Indian Army’s sniper squads are not at optimum deployment and efficacy due to a lag in imparting skills.

The word ‘sniper’ has an Indian history going back to the British Indian Army of the 18th century. Soldiers and officers wrote home to England describing a day of ‘sniping’ or snipe shooting, which was a formidable challenge, given that the birds were small and resorted to a fast, erratic and dodgy flight when flushed from wetlands. Downing a snipe came to be associated with skills of field craft and shooting, as former Northern and Central Army commander, Lt Gen HS Panag, a keen shikari himself, has recently essayed.

The Mannlicher rifle of late Maj Gen Gurdial Singh. (HARPREET SANDHU)

A relic from the army-shikar sniper legacy, a .256 Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifle, is in the possession of Panchkula resident Harpreet Sandhu ‘Harry’. The weapon of Austrian manufacture was gifted to his late father, Maj Gen Gurdial Singh, by a British general. As a Brigadier, Singh had commanded the Kathiawar Defence Force to assist in Junagadh’s annexation in October 1947. He was a marksman, too, whose skills, especially with the shotgun in the field, had come to the notice of Lord Louis Mountbatten himself.

During a snipe shoot at a ‘jheel’ outside Delhi after Independence, Singh downed 98 of the 100 snipes that ducked, weaved and flashed past his shotgun. A British general, impressed by Singh’s extraordinary sniping, gifted him the rifle. The rifle is distinguished by precision engineering, light weight, balance and finish. It is a flat-bolt rifle, customised with two triggers that prefer the option of ‘hair-trigger’ release. The rifle was originally modelled for picking the Chamois, a wild goat-antelope, off the crags in Europe’s lofty Alps.

A NECK’S ELEGANCE

The All India Exhibition of Art Works organised last week by the Kalakar Foundation at the Punjab Kala Bhawan, Chandigarh, was certainly not a venue one would have expected to view a turtle neck. But there it was, adorning the walls, elegant and spotted, startling and odd, amid an array of paintings and photographs. The turtle’s neck, which normally remains retracted under the shell, is not something ordinary folks get to glimpse even if some of them have observed a turtle in the wilderness or zoos.

I asked the photographer, Nikhat Jan, to lend me the context to this beautiful capture. Jan, who is an arts student at Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi, said she came across the young Indian flapshell turtle quite by chance during a visit to her parental home in Farrukhabad, UP. It was wandering in the muddy, unkempt backyard reserved for goats. As she rescued the turtle from goat hooves, she held it in her soft, artist hands and stroked the shell to smoothen ruffled nerves. The turtle evidently thought otherwise of this maiden’s noble intentions and tried to escape from her clutches! During that failed attempt, the turtle extended the neck full length and Jan, who happened to have a camera handy, clicked that impromptu moment. She later rehabilitated the turtle at a nearby wetland.

A group of hooded pittas photographed at Kalesar. (SURESH C SHARMA)

JEWEL IN THE CROWN

Meandering along a dirt track at the Kalesar National Park, Yamunanagar, birder and conservationist, Suresh C Sharma’s eyes secured a fleeting glimpse of an avian sparkle in the thick foliage. The birder’s experienced eye flashed a message to his mind that this was something unusual. He asked his birding buddy, Dr Rajiv Kalsi, to stop and gently reverse the car two metres. The trio, including Dr Janak Choudhary, were elated when they identified the bird as the hooded pitta, a summer migrant to India (possibly a resident species too), and the first record from Haryana. Their sighting of a pitta pair at Kalesar in June 2017 elevates the species checklist for Haryana’s birds to 535.

The pitta’s presence in India is a rarity and only scattered records are available along the Himalayas/North-east India. Dr Kalsi, who has extensively studied birds at Kalesar, observes that ‘such species as the hooded pitta seem to be migrating westwards as this bird is more of an eastern/south-east Asian species. Other ‘eastern’ birds that have been observed in small numbers at Kalesar include blue-throated blue flycatcher and great hornbill. Since we saw a pitta pair at Kalesar and their were calls too, it is possible they could be breeding here and would migrate eastwards as winter sets in.’’

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