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HindustanTimes Sun,31 Aug 2014

Other Sport

He remains the boy next door
Robin Bose, Hindustan Times
December 01, 2012
First Published: 23:27 IST(1/12/2012)
Last Updated: 00:13 IST(2/12/2012)

The shimmer of the silver bracelet is the only tell-tale sign of prosperity on Vijay Kumar till the finely-crafted gold chains, two of them, peek out of the loosely-buttoned shirt. Repeated washings have taken the sheen out of the checked material, and the blue denim trouser has signs of fraying all over it.

The pull of success
"Jewellery is not for me," declares the crack pistol shooter. "It is to honour sentiment." Twirling at the slightest movement of the left wrist, the bracelet was presented soon after Vijay arrived with the silver in 25-metre rapid-fire pistol at the London Olympics.

Had the admirer got his way, it would have been a ring on one of the stout fingers, but Vijay's dislike was a deterrent. Holding up both palms, he says, "I like to keep them (fingers) free." Probably, it has to do with the grip.

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As is often the case in these parts, success has a magnetic effect. The bracelet was a means of getting "associated" with the Olympic champion, strong familial ties led the gold to settle around the neck.

In and out of his base in Mhow, where the Army Marksmanship Unit is based, the exhausting training and competition schedule left Vijay with time for little else. Not even a few days to snatch a trip to his home in Harsour, Himachal Pradesh.

So, the eagerness to make up for the prolonged absence was understandable. The trip happened to coincide with a cousin's wedding. It was the craftsmanship that caused Vijay to pick up the chains, meant for the groom, for a closer look. The hint of appreciation in the eyes immediately had the elders holding him in an embrace and tying the strands of gold. It was their way of welcoming back the most illustrious member of the clan.

It was a kind of returning to the fold for the 27-year-old. Away for one-and-a-half years, the cell phone was the sole means of communication. Four months prior to the Games, with the shooters criss-crossing across Europe, picking up vital tips on competition and acclimatization, it was down to a call a day. The instructions were clear --- no mention of shooting. Steering clear of unwanted pressure was the intent, and the isolation was complete when a fortnight before the event, his Facebook and Twitter accounts were deactivated.

Simple joys still thrill
Four months down, the felicitations are down to a trickle. The scaling down is deliberate and started a fortnight before the World Cup at Bangkok in late October. After a two-month break, it is his way of getting back into the zone.

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"A sportsman's career is short and I want to use it (money) to take my skills to the next level." Almost in the same breath he does not forget a lesson handed by his father. "Jitni chaddar ho, utna hi pair phailao (cut your coat according to the cloth)."

One of three siblings, the father's earnings as an Army man secured their upbringing but abundance was an alien term in the hilly environs. With this in mind, a hunt is on for an apartment in Delhi. Not only will the acquisition broad base the family's assets, a base in the national capital will ease Vijay's commuting woes to an extent.

The gains have been significant but he has held on to what has come his way. Till his dreams take shape, Vijay is content to chase the small joys of life. If the focus is on the small roadside vendor by Shimla's Mall Road, the fear of being mobbed is no deterrent as the man's steaming momos, fiery chutney to go with it, are on the mind. Staying rooted is what he desires and popular perception is of no consequence. "I am what I am and I don't care what people say."

Improving skill set
Coming straight after taking possession of the two Pardini pistols from Customs, it is with childlike enthusiasm that he opens the heavily-taped boxes and lays his latest buy on the table.

"This is what the medal has done," he remarks. Costing R2.5 lakh, the pride is apparent as he discloses that he paid for the state-of-the-art firearms.

A range, which will have his academy, is in the pipeline, but the slow progress of talks with the state government is an impediment. It is a toss up between Dharamsala, Shimla and Bhuntar but with escalating costs (at current prices, the estimate is R40 crore), Vijay is in a hurry to find sponsors.

Being better than the rest does help. The Army or Olympic Gold Quest, with whom he is associated, take care of his sporting needs, though the pace of things in the official corridors does rankle at times. "That's okay, what I'm today is because of them (Army)," he smiles.

Armed with the new equipment and long-time coach Smirov Pavel by his side, Vijay is ready to cover ground as far as improving muscle memory, alertness and reflexes is concerned. After all, London was only his first Olympics. Watching German Ralf Schumman was a revelation. "An achiever at 53, amazing," he exclaims.

Constants
Amid the frenetic pace, Vijay still finds time to have his hair ruffled by grandmother(s) and ponder on how he got into pistol shooting.

As children, their short stature meant five could squeeze into the cot next to dadi's, innumerable nights were spent listening to tales from yore and if staying up late drew a reprimand, the lady was up to the task of shielding her tiny companions.

Despite her advanced age, she was among the first to embrace Vijay when he emerged from Gate 2 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport. "Nani could not make it due to ill health," says Vijay.

That fateful day still stands out in the mind when, as part of his arms training, Vijay lifted one for the first time in Faizabad. Trying his hand at the carbine, INSAS rifle, self-loading rifle, light and medium and machine gun, he settled for the pistol. It was a perfect fit in the rather large palms, besides one could "tuck it in and whip it out like (James) Bond".

The conversation over, Vijay started to rise. Looking down at the pistols, he stopped. The novelty will take time to wear off. The brief pause led to the hand pulling out the smart phone. He went about clicking, the powerful camera ensuring that the output was razor sharp.

As he was finishing, the lights went out. The pistols cut a beautiful silhouette against the table's light surface. Vijay was pleased with the handiwork. "Nice, isn't it?" "Yes," replied his companion, "the darkness has added to the effect."


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