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New shooting range


ALL GUNS BLAZING: Anita Deswal (in red), a nurse, visits the shooting range everyday

A new private shooting range is making Delhi bite the bullet.

Every day, before she pulls on her carefully starched and spotless nurse's uniform, Anita Deswal draws a gun in a fluorescent-lit basement. Petite and fresh-faced, 26-year-old Deswal finds it hard to go through her daily routine as staff nurse at Babasaheb Ambedkar Hospital in Delhi without first firing a couple of rounds.

Deswal's childhood penchant for guns and competitive shooting couldn't be accommodated until Sportzcraft Inc, a sports infrastructure company, recently opened a 10-metre shooting range in a narrow basement in Delhi's East Patel Nagar. From the shaded, residential lane just outside the range, it's impossible to tell that seven shooters of varying age are taking aim at paper targets inside.

The long room downstairs is electric with nervous energy. Eyes are narrowed and shoulders tense as pellets from air rifles and pistols ricochet off targets. For many years, Deswal, who grew up in Jhajjar, Haryana, a state known for its single-minded passion for sports, could only experience the thrill of rifle shooting vicariously as she watched shooting contests on TV. "We had no infrastructure to try the real thing. One had to go to Chandigarh, " says Deswal.

She finally put an eager finger to the trigger in May when Sportzcraft inaugurated the shooting range - the only privately run setup to be certified by the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI). Other shooting ranges are government-run. Delhi's older, larger facility is the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range in the south, near the Adilabad Fort. This one, built for the Commonwealth Games, has however been criticised for its lack of coaches and its remote location, which is inaccessible by public transport.

The drawbacks of the Commonwealth shooting range work in favour of the Sportzcraft centre, which has been recording good traffic. In fact, the enthusiasm of non-professionals in the sport has taken Sameer Vig, the owner, by surprise. Vig, a hotelier in Mussoorie who has been associated with the shooting fraternity, initially didn't think a range would be commercially viable. Eighty memberships in two months changed his mind.

"This is a sport that anyone can take part in, from 12-year-olds to grandmothers. And it is gender neutral, " he says. "Moreover, during summer vacation, kids don't really want to go out and run around in the sun. It is much more comfortable inside, and rifles are a better option than Xboxes at home. "

Vig wants to establish 200 of these modular ranges across schools and colleges in India. A 10-metre shooting range is relatively easy to set up - it needs a 40x60 feet space and a capital cost of about Rs 18-20 lakh. Vig says schools and colleges are keen on the idea as the ranges are affordable, and can be dismantled and set up in multi-purpose spaces like auditoriums. Sportzcraft's basement range also happens to be the official venue for shooting try-outs for Delhi University college admissions. It also held a trainers' course for the NRAI recently.

As a hobby, the sport is not expensive - anyone can enjoy one session for Rs 150 an hour or Rs 1, 200 for a monthly membership. However, serious contenders will need body suits and a rifle or a pistol, which can range from Rs 60, 000 to Rs 2, 00, 000. Sportzcraft provides amateurs and semi-pros with guns, and pros get their own kits.

Eighteen-year-old Bharat Bajaj is a professional. Bajaj, who stands in a corner of the range with his eyes closed, hands folded, swaying ever so gently, is a national-level shooter. He is currently training at the range to secure a seat in a Delhi University college. A Patna boy, Bajaj took up the air rifle at age 12, when he was in boarding school at Shimla. Bajaj is of the generation that easily found shooting idols in the likes of Abhinav Bindra, Jaspal Rana and Gagan Narang.
One would imagine the popularity garnered for shooting by these world-class players would have made it easier for youngsters to take up the sport. But when Bajaj took up shooting, his relatives derisively branded him as "wo jo bandook chalata hai" (the one who fires guns). Deswal's family too initially didn't know what to do with a gun-slinging girl.

Vikram Singh, an NRAI-certified trainer at the range, says it's normal for people to jump to conclusions about those who take up shooting as a hobby or professionally. He says people routinely impute to shooters aggressive and uncontrollable personalities with a morbid penchant for guns. In reality, he says the sport teaches patience, improves concentration and emotional control, kills trigger-happiness and is a zero-injury sport.

Bajaj says in shooting one has to suppress all emotion, whether joy or frustration. "It is a sport which teaches you to handle failure differently, " he says. "In other games, you can scream or shout at a goal or a wicket. Here I can't even smile or frown because it changes your position, your breathing. But that joy within when I do well, that somersault that I do quietly in my head - that's my favourite part. "

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