Commonwealth Games Blogs
A smoking gun to my (non) Indian-ness
I loaded the rifle. It was smooth and cool to the touch, a combination of metal and carbon that felt solid in my hands.
I propped the butt of the gun in my armpit and focused on my target. Through the magnified viewfinder, the black dot ten meters away was still only a few millimeters wide. And with every heartbeat, my crosshairs did figure eights along the wall around it.
I stopped breathing to steady my shot.
"Congratulations: you shot in black area," said Stanislav Lapidus, Team India's rifle coach from Kazakhstan, looking over my right shoulder.
I looked down at the virtual screen in front of me and saw an oval smear in one of the middle rings - a seven out of ten. I raised my arms victoriously. I'd never shot anything before, besides maybe a Super Soaker water gun in my teens.
"Actually that was unbelievable good shot - you say you're 50% Indian?" Lapidus asked. "I have good feeling." Lapidus had a thick accent and was sporting yellow-tinted aviator glasses. Very gangster.
I had spent the day with Lapidus and his top shooters trying to figure out what exactly makes Indians quite so good at this sport. Team India currently holds just about every title and record out there in shooting, and the events will likely be a top medal earner for the country in the Commonwealth Games over the next couple of weeks.
"Indian people by their nature are very talented shooters," Lapidus, who has worked with shooters from several countries, told me. "Ask me why?"
"Why?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said without hesitation "Maybe some genetic reason."
Ultimately Lapidus explains it is a combination of technique, which can be taught, and an ability to deal with stress, which, according to him, has something to do with the creation of adrenaline in one's kidney lining. Hard work and good genes -- whatever that perfect combination is, Indians have it.
"I'm sure I could take a few people from the street here, and with training, most of them could reach the international level," said Lapidus. "It's not typical."
At the range, lavishing at the potential of my newfound Indian-ness, I primed myself for Lapidus' next challenge.
"Now -- You prepare for final shot in London Olympic Games. Behind you are hundreds of cameras from hundreds of countries. If you shoot in black, you will be on the podium. Otherwise, nobody remember your name. Silence please..." Lapidus said.
A couple other shooters had ambled over to watch, attracted by my opening victory dance in the otherwise morose shooting range. Cockily, I loaded a tiny pellet into the gun on the table in front of me and bent to pick it up.
I had barely gotten the gun off the table before accidentally brushing the trigger; I scanned the floor anxiously for a pellet-sized hole.
It was an abrupt end to my glory as a potential top shooter, and as a full-fledged Indian.
The Indian part of me
I've got more to say in terms of Indian shooters and will try to revisit the subject in the days to come. If you want a preview, you can take a look at my photo-essay of India's top shooters here. But for me, the experience at the shooting range was also a good time to sit back and reflect on who I am.
I don't know how many of you find yourselves ticking the "other" box in the national censuses. I remember learning (in my grade nine history class) that we in Canada are a "mosaic" rather than "melting pot" of cultures, traditions and colours.
Personally, although I grew up with the typical suburban experience of swimming lessons and soccer practice, the time I spent during summers with my grandparents in Montreal involved a mystical world with almighty empires, multiple-headed demon kings, and monkeys whose bounding leaps to and from Sri Lanka helped save the day.
I've always loved that part of me - the Indian part.
But when I pushed my cart through the doors of the Mumbai airport on this trip (one of my first without an entourage of family) - It was plain how un-Indian I am.
"Taxi, taxi, ma'am?"
"Hotel reservation, ma'am?"
The airport workers singled me out of the crowd. They knew.
I wonder what gives me away. I am conscious of the subtleties - my jeans a bit too loose, my top a bit too tight. It could be my gait - too long, unfeminine. Or my inability to keep my dupatta (scarf) balanced in a soft u-turn around my neck (mine inevitably gets tangled into an unflattering and semi-dangerous noose).
Perhaps it is my love of the sun. Though I'm only half Indian, I'm still darker than most of my cousins. And during summers I can always look forward to my aunties' opening remarks: "Anjali, what happened? You used to be so fair."
Several days into my Indian adventure, when I headed to the shooting range to meet Stanislav Lapidus and his team, not much about my situation had improved.
"Balwadi Sports Complex jana hai," I directed the driver.
He responded in a shrill of Maharati, or maybe it was Hindi - I couldn't be sure. I'm glad he couldn't see the panic behind my dark sunglasses, but he understood my silence and drove on.
I lamented my poor language skills. All those afternoons of "suntra suntri hai" (the orange is orange), and I still scramble for the right word in even the most basic conversations. I had succumbed to my un-Indian-ness.
So, provided with the opportunity, it was only natural that I push for one last-ditch effort to prove my Indian DNA on the shooting range.
"Anjali, I am recognizing that you are not 100% Indian," Stanislav Lapidus concluded after my shooting stint.