Saturday, October 14, 2006
Arms and the Man
It has been nearly three years now.
I received an email from Ra (An abbreviated form of the name 'Rahul' and no relation whatsoever to the Egyptian Sun-God, who goes by the same name) on Monday, the 22nd of December, 2003, inviting me to spend the next week in 'a pollution-less valley' watching/participating in a National Shooting Competition (which turned out to be a 'North India Shooting Competition'), besides lazing about, in general.
The pollution-free valley that he mentioned is the Doon-valley and the competition was to be held at a shooting-range owned by a former international-level pistol shooting champion, at a village called Pondha (near Dehradun, which is the capital of the state of Uttaranchal).
Hiking and camping were also mentioned but, as we were to discover later, there was no hiking trip being organised and friends arranged accomodation for us that was much preferrable to the camping facilities being provided near the range.
Since I was unemployed at that time (as I am now, though there has been a rather longish interlude of employment, in between) and had some cash in the bank, I decided to accept the invitation as I thought it would be a good change from sleeping and eating and not doing anything more exciting than getting on my Ma's nerves at home. Well, what to do? I keep flitting in and out of the state of being employed, since I left the last institution (educational, of course, what did you think?). However, that is besides the point.
Anyway, off I went to Ra's place in Delhi and even had the honour of being received by the great man (he weighed more than 90 kilos at that point of time!) at the bus-stop. It was also the first opportunity I had of physically examining Ra's Beretta 418. Quite a nifty little piece of work it is, I must say.
Then, we travelled together to Chandigarh, where his parents were based. A couple of days were spent there with me doing little except watching Ra playing video games and consuming alchohol along side (He is a very 'spirited' player, you see!). However, it was a pleasure meeting his family members, especially his parents and the black labrador named Badshah (emperor), besides digging into the sumptuous fare that Ra's cook rustled up for us. Interestingly enough, Badshah almost instantly took a liking to me, though we had met for the first time ('Opposites attract' or 'Two of a kind', well, it is diffcult for me to say...).
From there we moved on to Saharanpur in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where we were at the receiving end of loads of hospitality and affection from Ra's old friend Sahil and his parents, at whose place we stayed the night. I was also introduced to other friends of Ra's and Sahil's and had the privilege of experiencing first-hand the mehmaan-nawaazi (the traditional North-Indian concept of hospitality) that has, by and large, disappeared in the materialistic world of today. For instance, when I took out my wallet to pay for the seekh-kabaabs that Ra and I had consumed that evening, at a stall near the residence of some relatives of one of the friends i.e. Mohsin bhai, the vendor took offence and told me to put the wallet back in my pocket. He could not accept payment from a mehmaan (guest)!
The next morning we travelled to Dehradun in a couple of Maruti Gypsy King 4x4s owned by two of Sahil's friends, Akmal and Sanjeev. The travelling party also included two of Akmal bhai's cousins, Talha and Salman, as well as a nephew of Sanjeev bhai's. By the by, I came to know and like all of them. They were all there to participate in the competition, of course, being well-accomplished shooters.
The trip took on a special meaning for me, however, when I had the chance to use a firearm for the first time in my life.
No, I did not participate in the competition, but Sahil bhai somehow managed to arrange for me to fire a few practice shots with a double-barelled, 12-gauge shotgun, borrowed from a friend. I was to fire a couple of shots at each clay-bird, with the gun that had an over/under configuration i.e. one barrel under the other, like most sporting shotguns in use nowadays. Ra procured five 'birds' and the ten cartridges that I would need to fire at the clay discs.
Now, I had held my maternal grandfather's revolver (.36 bore, I believe) and my paternal grandfather's 12-gauge shotgun in my hands several times, but never had the chance to discharge either of these weapons. Firing with the gun pointing straight upwards is not my idea of fun and memberships of shooting-ranges, most of which are still controlled by the government, are hard to come by.
Also, I had been too lazy to attend marching practice that being a part of the National Cadet Corps would have entailed, at college.
The only prior experience I could draw upon was that of shooting from a friend's .22 air-rifle. In any case, I was determined not to look like a first-timer and a dislocated shoulder would have been a dead giveaway. So, I confidently put one foot in front of the other and held the loaded gun that the instructor handed me, tightly against my shoulder. When I was ready and shouted "Pull!", the fellow sitting in a bunker about 10-15 metres ahead of where I stood, released a bird from one of the three machines that are meant to send the bird flying at different angles, as per the rules of 'trap shooting'.
I kept following the flight path of the bird with one of my eyes (having closed the other one) and moved the gun along my line of sight, as I continued to squeeze the trigger ('Pulling' the trigger would, in fact, make it more difficult to hit the target, even though the popular form of expression remains 'to pull the trigger'.).
Then, it happened. KA-BOOM!
As the first shot was fired and as I continued to peer over the barrel, the tip rose a few inches on account of the recoil and, as my entire body became a part of the same 'system' as the gun and acted as a spring, returned to its original position within a second or two. I continued trying to follow the bird's flight path and squeezing the trigger and soon the second barrel went off as well.
The photograph above was taken by Ra and shows the instructor and I, soon after I had fired the first two shots and had lowered the gun. The old man was telling me that I was firing along the correct line, but needed a lot more of practice.
I hardly managed to clip the wings of one or two of the birds that I shot at, but the whole experience, including the smell of the cordite, was a very heady one indeed!