Note: This article was originally published in January 2018. Sanjay Chakravarty died in Mumbai at the age of 79 in April 2021.
Shooting coach Sanjay Chakravarty continues to mutter something under his breath everytime a young rifle shooter at the Veer Sawarkar shooting range in Mumbai takes a shot and then tries to analyse his effort by looking at the target card.
“You have to study your own position and not the shot to become a better shooter,” he tells this correspondent. “The target doesn’t move, its your body that moves,” the 76-year-old exclaims.
The youngster probably wasn’t aware that he was training in the presence of a former India international, who is credited with producing some of India’s finest marksmen.
Chakravarty is wondering whether to walk up and talk to the youngster.
In a coaching career that has spanned over 40 years, Chakravarty has molded careers of many such youngsters and made them into champion shooters.
Anjali Bhagwat, Deepali Deshpande, Anuja Tere (now Jung) and then Suma Shirur and London Olympics bronze medallist Gagan Narang are just a few who have trained under Chakravarty.
Born in Uttar Pradesh, Chakravarty began his shooting career only after joining the Indian Navy. Though he represented India in quite a few international events, coaching proved to be his true calling.
He doesn’t quite remember the number of players he has worked with in these years. “I never had an academy set up, it was not easy to keep a tab on the number of shooters who trained under me,” he reasons.
There are some number, though, which cannot be forgotten. Between them, his wards have so far won over 100 international medals, including a dozen podium finishes at the Commonwealth Games and a number of them at the World Cup.
Building foundation for shooting
Speaking recently at a gathering of national-level shooters, Bhagwat recalled how tips from a senior shooter during a shooting camp kick-started her journey to becoming one of India’s premier shooters.
“We had gone to the Worli shooting range as part of our NCC shooting course,” Bhagwat said. “We were really really struggling when one senior shooter walked up to us to give tips and that is how it all started,” she added.
That senior shooter was Chakravarty, who was then part of the Services team.
As a senior shooter, Chakravarty was also helping the team members at the range when he saw a group of young girls practicing and felt they had the spark to become good shooters.
“I played for India but I always wanted to take up coaching,” says Chakravarty.
“After working with Anjali, Deepa and others felt like they had the spark to do something special,” he explained.
The technical know-how about the sport wasn’t as advanced in India as it is today. Chakravarty was first few who helped bring in professionalism and built the foundation of success for the youngsters on hard work and self-realisation of their strengths and weaknesses.
“It was a very important role he played in our lives because we started in those days when everything was so unprofessional,” recalls Bhagwat. “I didn’t know at the time that such a sport existed in the world and that it’s played at the international level.
“We started from scratch. The knowledge which Sanjay sir also had was very limited. We actually grew together. That work was very important. And due to him, our basics are very strong,” says Bhagwat, adding the coach was a very hard task master and that helped them stay focused.
“We started and everywhere we had problems. We had problems in equipment, accessories, no ammunition, no ranges. We used to practice (for 50m events) by cutting our targets of that size and putting it on the 25 metres. In those conditions, we have started. But the only thing why we could survive was the push and a strong faith in our skill and capability and our calibre which Sanjay Sir gave us,” she adds.
Wry sense of humour
Apart from this, Chakravarty boasted of strong communication skills. His style of using sense of humour to drive home the point or motivate the players, stood out.
Explaining the way he dealt with situations, Suma Shirur says, “Once we had gone for a Nationals. And it was an open-sight Nationals. I had to qualify for the nationals... I won the gold and I did fantastic. And then immediately I had to go for the nationals. So I went a high note and I was like ‘Wow, I’m in the nationals and I can do it.’
“So I went to the match and my rifle broke. My cylinder started leaking. So I was shooting and the shots were dropping. I didn’t know what was happening. They tried to repair it, it didn’t work. But I just kind of hung on. I finished my match and I came out and I was so disappointed. It was a disaster. But I couldn’t see Sir anywhere. I’m like ‘Where’s Sir? Can’t find him anywhere.’
“And then I went out, and I saw Sir sitting under a tree smoking. Sir is a chain smoker. He was sitting under the tree smoking, and I went there and I could’ve just started crying. But sir very calmly just told me ‘Thank God, this was not the Olympics.’ That one line just changed everything. That one line made me forget about what happened. That one line instilled that confidence in me despite the failure that I can do it. It’s the one line that defined my future and it was then on it was only the Olympics that was in my mind,” said Shirur, who reached the 10m Air Rifle final in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The 76-year-old insists his focus as a coach was to let the players understand themselves and he felt that all technical adjustments had to be worked around that knowledge. “If you know your body properly, if you are say about 5 feet 2 inches in height, you should know what 5 feet 2 inches is properly. If you know, you can stop (control the movement of the body while shooting) it. And if you can stop it, you’re world number one. It’s very simple,” says Chakravarty.
That is precisely why even when he was part of the national squad, Chakravarty made it a point not to try and change the techniques of any players, who were not directly working with him as that would only confuse them.
Gunning for glory
Even when he later joined the Gagan Narang’s Gun for Glory academy in Pune, it was with the motivation to work with younger shooters. He mostly concentrated on helping them understand the nitty-gritties and motivated them to go the extra yard.
“He would normally call us to the room, chat with us, make us read motivational books after training and try to prepare us for next day’s sessions,” says Shriyanka Sadangi, who represented India in many junior internationals while she was training in Pune.
At 76, Chakravarty doesn’t travel much but makes it a point to come and sit at the Savarkar centre once a week to just watch youngsters shoot.
“I did not marry. Shooting was everything for me,” says Chakravarty. “It still feels good when I come and sit hear. Not many of these shooters know me but I am happy to come and watch,” says the coach, who helped build Mumbai’s first 10 metre shooting range outside the Maharashtra Rifle Association facility at the Ruia college.
His students held a special function to felicitate him when he turned 75 and then collectively nominated him for a Dronacharya Award which he received in August last year. While Chakravarty is happy to be conferred the honour, he insisted he never thought a lot about it.
“Once you keep on working, I don’t think you see towards that. Because you are so busy with the players and even if you’re not coaching them, you know he can still become an international but I’m not coaching him. You see that also is a journey. So award - reward doesn’t come (to mind) because it doesn’t give me anything. Just a few rupees for smoking purposes,” he adds.
The award, however, has rekindled his interest in coaching and if anyone approaches him, he says he is once again ready to start from scratch and help produce another champion shooter.
Watch, as Sanajy Chakravarty takes us into the journey of his illustrious career.
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