Lieutenant Anuradha of the Indian Navy has a tattoo of an anchor and pistol – her two great passions in life. Such is her dedication to her job as a Navy officer and now, new role as national Indian shooter, that she has not taken a single leave in the last two years, using her downtime to practice, even as her personal life started a new phase.
On 16 December 2018, she got engaged to fellow officer Lt Anurag. Two days later, she was the shooting range, appearing for her first-ever national selection trials. She aced it, of course. On 7 February 2019, Anuradha and Anurag got married. Less than two days later, she was back at the range, this time preparing for her India international debut in the 10m air pistol event.
“Mehendi bhi nahi utri abhi tak” [the wedding mehendi is still not off],” she jokes, talking about shooting has become an addiction even though she never wanted to have a career in sports.
In the span of eight months and three matches – the two national selection trials and the 2018 national championship – the 28-year-old from Sonepat, Haryana has climbed the ranks and is set to take part in her first-ever international match at the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi.
“When I started shooting, they pushed me, to be honest. They sent me because there has to be a female participant from the officers. Back then, I was not interested in shooting, I used to think what a boring game this is. But then I thought karna toh hain hi [I have to do it] so instead of crying and doing, I should see it as a learning opportunity. This is an expensive game and I come from a middle-class family, so this is a chance. But once I learned, it became an addiction for me and I am lucky it happened to me,” she said at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range in Delhi on the eve of the season-opening World Cup.
Even though she never wanted to be a sportsperson, the sport chose her, fuelled by her raw talent.
“Like you have extracurricular activities, in Navy there is a competition. So in that, I used to fire with 5.56 mm Insas (rifle), the one that has live bullets I used to fire from 400 metres, then run for 300 metres, then again for 10 bullets, then again run with the rifle, and all the packs and the uniform for 200 meters,” she recalls.
“It first happened when I played for INS Chilka in Odisha and got a gold medal. Then they chose me to represent the command and I was selected from the southern naval command of Indian Navy and there, I bagged the silver and gold medals. Then I got a letter from Navy shooting team, after I gave the Navy shooting team trials,” she recounted her unconventional entry into the sport.
“Before Navy shooting team, I was part of command team and there also there as the gunnery department that trained the sailors. When they see the caliber in a shooter, then they call them for trials,” she adds.
This incredible surge has been courtesy of her coach in the Navy, Prem, who spotted her potential and made her work on it.
“Earlier I was a rifle shooter, my coach asked me which one I want. I saw the rifle, it was not the Insas. I said I love shooting so you can give me anything, so he handed me the pistol. I just love shooting, you give me any weapon I will shoot. I used to do combat shooting, so when I have fired that then this is very comfortable shooting for me,” she added.
Even when she came to Delhi for her selection trials in December, she didn’t expect to be in the top three in India. But she ended up beating the likes of world junior champion Yashaswini Deswal, Shri Nivetha and Annu Raj Singh to join Heena Sidhu and Manu Bhaker in the 10m air pistol team.
“I never aimed this high, my only aim was to follow my coach. If he said that, you will have to follow this thing and don’t think about scoring, I just followed that,” she says with a shrug.
At 28, she will making her debut in a sport that seen the rise of teenage sensations in recent times. But that does not bother her.
“Manu Bhaker also recently joined, in front of me she is a kid only so when she can do it, why can’t I? I don’t see it as happening all of a sudden, I have put in my hard work as have my coaches, so here I am. Selections are done based on best three out of four and I have made a mark in only three matches,” she pointed out.
The maturity also comes from her day job as a logistics officer in the Indian Navy, a path the Commerce graduate with a post graduation MBA degree embarked on inspired by her father, St Ranbir Singh, has retired from the Air Force.
“Sometimes I tell myself to not take tension and love the sport, you have a job and a career. This is my mantra, it helps me relax and focus on my technique,” she adds.
Her technique has brought this far – to the competition with the best of the world and Olympic quotas on offer. If she continues in the same vein, she could be set for a very memorable international debut when she takes the field on Tuesday.