Kolkata, Oct 18: The year was 2008 and Haryana’s Bhiwani was the virtual epicenter of Indian boxing after Vijender Singh’s bronze-winning feat at the Beijing Olympic Games. Also Read - Unlock I Begins; India Now Seventh Worst-hit Country in World With Over 1.82 Lakh COVID-19 Cases
While starry-eyed youngsters were ready to become the ‘Next Vijender’, some 50 km from the cradle of Indian boxing, in a non-descript village called Umra in Hisar district, Manjeet Singh was imparting lessons in basic archery to the kids. Also Read - Two Pakistan High Commission Officials Caught in Delhi For Spying, to Leave India Within 24 Hours
Mocked as “madaari, shikaari” (hunter, conjuror) by his village folks, in just 10 years, Manjeet has produced India’s first ever Youth Olympics archery medallist in Akash Malik. Also Read - ‘Unverified Video’: Army Denies Violence Between Indian And Chinese Troops in Eastern Ladakh
“No one was willing to take up archery. People were ridiculing me for teaching some weird hunting tricks to their kids,” Manjeet, who is now the ‘Dronacharya’ having produced two junior internationals in Akash and Himani Kumari, told PTI today.
He speaks with a lot of pride but the journey over the last decade was fraught with struggles and hardships for the 43-year-old Manjeet, who now holds a Masters degree in physical education.
Son of former village sarpanch Ratan Singh Malik, Manjeet’s hands were trembling when he first picked the wooden bow and arrow.
Manjeet had no concept about the basics of archery till he watched the sport closely in Amravati while pursuing Diploma in Physical Education at the Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University in his early 30s.
“I thought it was child’s play but when I picked up the bow, my hands started trembling… I realised how tough it was to keep your hands steady,” Manjeet, who decided to transform farming land into archery arena.
The journey began with three or four initial recruits and a couple of wooden bows, which had been parcelled in from Manipur, costing Rs 1500 each.
There was no initial financial help and Manjeet spent money from his own pocket to set up his centre.
As his wards started winning at state and then national level, people started showing interest and in 2012 he rented a farming field of 1.5 acres to construct an archery range.
“I levelled it with a tractor, fixed 12 targets in a 90-metre range, erected a fence, and built a storehouse,” he recalled.
His Umra archery centre was ready in a farming field.
“Nobody gave me a penny, but my passion for the sport kept me going,” he said.
As he got results, the Haryana government came up with financial support which helped him by the costly imported bows (each set costs Rs 4 lakh) for his wards.
“It was during that time, I saw Akash who impressed me with his calmness. He was also very hardworking. I took him under my wings,” he said.
Akash was part of the Haryana team that won the Indian rounds at the mini national (under-14) archery championship in Vijayawada in 2014 and since then he has never looked back.
Their session starts by 6 am in the morning in summer with physical training and sometime it stretches up till 8-9 pm at night.
“Before taking up anyone, I ensure the kids to slog it out for two three months. Many run way, but one who sticks around becomes my recruit. All expenses paid,” Manjeet, who now has about 80 recruits in both recurve and compound sections, said.
Of his recruits, seven, including Akash, have won medals at international levels, while at national level almost everyone has won, he said.
His archery centre has also grown with web-connected CCTV cameras and solar-powered lamps.
“We have equipment worth Rs 60-70 lakh stored at the centre. But now, it’s the safe custody of our village folks, who show great respect to me,” he says of the changing times.
With Akash’s success, Umra’s popularity is destined to grow.
“I’ve no doubt that in coming days, Umra will be to archery what Bhiwani has been for boxing. But we have to keep working hard. This is just the beginning,” Manjeet the proud coach said.