Her father took her to a police range (read Chennai Rifle Club) one Saturday and handed his daughter an Enfield .303-bore rifle.
“I aimed at the target and kept hitting the bull’s-eye,” Roopa Unnikrishnan said. “People around me were amazed. All those big police officials kept looking at me, this little girl who’d upstaged them all. Their shots had kept going all over the place. And I said to myself, ‘This looks like a fun thing to do.’”
The training, however, was relentless. Starting at 13, Roopa Unnikrishnan would practice for four or five hours every morning before school under the watchful eyes of a renowned instructor, AJ Jalaluddin.
“Shooting made me feel different from the other girls,” she said.
Winning competitions around India, and then abroad, made her feel different from boys, too…
That is how an international publication describes Roopa Unnikrishnan, daughter of an IPS officer, in an article published in March 2006. She is the most celebrated shooter from Tamil Nadu and from Chennai Rifle Club who went on to win the prestigious Arjuna Award, before she moved to US and settled there.
The 65-year-old club that trained her still remains as one of the leading facility in the city to identify and train young shooters. The club came into existence decades back through a government order for a purpose of creating a spirit of sportsmanship, discipline, self-reliance and self-defence in any emergency.
Unlike other places, members here are admitted only after careful scrutiny of police department and Chennai city police commissioner remains the ex-officio president of the club.
Nearly nine months after the Chennai Rifle Club initiated a student membership programme in March 2018 under guidance of present city police chief, A K Viswanathan, to promote budding shooters and to identify and encourage fresh talents in to the shooting sport, more than 140 students have enrolled in the club.
Annual membership fee for students is Rs 3,000. During the same time the club administration had also offered scholarship for students from weaker sections, but only six students were enrolled through that scheme.
Rifle club officials points out that the members of students programme are being put through a well-structured training programme under the watchful eyes of expert coaches. Students are trained for physical fitness. They are also trained in Yoga to strengthen their body and soul. Two coaches are dedicated exclusively for students and the timing for students is 6 am to 8 am and 3 am to 7 pm during week days and 7 am to 11 am during weekends.
While shooters from the Chennai Rifle club have participated and won many international events, few members of the club were also called by the National Rifle Association of India to function as technical officials, coaches, managers and juries in the international competitions.
“We have just opened a new 10 metre shooting facility with 18 shooting lanes in the second floor of the Chennai Rifle Club,” noted DV Seetharama Rao, honorary secretary of the club. It was opened on Saturday for those 10 and 17 years.
The club is located at the Dr B Sivanthi Adityan rifle and pistol shooting range, Egmore in the old city police commissioner’s office. The range has been named after Sivanthi Aditanar in gratitude of the service rendered by him for the development of shooting sport and also for the growth of the rifle club. The club’s second shooting range in Alamadi.
At the Egmore facility, the club has a 50-metre range and 25-metre range besides an air conditioned 10-metre indoor range for air pistol and air rifle. In Egmore it has 10-metre electronic range for air rifle and air pistol events in the first floor.
Despite steep rise in the cost of ammunition, the club supplies ammunition for the shooters to practice regularly at a concessional rate to encourage them.
“It is one fine shooting range. And, the club is doing a lot to encourage children and students. We may need more such shooting ranges across the city so that more students and people can be members of the club,” noted ADGP C Sylendra Babu, one of the sharp shooters in the Tamil Nadu police department. Shooting practice also improve the concentration of children, he noted.
Since July this year, student members had been participating various state level and national level shooting championships.
“We want to encourage talented boys and girls who are interested in shooting. We are ready to help those kids who cannot afford training. The idea is to offer them special training and to encourage them and for that we are procuring more weapons,” Chennai city police commissioner AK Viswanathan, who is the president of the club, told DT Next.
Last year six students were enrolled under scholarship. “We think six is a good number. Because these kids have to travel from different parts of the city to Egmore, some of them accompanied by their parents. It is not easy for them. We certainly want more talents boys and girls to come and train at the Rifle Club” he said.
Now the rifle club has two trainers — Prem Sai and Rejath R — exclusively for students. These shooting coaches initially train the children air rifles and later based on their performance and interest further train them in air pistol or peep sight air rifle.
“Though we provide weapons in the club, most of the students have their own weapon to train. Shooters will be comfortable using their own weapons. Students are really excited in training and four of them are selected for national selection trials,” noted Rejath, one of the trainers.
Students are trained only in air rifles and air pistols at the rifle club.
“My father took me to the club and coaching and training in there were good,” said Meenalochini Muthumozhian, a Class 9 student, who is specialising in air pistol is one of four selected for national selection trials.
During the last seven months, she found that she can do well in shooting and is very excited about her new found love. She keeps herself fit by swimming and cycling because she believes that keeping fit is necessary in shooting.