At age 65 when most people are expected to spend the rest of their lives in meditating or taking Bhagwan ka naam, two women decided that age is just a number and that one can teach an old dog new tricks. The women aka Shooter Dadis picked up the revolver and went on to win over 250 State and national medals and trophies. Shalini Saksena catches up with the octogenarians who say that it is the body and not the mind that ages
As one walks down the cobbled path with open drains on either side and pucca houses with huge iron gates one wonders what happened to the image that one has of the villages. As the cities have grown rapidly so have the villages and with them the villagers. This can’t be truer for two women from Johri village, Baraut district in Uttar Pradesh. These octogenarians have not only changed the course of their lives, their families but the entire district as well. Meet Chandro Tomar, today 87 and Prakashi Tomar, today 85 who have not just won over 250 medals and trophies between them but have also changed the mindset of the people living there — that girls have the right to education and play a sport. The women aka Shooter Dadis as they are popularly referred to have shown the world that a woman can multitask and when she makes up her mind to pursue something she will excel in it.
Prakashi Tomas’s daughter, Seema Tomar, an Indian Trap shooter and the only Indian woman to win shotgun Silver Medal at the International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup, tells you that the achievement of her taiji and mother has changed the mindset of the villagers. “There has been a sea change. To begin with, even I was not allowed to play the sport. My family was not keen to let me enter into a sport like shooting which is male dominated. But what my mother has done meant that I was able to assert myself. This meant that the other girls from the area were also able to be a part of this sport. Today, 40-45 girls play at the international level. This is such an achievement,” Seema says.
“Taiji and my mother have proved such an inspiration for me. It was Chandro taiji who first started going to the shooting range. After seeing my taiji, we told our mother that she too needs to go and play the sport. I too got interested and wanted to go with her. That is how it all began,” Seema tells you,
She gives you an archaic picture of what the life of a woman in a village was like. “One has to understand that in villages it is the women who do all the work, they work in the fields, they tend to the cattle and look after the home. The men generally sit around. When a girl is born, the family’s object is to save money for her marriage. Once the girl is 17-18, the family married her off. Everyone was leading this life. The women didn’t know and have any life outside of their homes. Today, things have changed. After my taiji and mother’s achievements, girls are actually allowed to play this sport. Not only this, parents send them to an academy for professional training,” Seema says. She started training with her mother in 1998 and professionally took took up the game in 2002.
In 2003, she had won her first national medal. But it was only in 2004-05 that she took up the sport professionally. She tells you that since then a lot has changed. “Shooting was a royal game. Nobody in the village even knew that such a sport existed. Now, this game has become popular in rural India as well. The earlier aim, to save money for marriage, has given way to save money so that their daughter can go to the academy and train and bring accolades to the family,” Seema tells you who entered the sport at the senior level when she was 21.
She opines that this change has a lot to do with the feat of the Shooter Dadis. There were instances where the young girls wanting to learn the sport would cite the achievements of the dadis.
“They would tell their parents that the dadis were also going for training. The parents would give their consent. It was not just the other village girls who needed the support. Even I needed the support. Even though my family got me admission into the academy, it was later cancelled. But my mother was adamant that I play the sport. My brother Ram Vir Singh was a pillar of strength as well. My mother convinced him that with proper training I could win. My mother would save every penny so that I could enter the next competition. My brother would pitch in too. This sport is expensive. Even though I am now playing professionally, it doesn’t mean that it has opened doors to good sponsors,” Seema says. She tells you that the Government is doing some great work when it comes to providing training.
“The training academy in Bhopal is a case in point. I wish that the other States would also make such academy. If each State has such good academies across India and the training is provided once the child is 13, there is no arson why we can’t win plenty of medals for the country,” Seema says. She is now preparing for the nationals to be held in November. She will then train and try to qualify for the Olympics to be held in the summer of 2020 in Tokyo.
Prakashi Tomar tells you that it was her children who encouraged her to take up the sport after Chandro started playing the sport. “My son Ram Vir encouraged me. He told me that if his taiji could do it, why not me. That gave me the confidence. However, the elders in the family were not happy when they came to know what we were doing. It was not as if we were neglecting our household duties to play the sport. We would finish our work and then sneak off,” Prakashi recounts.
Ram Vir, who works with the UP Roadways tells you that his mother’s and taiji’s feat has changed the dynamics of the village where most of the families are farmers. Vast expanse of sugarcane fields for miles together tell you that the people in the region depend on agriculture to eke out a living.
“We are a landed class. We were also the first family in the region to own two-three brick kilns. There was no question of our women stepping out of homes let alone compete in the sport with men. All that has changed for the better. my sister Seema competes, Ruby and Preeti, my nieces are international shooters as well as is Shefali who has achieved international shooter status and has taken part in international competitions in Hungary and Germany. There was a time when there were 3-40 of us living together. Back then, our neighbours would think that there was a wedding in the family. Chores were divided. It was the task of the youngest bahu to cook. The rest of the work would be divided among the other women. Now, families have grown. Everybody needs their space. We have gone our separate ways. But taiji still lives in the same home, Ram Vir tells you.
A typical day for Prakashi and Chandro would begin at 4 am. After getting ready, they would tackle the chores — milk the cow, cook food, work in the fields and everything in between. “I was 15 when I was married. But the gauna was done three years later. At that time, if somebody would have told me that at 65 I would take up shooting and win I would have laughed on their face. But life takes you where it has to. The next 40 years or so were spent in raising a family and looking after the home,” Chandro recalls. She has recently undergone a surgery. She fell while supervising work at her under construction shooting range and broke her right femur. She may have broken a bone but her spirit is intact.
She tells you how at age 65 she accompanied her granddaughter who to learn how shoot. “My granddaughter, Shefali, who has achieved international shooter status and has taken part in international competitions in Hungary and Germany was apprehensive. She didn’t want to go alone. I told her that I would accompany her. For the next two days I sat and observed that was happening. I saw that all one had to do was take the revolver, put the bullets, take a stand and shoot at the target. On day three, I picked up a revolver loaded it and gave the revolver to her. I too wanted to know what it was like to take aim and shoot. That is what I did. I loaded the air gun and took aim — bullseye. The club coach at the academy thought that it was a coincidence. He asked me to do it again. It hit the black ring on the shooring target again. That is when he told me that he would love to train me. The elders in the family were not happy. But I didn’t want to give it up. I was hooked. I would finish all the household chores and sneak off to train,” Chandro says.
She tells you how she would fill a jug full of water and hold her hand out and ensure that it was steady. ‘This was all part of the training. At the academy, I also understood how to take a stand with feet firmly on the ground and hand at the waist. When I would hold the jug of water in one hand, I would always take this stand. Years of doing chores meant that my hands were steady and we had the muscles to go with them. Then came a competition. I took part and won. The story appeared in a local newspaper with the photograph. I don’t know how to read or write. But I did recognise my photo. I was not sure of the reaction at home so I tore the clipping and kept it with me. But the news spread. They asked me to show them the clipping. They were thrilled to read about it in the newspapers. There has been no turning back since then,” Chandro says.
Now, a movie is being made on the dadis. The film titled Saand Ki Aankh stars Taapsee Pannu who plays Prakashi Tomar and Bhumi Pednekar plays Chandro Tomar. Prakashi tells you how much fun they had when the entire crew was in the village to shoot the film.
“Taapsee was so down to earth. She has no airs. She stayed with us the whole time. She would want us to make her favourite food. She was just like a family member for us. Bhumi too was so good. During their entire stay, not once did we feel they were big movie stars, Prakashi says.
She tells you that Chandro and she never took up the sport with the aim to win. “It was for the love of the sport. We also wanted to prove that age is just a number. It was to let the others know that if one wants to follow one’s passion, one can always take time out for it however busy one might be. It was another matter that we hit the target bang on every time and it won us medals,”Prakashi says with a grin.
She recalls how and why they are referred to as Shooter Dadis. “When we started off we were already dadis. Then we took up shooting as a sport. That is how we got this name,” Prakashi says and recounts an incidence where a DIG refused to be photographed with her.
The story goes that Prakashi was at Tughlakabad Shooting range for a competition where she was handed a 32 bore, a gun that she had never fired from. But she took it in her stride, took her stand and fired. She won a gold. The DIG was second. When it was time for the photograph he didn’t want to be in the same frame. He didn’t like the fact that he was slighted by a woman that too one who had never fired a 32 bore. There is a photo in her home which shows that the said cop is standing a little away from the rest of the people in the frame.
It has been three years that the dadis have stopped competing. But that doesn’t mean that they are removed from the sport. The two plan teach the young the nuances of the sport. “Keep the hand steady. Feet firmly on the ground. Hand at the waist. Look at the target, Raise the revolver and aim. Don’t be in a hurry. Slowly pull the trigger. There is no way that one can miss the target,” Chandro shares.
The secret of how she and Prakashi managed to win so many medals over a period spanning around two decades is because they have a mantra: Tann buddha hota hain, mann buddha nahin hota.