Vijay Kumar’s 35th birthday passed off like any other day at the Police Training College in Daroh, Palampur. The trainee deputy superintendent of police woke up at 4.30am for physical training and went through the regimented schedule till 6:30pm. The 2012 London Olympic silver medallist in men’s 25m rapid fire pistol hardly got time to ponder that another year had passed as he performed the drill parade, which follows the demanding early morning programme, sat through the online law classes or signed off for the day with another round of parade and physical drills.
By the time the trainee officers of Himachal Pradesh Police are done for the day, there is virtually no time or energy for anything else. “There is hardly scope for anything extra as the body needs time to recover and preparations need to be made for next morning like checking uniforms and gear,” said Vijay. The schedule is not alien as he followed a similar regimen during the years at the Army Marksmanship Unit in Mhow at the start off the decade. That is what stands out in the build-up to the London Games. “Even then it was a hard life and going into my first Olympics, the focus was not on a medal but scores and the technique to get better. The time spent with the coaches and support staff leaves me with nostalgia,” said Vijay, when asked to go down memory lane. Such instances are rare these days as Vijay and his fellow officers are getting ready for the passing out parade at the end of the month. This will be followed by a spell of field training after which posting orders will be awaited from the police headquarters in Shimla.
Even before his posting, Vijay has had a taste of the challenges that await him in a district. As part of training, Vijay was attached to a police station in Palampur in July at a time when the pandemic is raging. The effects of the virus in the state may not be as pronounced as compared to other parts of the country, nevertheless it was a challenge for the young officer to be on his toes all the time. From attending to public grievances, counselling those hit hard by lockdown or patrolling check points at night, Vijay has acquired rich experience.
“The challenge was when residents working outside the state started to return, a lot of them after losing jobs due to the financial downturn after lockdown. Since stress levels are high, land disputes, cyber crimes and domestic violence cases have gone up. As part of counselling, we try and explain to the people that this phase will pass as well and a vaccine for the virus will be available by December. Most people understand but some who are not mentally strong succumb and take drastic action (commit suicide). Often, we have had to project ourselves as an example that in these times the police are at the forefront of safeguarding citizens. The image of the police has got better as a result,” he said. In Vijay’s case, his stature as an Olympic medallist was an advantage as it helped drive home the point better among the aggrieved. Once he gets posted, Vijay hopes his image as a public figure will help connect better with the people, but warned, “Those on the wrong side of the law like drug offenders will be dealt with accordingly.”
While donning the khaki and engaging with the public is what preoccupies him right now, the athlete in Vijay has started to get restless too. After completing training, he will be approaching the higher authorities for permission to start training for the 2024 Olympics in Paris as part of his comeback to international competition. “Since there is no 25m range in Himachal, I will have to be based out of Delhi or Chandigarh and will require the services of a national coach.” Vijay last competed at the 2018 ISSF World Championship in Changwon, Korea, so it isn’t as if he is completely out of touch and has also kept track of the performance of fellow pistol shooters like Anish Bhanwala.
As for the mindset to get back on the big stage, Vijay is confident. “Someone who is mentally strong will stay so as he has the desire to get back to the top level. Those who hide behind excuses are not cut out for this task.”
Whenever he gets down to practice, the memories of 2012 will drive Vijay as he strives to add another Olympic medal to his kitty in Paris. The build-up to London and coming through the final are standout moments but what still exhilarates him is seeing the Indian Tricolour against his name after the final results were announced on the giant-screen. “That moment cannot be explained when the coaches and support staff rushed forward and embraced me,” he said.
By Robin Bose