Mumbai Local

Ayonika Paul, the big shot from Panvel

AT HOME:Ayonika with her parents, Ashim and Aparna Paul.—Photo: Vivek Bendre  

Like every parent in Mumbai, Central Railway water polo coach, Ashim Paul, and his home-maker wife Aparna had to cope with the anxiety of helping their child choose a career path after school, getting admission into a preferred college, and then finding the money to finance their child’s scholastic ambition. For them, it was even more complicated. Their daughter Ayonika had shown interest in and an aptitude for rifle shooting right from Class VIII as a student at Chembur’s Swami Vivekananda High School.

But young Ayonika made it simple for them. She chose to pursue science alongside her shooting. She graduated — she is a B.E. from Pillai College of Engineering, Panvel — and is now pursuing a Master’s in Electronics Engineering. Ashim chuckles and says, “ Khelte khelte kabhi Ph.D. bhi kar legi, pata nahi chalega (Alongside sport, she may finish her Ph.D. too without anyone noticing).”

“Playing with guns was more fascinating than Barbie dolls,” Ayonika says, “I was a tomboy and my mother enrolled me in different activities during school vacations to keep me busy. Rifle shooting at Ruia College was one of the many things I did. Training for shooting was boring till I took part in my first competition. Something about the sport struck me, maybe the trigger movement. I reached the range early the next day to satisfy my curiosity about firing at the target. Then on, I was hooked.”

And she has the full support of her parents. “Every child has a wish,” Ashim says, “Dancing, music, movies… We should allow them to chase their dream, at the same time keep an eye on them, keep track whether the route they take is towards bad or good. Shooting was expensive compared to swimming in which she was good. I realised she was enjoying shooting. Once coach [Sanjay Chakraborty] expressed confidence in her basic technique, there was no second thought.”

Aparna agrees: “Studies are necessary in life; school is also the age to play sport. We told her to take up Arts and do shooting, but Ayonika chose engineering. Within our means, we made the needed arrangements, like any parent invests money in their child’s education. The sacrifices came from her side, getting up at 4 a.m. for yoga, then study, followed by training after a nap. She studied during tournaments and flew back to give exams. Our role was to support.”

There is, by the way, another shooter in the family. Younger sister Aliana is a trap shooter. Two shooters in the family, and both into engineering cannot be easy. But mum Aparna says it hasn’t been tough. “Ayonika did not give us any reason to be anxious. Aliana is following her, chose trap shooting and wants to do automobile designing. When your child shows interest in studies, parents spend on admission, tuitions, post-graduate studies… We spent on sport, whatever we could afford. Ayonika needed a personalised rifle at one stage in her career, then shoes and gloves. It kept her motivated.”

“As a family, we are in this together,” Aparna says. “Me or Paul travel with the girls for events in India or abroad. Ashim goes with one if I am away with the other. Our lives revolve around their shooting or studies.”

All this has paid off for Ayonika. Where her college mates faced a shrinking market for engineering graduates, shooting got her a job with Central Railway on the sports quota, where she is free to travel to take part in events across the world.

Because, you see, she’s also graduated to the big league in shooting: Ayonika grabbed a silver medal in the 10 metre air rifle event at the 2016 Asian Shooting Qualifiers in New Delhi, booking her place in the Rio Olympics next week.

And her proud family will be there to cheer her as she shoots for India. It is, after all, a family tradition.

Something about

the sport struck

me, maybe the trigger movement

Ayonika PaulShooter

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 10:32:59 AM |

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