City of God: slums, guns & a champion
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Foul odour emits from under the Patipukur railway bridge. The walls are laced with spit stains. On weekends, trucks carrying fish offload their stocks to the roadside mongers, adding to the stench. Welcome to the home of India's next big sensation in shooting — Mampi Das.
It almost goes without saying that the 16-year old girl, who lives in a house whose perimeter is surrounded by an open drain, has braved massive financial odds to become a champion in a sport which is very much an elite one in this country. But this locality, situated in the eastern fringes of Kolkata, has taught Das more than any academy could. It taught her courage.
"Even if I make money, I won't shift to a better locality," Das says. "I was born and raised here, as were my friends. Moving to a place like Delhi or Haryana, states I have got offers from, will help my career, but I am more comfortable here. I always want to represent Bengal."
The teenager's star has been on the rise in 2012. Making a mark on the international scene, the year began and ended with Mampi winning a silver medal in 10m air rifle in the Asian Championships. First in Doha, January, and then in China, November.
In between, she matched the world record score in women's air rifle event in the national selections trials at Pune, recording a perfect 400/400.
So how did a girl whose parents fall well inside the low-income-bracket decide to make shooting a career in the first place? Her mother, Laxmi Das, explains.
"I have sold all my jewellery to buy her everything from equipment to funding his training. She still doesn't have a sponsor. What her father earns by driving a bus cannot cover the touring cost for a championship," she says. "But I don't mind. I am looking forward to the next Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. I hope medals there will change everything."