As heavy rains lashed Hyderabad on Wednesday, Gagan Narang fidgeted with his phone. Every chance he got, he glanced at the screen where he could see CCTV footage of his Gun For Glory academy in Timulgherry, Secunderabad, in real time.
He saw the water seeping through the gate. He saw it finding its way inside the air-conditioned eight-lane training facility. It was 10pm and Narang, an Air India official, was still on duty at the Shamshabad Airport, 15 km away from his academy.
The downpour was relentless and getting heavier.
Narang’s biggest fear was water reaching a 3,000 sq ft cellar that stored 100 weapons, including 80 brand new rifles and pistols recently procured from Germany and Italy. There were also 20 personalised weapons of shooters and electronic targets bought from Switzerland. As soon as his shift ended, Narang called Marcus Campos, a former shooter who is in charge of the weapons and ammunition store, and made a desperate dash for the academy through flooded streets.
“The whole city was in bad shape, flooded, submerged,” Narang said. “Trees had uprooted and fallen on the road. I had to take detours and somehow managed to reach the academy at 11.”
The sight that greeted him confirmed his fears.
“By the time I reached there it was already under 6 feet of water. Nobody could get inside because water was gushing in. The force of the water had caused the shutters to bend,” the Olympic and World Championship medalist said.
Narang, Marcus and other office administrators tried in vain to find some way to enter the facility and save the weapons.
“Imagine the 3,000 sq ft cellar deep in 8 feet of water. There was no help at the time. We tried whatever we could and then returned home. Nobody knows more than me the struggle and efforts you have to make to hold your own weapon,” Narang said.
More than a decade ago, when Narang was sweeping through medals at the Commonwealth and Asian Games, it was indeed a struggle for shooters to get their hands on competition-level weapons. They were expensive, and the government clearances were a nightmare that took months. Narang’s father had to sell off land to buy his son his first Walther rifle. It’s one of the reasons why Narang founded Gun For Glory in 2011, at the peak of his career, to help unearth young talent and provide them with easy access to world class facilities, weapons and ammunition.
It started with one academy in Pune, and now has over 1,000 students across 16 centres, including shooters like Elavenil Valarivan, currently ranked No 1 in the world in 10m Air Rifle. The range at Timulgherry is where Narang coaches Valarivan and current Asian Shooting Championship gold medallist Dhanush Srikanth.
“Every centre of mine is close to my heart but this one occupies a special place in my heart. I have also trained here and seen it grow,” says Narang.
In December, Narang tied up with Telangana state for an academy at the University of Hyderabad campus in Gachibowli. Many of the weapons which were stored in Timulgherry were meant for the new centre, the opening of which was delayed by the lockdown.
“We stored at this centre because it was the only range we had access to during the lockdown,” says Aneek Biswas, Business Operations head, GFG. “The equipment was roughly worth ₹1.3 crore. We have spoken to the manufacturers to see if anything can be rectified. We are still taking stock of the damage.”
Narang returned as soon as morning broke on Thursday for another attempt to save the equipment.
“It was so difficult to organise even a pump because the entire city was flooded. No pump was available and there was no electricity,” he says.
After eight hours, when the water receded by four feet, Narang could not wait. “There was still water but I decided to go in and check. I can’t tell how I felt seeing the weapons all floating inside.
“These are all high-end weapons meant for Olympic level shooters. They are like Ferrari engines. It’s difficult to get them back in shape once damaged. We had big plans this year, opening new ranges and giving new weapons to our shooters across our centres. But first the pandemic happened and now this. It has dealt a big blow to our plans, but we can’t look back now,” Narang says. “That’s what I have learnt as a sportsperson. I will not quit.”