Anjum Moudgil might have only been taking part in a couple of events herself at the 2021 ISSF World Cup -- the women's 10m rifle and the 50m three positions event -- but her skills have been on display across the ranges at the Karni Singh shooting range over the past few days.
With mask wearing still mandatory at the world cup, Moudgil's abilities with a paintbrush have been on show. Several members of the Indian contingent have been wearing facemasks, which the 25-year old from Chandigarh has customised with paintings, a bit of colour in a sea of uniformly drab surgical face covers.
In keeping with the common theme of their backgrounds, Moudgil's illustrative additions are invariably of guns -- often ones the wearer might have owned at one point of time. Asian Games gold medallist Rahi Sarnobat's mask for instance has a painting of a .32 revolver on one end - an old weapon of hers -- and the Olympic rings on the other. While it could be taken as a metaphor of Sarnobat's journey to the Games, Moudgil's reasoning isn't so complex. "I mostly paint guns because all of us shoot guns for a living," she says.
But while Moudgil has mostly been depicting guns, she mostly paints to get away from them. "I've always enjoyed it. It's a way for me to switch off from shooting," she says. She's been painting for several years now, often uploading her work to her Instagram page.
She had started painting masks during the time of the coronavirus lockdown too. It wasn't something she thought would become as popular as it did. "I painted a couple of masks for myself during the ending of lockdown and posted it online. Then a few of my friends actually wanted me to paint something for them. Soon I couldn't paint enough because there were so many requests," she says.
Not all could be fulfilled. "It takes time to make a personalised mask. Depends on what I'm making and the amount of detailing that I put in. Some might take 45 minutes, others take a few hours," she says. "I could only paint them when I'm out of a competition or camp, or when I'm taking a break," she says. It doesn't help that demand hasn't slowed down. "When I first posted the pictures online, I got a huge number of requests; I can't take all the orders. But my teammates get the first priority," she says.
Sarnobat was one of the first to get a customised mask. "Anjum gifted me one on my birthday. I liked it so much that I asked her to make a couple more. After that a lot of shooters have asked her to make one," she says.
A lot of Moudgil's teammates are sporting the masks now. "Shriyanka Sadangi got the first one because she's the one who keeps encouraging my art. Arjun [Babuta, finalist in the 10m air rifle event in Delhi], Aishwarya Tomar [who won an Olympic quota in the 50m three position event], Rahi Sarnobat, Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala all got masks," says Moudgil. It's not just players who get the coveted gear. Coaches do to. "Deepali (Deshpande) maam, Samresh (Jang) sir also asked for them. I was a little nervous because I wasn't sure if they'd like it but they were quite happy," says Moudgil.
The mask making has helped Moudgil too. "I really enjoy making them. I always like the moment when I finally complete a mask. That moment is something that really helps me relax," she says.
They are perhaps bringing a bit of good luck, too. In the run up to the Olympics, Moudgil, who had won an Olympic quota for India in the 10m air rifle event at the 2018 World Championships, was struggling to stay in front of the pack of Indian shooters, each looking to make the Olympic quota their own. Moudgil hadn't done too well in the selection trials for the 2021 World Cup either, averaging a modest 625.79 in the four match trials. Any doubts over her quality, though, were dispelled in the World Cup with Moudgil scoring an impressive 629.6 -- the highest among all Indians at the end of the qualifying round.
That result suggests that Moudgil will likely be included when the final Indian team is announced for the Tokyo Olympics. She's hoping a few of her masks and their wearers make it too. "I like that the masks I make, they make people happy. I also enjoy it when people recognise that it's my work on the mask. Hopefully I'll see some of my masks in Tokyo too," she says.