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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 14, Dated 09 Apr 2011

    A series on true experiences


    ‘The swagger was one thing, did he also need to have hair of a caveman?’

    Illustration: Samia Singh

    THE YEAR was 1998 and the month was April. I was closing in on 16, an age that has never really been ‘sweet’ for men. For me, turning 16 marked my first brush with reality.

    Our school assembly ground — that holy entrance to the hallowed torture chamber that’s a classroom — would often be abuzz with a discussion on Sachin (Tendulkar). Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s name would also come up once in a while. My senior by two years, I had never seen him. The Hindi newspapers could always be trusted to cover the inter-school cricket matches. In those headlines, a line always shone bright: “Mahendra Singh Dhoni ka balla chamka; DAV champion.” For us, he was the ‘Dude’ who had scored 236 of 125 balls. The boy who took our school to victory single-handedly, ending the monopoly of Kendriya Vidyalaya.

    It was much later in life that my close friends from other schools regularly bragged about how far Dhoni had hit them for a six.

    Truth be told, we had grave doubts that he would ever make it to the State 11, let alone to the national side. And to think he could one day captain India was not permissible. For one, he was still a student and hence would be shoved into an engineering or medical course soon enough. If, fortunately for him, he was not found good at academics and was foolish enough to pursue his passion, he’d soon be ensnared by the twin scourges of regionalism and favouritism.


    ‘I thought gay party was all about horny men fondling pretty boys’
    ‘The Bihar police did not think eve-teasing was a serious crime’
    ‘I stumbled upon a dark, spherical object. It was a burnt skull’

    Our man gave us the opportunity to live vicariously. Those endless days of shadow practice, miming, fretting over the leg-glance and indulging in the near hysterical feeling of taking India to victory by a freakish act of cricketing daredevilry was a reality for one among us.

    The excitement took a backseat once we were out of school. With no news forthcoming, we assumed he too had fallen prey to competitive exams and become pragmatic. By this time, I had moved out of Ranchi to Hyderabad.

    In 2001, during my summer vacations, which were spent in Ranchi, I read his name again in the Jharkhand state cricket team. Ironically, I felt sad for him. He was still scoring runs (more than many frontline batsmen) and at a scorching pace, but how high could he fly from here? I couldn’t help but worry about his finances 10 years from then and even wondered if the Board of Control for Cricket in India had a pension plan. His name started appearing more often now. And a familiar anxiety gripped me. Could he? Scoring 236 not out was one thing, but was he good enough for international cricket?

    By then, the cricketing scenario had taken a drastic turn. Match-fixing allegations meant that the next captain of the Indian team would be Sourav Ganguly — the brash young leader who sought to infuse the side with his kind of players. For once, regionalism was on the retreat.

    Then, for the first time, I saw him on television in an inter-zonal match. He was powerfully built for a wicketkeeper (inexplicably, all our previous wicket-keepers were puny). He had an unmistakable swagger. His hair… cringe. “Is the swagger not enough?” I thought. “Must he also have hair like a caveman?”.

    Being a Bengali myself, I’d predicted that Ganguly would choose Dhoni. And he was selected. And when he scored that 148 against Pakistan in Vizag in the second match of the series, I called up my friend and reminded her that he was from my school. Hear that: not state or city, but school. I would reiterate this to complete strangers on the trains and expected to be congratulated. Our fears were allayed. He was here to stay. The rest, as they say, is hysteria.

    Abhishek Ghosh is 28. He is a Bengaluru-based market researcher

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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 14, Dated 09 Apr 2011



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