That’s the way, Mahi way!

Sunday MiD DAY visits Dhoni’s roots in Ranchi to relive the path charted by India’s Twenty20 and one-day skipper

Dhoni is his younger days with his school team DAV Jawahar Vidyamandir

MAHENDRA Singh Dhoni once said that whenever the team had a two-three day break, while other players went home, he preferred not to and with good reason. When Sunday MiD DAY tried to trace the Ranchi Rockstar’s roots, the first sign of turbulence was over finding flights.

The best way is to fly to Kolkata or Patna and take an overnight train journey. Hailing from a middle-class background, with his father Pan Singh a pump operator with Mecon India and his mother Devaki a homemaker, Dhoni has traveled an arduous journey to reach the position he is in today.

With his friend and former roommate Deepak Kumar

Early innings

Dhoni started out as a footballer and is a cricket convert. It was only when his school didn’t have a regular wicketkeeper that his school physical exercise teacher summoned the football goalie to don the gloves. And that was that.

Today, Dhoni’s known for his explosive batting. But when he was younger, that was more by compulsion than will. Dhoni used to bat lower down the order and hardly got any overs to bat.

But his coach soon realised his big hitting talent and promoted him to open for the next season. Dhoni duly obliged, hitting 213 and sharing an opening wicket partnership of 373, creating an inter-school record which locals say still stands.

While still in school, Dhoni received an offer to play for RND SAIL. In fact, he was also a handy medium-pacer. Dhoni broke into the Bihar Ranji side in 1999-2000, but couldn’t make an impression for the next three seasons because he batted lower down the order.

During this time, he didn’t have a permanent job and worked on a stipend. He bought his first bike with this money, a second hand RX 100 Yamaha.

On a visit to Diga, a tourist destination 100 kms from Kharagpur in 2002

Tennis ball cricket champ

Dhoni got an offer from South Eastern Railways in 2001. He loved Ranchi because of his family and his close friends, but accepted the post of a ticket collector in Kharagpur (two hours from Kolkata) because he needed the job. The sleepy little town, known for having the longest platform in the world, has a big railway workshop and mostly houses its quarters.

Kharagpur played cricket more with the tennis ball. For big tournaments, as many as 20,000 people came to watch. Dhoni became a rage in Kharagpur for his smashes. His famous shot, a typical slog to a yorker ball, is the product of tennis ball cricket.

Kharagpur was the first time Dhoni was away from home. He stayed with friends in a 12X10 railway quarter. Since Kharagpur gets heavy rain, water snakes would enter the rooms and Dhoni was petrified of them.

“Mahi doesn’t know how to cook, but did all the cleaning,” his Kharagpur roommate Deepak Kumar told Sunday MiD DAY. Mention Dhoni and he turns nostalgic.

“Those were great days. We used to be together all the time. Nowadays, even speaking to him is difficult.” However, Dhoni is very close to his friends and hosts them at Taj Bengal whenever he comes to Kolkata.

Kharagpur station where Dhoni is still listed as a Ticket Collector

‘Don’t call me if we lose’

Dhoni always had breakfast at a roadside joint and loved to wander through Kharagpur’s market. “He is a shy guy, basically an introvert. He loves milk and is very fond of dry fruits,” adds Kumar. Dhoni also loves chicken and chowmein.

Dhoni didn’t have a TV then and used to go an STD booth to watch matches. “Imagine, he is captaining some players he used to criticise! We knew that Dhoni was a good player, but no one knew he would play for India, let alone lead it,” says another friend.

Dhoni is known for his hair, but the story goes that his close school friend Gautam Upadhyaya had long hair and Dhoni admired it. Gautam advised Dhoni to grow it out and even today their hairstyles are similar.

Dhoni also tires easily of his cell phone. “It’s always on silent. He hardly attends calls, but always checks his smses. He gets so many missed calls,” says Deepak. So how do friends get through? “Mahi always says, ‘Don’t call me before a match or if we lose. If we win, call me the next day and I will answer your phone.’”

Dhoni used to have his daily breakfast and chai at Thomas’s tea stall

Life as a celebrity

“Whenever Dhoni comes to his house, there are hundreds of girls who stand out and shout: ‘Dhoni, I love you.’ They create havoc,” says Dhoni’s watchman. Now his house has five security guards posted outside.

While the Home Guards were posted earlier, Jharkhand Police has taken over for the past two months. Dhoni’s brother Narendra is fed up with media queries over how much milk the family buys because of the perception that Dhoni is a milk-guzzler.

After the controversy over his new construction, his parents have become reclusive. Rumours say that Dhoni is going to have an astro-turf and synthetic pitch, as well as a bowling machine so he can practise whenever he is at home.

‘We plead with him to ride his bikes’

Dhoni’s friends swear he hasn’t changed and he hasn’t given up riding his army of bikes. “Nowadays he only takes his bike out early in the morning,” says a friend.

Are they allowed to ride his super bikes? “When Mahi is not around, nobody can touch his bikes. We have to plead to allow us a ride, but he gives in,” say his friends.

Appointed One-Day captain last week, Dhoni’s friends feel it’s too early for him to lead India. “He’s just played three years of international cricket,” says Gautam. 

Dhoni the teetotaler

Is a teetotaler, but loves making pegs for his friends Has two dogs, Sam, a German shepherd and Zara, a Labrador. Sam is named from the TV show I Dream Of Jeanie and Zara after the movie Veer Zara Loves to listen to Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar Is allergic to cell phones
Loves chicken, milkshakes, ice-creams (he can eat three chocobars at a time) and chocolates but never eats curd. 

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