The boy from Ranchi
*From our archives
Jharkhand has very few celebrities. Now. Or ever.
It is not surprising then that the day Mahendra Singh Dhoni returns to Ranchi, Jharkhand's capital, it goes dizzy with excitement.
The moment his plane lands he is chased from the airport by an army of television cameras and ardent fans. Everyone, old friends and new admirers, want to meet him. He is made the chief guest at any important function happening and often there will be requests from the chief minister to attend a certain event.
If he goes for a haircut chaos reigns. He once attempted a cut at one of the city's fashionable barber shops, Kaya and the crowds that gathered, especially from the Women's College opposite, imprisoned him in the shop for three hours. Finally the police resorted to a lathi charge to give him an exit route.
Dhoni is still very much Ranchi-based.
A total Ranchi boy.
The only place he calls home is a little cottage, fronted by gorgeous and lovingly-attended dahlias, zinnias and roses, where his parents -- Pan and Devki Singh live in a colony in the town's Doranda suburb.
Dhoni was born here and this was where he was schooled and where he rose to fame playing fabulous strokes at the colony's stadium.
The cricketer pops home once in two months and if he is lucky he spends a day with his parents, his sister Jayanti Gupta, who is an English teacher and lives down the road and his favourite dogs, a Labrador named Zarah and an Alsation Sam.
Dhoni's parents are a modest, simple couple. Pan Singh still roams the colony on a bicycle and Dhoni's fame has changed their lifestyle very little. It just meant getting used to the voracious, insatiable media. Even their neighbours across the fence get their fair share of media attention.
Devki Singh plies you with cups of tea, biscuits, sweets and Chuda when you visit his home.
The pride of the house is a giant television screen on which they track their son's games with pride and nervousness. A large picture of Dhoni graces one wall. And there's a cabinet of trophies belonging to Dhoni, and his elder brother Narendra, across the way.
Pan and Devki Singh spoke to Vaihayasi Pande Daniel at their home in Ranchi. Jayanti, talked about 'Mahi' in an interview over the phone some days later.
Image: Dhoni's parents Pan and Devki Singh in front of their home in Ranchi
Dhoni's family originally from Uttaranchal
Where is your family originally from?
Pan Singh: We are from an area that has become part of Uttaranchal (Uttarakhand). My district is Almora. The name of my village? You will have to go into the dehaat for that. It is Talasaalam. It is about 15.5 miles from Almora. In those days it was reachable only on foot. Now it is a bus road and it is 40 km away from Almora. It is a mountainous and you have go all the way around by road.
I came to Ranchi in 1964. I was doing farming in Almora. But was hoping to get a service job. Actually from Almora I went to Lucknow and from there to Bokaro. The steel plant was being built in Bokaro and there was a promise of jobs. But I was late in reaching there (and there were no jobs). I do not have much education so I was simply looking for some kind of job. Hoping to get something.
But when I reached this township I got a job with Hindustan Steel Authority. I got a job as an unskilled worker. But by retirement my designation was work supervisor.
She (the mother) is from Nainital district. She came here in 1969.
But your son is from Ranchi?
Pan Singh: Yes. He went to our company school, DAV. He started playing on the school team. He was born in Ranchi on July 7, 1981 in a hospital right here.
Image: Pan and Devki Singh next to the television Dhoni bought them to watch his matches
Dhoni also played football and badminton when young
Did he start playing cricket from very young?
Pan Singh: He played cricket from childhood. The stadium used to be opposite our house. He played on the grounds and from there for the school. No one in our family had an aptitude for cricket before him. Yes, this he inherited from Ranchi.
As soon as he got a little big -- 4 or 5 -- he had an interest in cricket. Apart from cricet in school he played other sports too. He played badminton for the school team. He was good. But did not represent the school. Actually it began with football. He was a goalkeeper.
On holidays when he was not busy they would set up matches amongst themselves for one or two hours. He was part of the colony team you know how kids form their own mohalla team form cricket teams. But I would say that he did not live on the cricket grounds
Devki Singh: But right from very small. He would go to the ground nearby and I would watch him from here home. Right from the morning.
Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni
'People used to love to see his batting'
How and when did his talent emerge?
Jayanti: In his school days he used to score quite big runs. People used to know him as a very big player. We used to have inter-state cricket tournaments and people used to go and see his games.
He was very good at all sports. Like badminton, hockey, football, table tennis. He could play all the games and he was very good at all of them. He started off with football. Later on because the school needed a wicket keeper and there was no one available so his PT teacher Mr Banerjee asked him to play as a wicket keeper. That was how he started his cricket career.
People used to love to see his batting. He was known for his big shots. His fours and sixes. He was in class seven or eight. He was scoring big runs. Around that ground we have our houses also. People used to go their terraces to see his match. Quite a number of people used to come too.
Pan Singh: We could see right from the beginning that he was interested and then as long as he was in school he played and was their champion.
And then he played in the CK Naidu interstate school tournament when he was 15. He went to play for the CK Naidu on behalf of Bihar to Delhi. He was 15 - actually. And he continued to play and then he played for Bihar -- it was still Bihar then -- at 19. And he came into the Ranji Trophy. And then he reached the Duleep Trophy which is zone wise.
By 15 I figured that he had a lot of talent. When he used to play in school tournaments, when the season was on, there was always Ranchi's field media, paperwallahs crowding the grounds. When he had a match they had to come and it was worth their while. He joined the clubs here and there he did well too.
How did we know he was talented? It was coming in the papers. People were saying it. Right from when he was 12 or 13 we knew he was good.
Then he represented the east zone. When reached Duleep Trophy he had to play at least two matches in one season. And if the team went forward it would be three matches. The matches would take place all over the place. Not as if they were happening here. Sometimes he was in Punjab. Sometimes Haryana. Sometimes Andhra. It was four day trophy. He would be gone for a week. He would have to leave two days before and come back a day after.
Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni
'He was a good in studies'
How did balance hectic practice and matches with school work?
Pan Singh: Let me tell you that boy was not a weak student. These days parents want their kids to get 95 or 99 percent. He would play cricket and play other stuff so that made it a bit difficult. But he was a good student. He did not ever score the highest marks in the class. But he always got a first division. He was interested in his studies. He never got a third division. Or failed. And if had an interest in cricket why would I stop him. We never put any obstructions.
Devki Singh: He joined the railway team in grade nine. But he did not have difficulty playing and studying at the same time. He did his studies well.
Pan Singh: Once he finished his +2 he joined Gossner College. We wrote his name down there. But nothing happened We filled his exam forms three times. But when the exams were on he would be playing a match. So he was not able to give his exams.
Jayanti: For his studies he could not make out much time. I still remember when he was giving his board exams class 12. He used to play for CCL, a company over here. He had to go to play some match for that company. He used to come back the day before he was supposed to give the exam. Give the exam. The same day, his friends used to stay outside the school, pick him up and drop him to the railway station. He used to go back play the match and come back. He studied like that. He used to say I don't know what marks I am going to get. It was at that time he started rising high. We also felt better not to stop him from playing cricket. He was quite good at studies.
Image: DAV School where Dhoni studied and played cricket
'He does not get time to spend with us'
How often does he come to Ranchi?
Pan Singh: Most of the time he is busy with his matches. And whenever he comes here he is called to Jamshedpur or some other places. Mostly he is not available. He comes at midnight to the house and runs away in the morning at 6 am. When he comes there will be crowds of people. Everyone will come. He comes one day and the next day he has to go.
His friends come and he goes away. And he has his elder sister and he spends one or two days with her. She is four years older. He is the youngest. The eldest takes care of the property in the village in Almora.
He cannot come that often. And then he always comes one day later than other cricketers because there is no direct flight. He has to leave one day earlier. The other day he came at 4 pm and the next day he had to go. He has very little time.
Jayanti: He has a car with tinted glass so (he can move around without being recognised). I have to be after him to make time. He does not get time to spend with us. I start shouting at him. I tell him I need time to talk to him about many things. I need time from you and it is only your friends who get time. And the media. He loves to go to the places he used to go in school days with his friends. Like whenever he comes he makes sure to go and have lunch at some dhaba at Madhuvan far off from Ranchi. I suppose it is Dal Takda and something in chicken.
Image: The colony quarters (centre) where Dhoni grew up, about a kilometre away from the cottage he now calls home
'Success has not gone to his head'
The people who know him say he is a very unpretentious boy?
Jayanti: He is very down to earth. When he comes to Ranchi, he meets all his old friends, he even tries to go to the ground where he used to play. He goes to his school to meet all his teachers; he loved his school a lot. He always tries to help out people in any way -- giving tips to the young cricketers. If some elders want to meet him, he tries and makes time for them. The place where he worked -- Indian Airlines -- he tries to visit that place too. He makes it a point to meet everyone.
Pan Singh: He is a celebrity, but it has not gone to his head. He doesn't drink. He is a milk-a-holic
So, he is very attached to Ranchi?
Jayanti: He doesn't want to leave Ranchi. We are now constructing our own house, so asked him, if he wants to stay in Ranchi, since it makes sense to construct a big house only if he is here. He said he would never shift to any other place. He is very attached to Ranchi. He says having been born and brought up here, he wants to stay here.
Pan Singh: Yes, he likes Ranchi. He is very close to his home... to his old friends, to his teachers.
Image: Dhoni's trophies have a special place in their home
'After a while in the Indian team, he got into the habit of eating meat'
When he comes home, is there anything special he likes to eat?
Pan Singh: When he is at home, he eats very little. He doesn't have the time.
But when he was young he had one favourite, milk! He likes milk very much. He likes Alu Bhujia (the way it is made in his home) too. He never ate meat. At one point in time, we were eating meat at home, but he never did.
Jayanti: He doesn't eat green vegtables. For him, vegetarian meant only potatoes!
Pan Singh: He liked milk. But ever since he started playing, he eats everything. He would get his quota of milk there too, but here I used to get him fresh kathal milk (directly from the cattle shed). I would personally oversee while the animal was being milked.
In other places, he gets packaged milk. It smells a bit. He used to say that in the beginning, he would pinch his nose and drink that. Then he got used to it. But after a while with the team, he got into the habit of eating meat.
Image: Mahindra Singh Dhoni
'He is fond of dogs'
Has it always been sports that ruled his time? Or did he have any other passions?
Jayanti: He loved playing video games. While he is playing video games he is off (in another world). Even if you ask him something important he would (not hear you).
Pan Singh: He likes music. Hindi gaana. Kishore Kumar gaana he likes very much. He goes to the movies very little. Even now.
Devki Singh: Now he likes angrezi gaana too
Pan Singh: His shok (passion) is motorcycles. He has 5-6 of them now.
Jayanti: He gets up early morning and goes for a bike ride and he loves that. Some of his motorcycles are parked in my house. And I am the caretaker? He will call up and say, 'Did you start the bike?'
He is fond of dogs. He is planning to bring some more dogs once he shifts to his new house (two years from now in a nearby suburb of Harmu). When he brought Zara he asked me to decide her name. I was a bit busy in those days. I took time to decide.
He was outside India somewhere. Yes, he was in Pakistan. And then he called me and said, 'Did you decide?' I told him I was still deciding. He said, 'No need now I have decided. Zara.
I said, 'Zara?! A dog with a name like Zara? Keep it Zorro. Don't keep it Zara'.
But he said, 'Once I have decided Zara it means it will be Zara!'
Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni
'He feels pressurised when family members go to see his matches'
Do you go and see him play?
Pan Singh: No we don't go. You feel a bit of anxiety as to what will happen. We watch him on television (he bought them).
Jayanti: He feels a bit pressurised when some of family members go to see his matches. It was like that right from his school days.
My father sometimes used to go to see his matches. Once he came to know he said please ask him not to come there I feel pressurised. Because, if someone from the family is there and if I don't perform.
So we said okay let him play for some time and later on we will forcefully ask him to take us along with him!
I don't watch his matches all the time. I don't get much time when I am working. Only on off days if there is a match do I get time to see. I was not that much interested in cricket but now that he has started I have gained interest.
Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni
'When he went to play for India 'A' then he started growing his hair'
What about his hairstyle? Was he always interested in freaky hair styles?
Jayanti: This time when he got his hair coloured I said see now the fashion has gone. Keep it black. I want it so I will keep and now people are going to follow me. If they want they will copy me. If they don't want they won't. When he went to play for India 'A' then he started growing his hair. When he returned from there he had long hair. Because he liked short hair for girls also. I have long hair and he always says, 'Why do you have long hair? Have short hair'.
When he started growing his hair I said, 'Why are you growing your hair?'
He said: 'For a change'.
And that clicked and he got into India senior. From that time onwards he trims his hair but never cuts it short.
Is he still the same old Mahi you grew up with?
Jayanti: He has much more confidence. He has gained confidence. And once he says one sentence he makes sure that no one can give him a reply. When we talk amongst each other, fooling and all, if he says one thing we don't have an answer for that. He is very smart in giving responses.
Image: Dhoni as a child (top). With his brother Narendra (right)
'We all offer prayers before his matches'
Will you all gather together to watch him play at the World Cup?
Jayanti: No. Actually, I will stay at home and watch. If India reaches the semi-finals we plan to get together and watch.
I am very excited that he is playing in the World Cup; all his friends are too. We all think that the team that has gone to play in this World Cup is a great one and we are hoping they will bring the cup back to India.
He [Mahi] is not very excited, as usual. He knows he has to deliver and that is what he is focused on.
I spoke to him today [Friday, March 16]. We talked general stuff about the house he is building, his dogs, his friends and the town. We never talk about cricket. He has a lot of cricket around him when he is on tour and he likes to talk about his family, his friends and his town and his dogs instead. I will probably speak to him after the match.
We don't pray to a special god. But we all offer prayers before his matches. But my husband, Gautam, has some superstitions. When the match is going well he does not want anyone to go in and out of the room where he is watching. He loves cricket and plays cricket.
Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni