It’s no secret that Mahendra Singh Dhoni draws the loudest cheer no matter where Team India plays. And these cheers have been a tad bit louder during Australia’s ongoing limited-overs tour of India.
The reason for that, of course, is the fact that this could be the last time Dhoni dons India’s colours in a home series.
At 37, and with his history of making sudden announcements - like when he retired from Test cricket and gave up limited-overs captaincy - it won’t come as a surprise if Dhoni calls it quits after the 1CC World Cup in England later this year.
Every time Dhoni has stepped on the field or walked off it during the ongoing Australia series, the crowds in the stadium have roared in unison. There’s a sense that the public knows this could be the last time they’re seeing the great man play for India at home.
With the third ODI of the five-match series in Dhoni’s hometown of Ranchi on Friday, emotions are running high for certain individuals who played significant parts in the cricketer’s younger days.
For childhood coach Keshab Ranjan Banerjee, biology teacher Sushma Shukla or Mecon Stadium in-charge Uma Kant Jena, there is a sense of fulfillment when they talk about their tiny but significant parts in the journey of one of India’s most successful captains.
“Some people asked me were you paid as they portrayed your character in the film and I was disgusted,” said Banerjee.
“I am not his biological father but a father figure. It’s a shame if a father demands anything from his son,” he asserted.
Dhoni’s Hindi has that distinct bengali accent much like Rajesh Sharma’s portrayal in the film.
“He was and still is a very shy boy. He could always hide his feelings with a smile. He knew that cricket was his calling for a life he wanted for himself, even more for his family. Mahi is still like that,” Banerjee found it difficult to hide his pride.
“I have got a couple of passes for the third ODI. I had called up Mahi’s mother and she had arranged for them,” he added.
Humility is something that almost everyone associates with Dhoni. “He was a very quiet child. I taught him biology in 7th and 8th standard,” recalls Jawahar Vidya Mandir’s retired teacher Sushma Shukla. “I remember asking him “Mahendra, you are Singh or Dhoni? He never liked that question. He replied ‘Maam hum Singh bhi hain aur Dhoni bhi.”
Shukla became nostalgic talking about “Mahendra”.
“He was getting 60 percent even when he was fully devoted to cricket. I remember that he bunked biology practical test once as he had some match to play and boarded the same train by which I was travelling.
“Probably, he knew I was there and one of his teammates came to me and said Ma’am you are Mahendra’s teacher. I said ‘who Dhoni?’. The boy informed that he has skipped biology practical test for a match. ‘But Ma’am, this boy will become world famous’. His words were prophetic,” Shukla said.
Talk about minor celebrityhood, both Shukla and PT teacher Abha Sahay are mini celebrities in their localities. “I stay in my native town in Maharashtra and since we were shown for around 30 seconds in that film, they now know me as Dhoni’s teacher,” she added.
For Sahay, the respect that she gets as Dhoni’s teacher is something that she will not trade off for anything. “We feel proud that probably we played a little role in the making of a humble human being. He is a great sportsman but that humility is something that lot of people don’t possess after enjoying heady success,” he said.
Uma Kant Jena, the ground in-charge of Mecon, had first seen Dhoni in 1985 when he was barely three and half years old. “That’s the colony gate and Mahiyaa would roam around with a plastic bat and ball. ‘Tum phir dhoop mein bahaar’,” Jena remembered scolding him.
“Who would have thought he would achieve so much? Once, after he became India captain, he came and gave my son Bijay a bat and keeping gloves. He promised him a full kit if he performed well. And you know what was most embarrassing? He would sit on the floor while I sat on the chair. I would tell him please don’t do this but he won’t listen,” Jena said.
Banerjee recalled how Dhoni dropped in late at night to wish him for his marriage anniversary once. “Security becomes an issue as people come to know. He would just come in and ask my wife to make ‘chowmein’.”
There is one gesture from Dhoni that Banerjee said he can never forget. “I wanted to take my wife to Vellore for treatment of acute arthritis and we were given appointment after three months. That’s the only time I called Mahi and asked if he could use his good offices.
“Within 15 days, we got a call from Vellore and my wife received the treatment in time. I don’t know whom he called,” Banerjee.