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How Dhoni helped this lawyer from a small town stay the course

A 'first-generation lawyer' from Ranchi explains how M.S. Dhoni's journey to Captain Cool inspired thousands of small-town youngsters like him buck the trend

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli constantly coach players to get the best out of them. Photo: AFP
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli constantly coach players to get the best out of them. Photo: AFP

In December 2004, just a few months after I joined law school in Pune, I was standing in front of an aerially suspended television set in the university canteen, watching a largely irrelevant India vs Bangladesh One Day (ODI) match. The fifth wicket had just fallen. In walked a long-maned M.S. Dhoni and his nervousness (I imagine) could only be matched by mine. Here was a young man from the backwaters of Ranchi, a place both of us call home, walking out in India colours—fulfilling the dreams not only of himself but an entire town. He was run out on the very first ball he played.

I felt shattered and was sure this would be his first and last tournament.

Stories about Dhoni’s childhood and humble origins are the stuff of lore now. Suffice to say that like Dhoni, I come from humble roots and my parents too had to struggle every single day to put my sibling and me through school and college. This was the story of many small-town youngsters who wanted to make something of themselves—and for children my age from Ranchi, Dhoni was the closest we had to a small-town hero.

In school, we heard stories about this young man, the best batsman in our own little universe; stories that have since been immortalized in cinema. He made his first-class debut for Bihar in the Ranji trophy when I was in class VIII and was established in the domestic circuit by the time I was in class X. I had just made it to the school cricket team—though mostly as a bench-warmer—when he visited our school nets and asked our fastest bowlers to bowl to him with a synthetic ball on a concrete pitch without his pads on. No one will be surprised to hear that he fearlessly carted them around the ground. That was the first time I witnessed that fearless swagger from close quarters—it was a sight that would become familiar for millions in the years that followed.

After the low-key Bangladesh tour, to my utter surprise, Dhoni was picked ahead of Dinesh Karthik to face a touring Pakistan team in April 2005. I was back home in Ranchi for my semester break when Dhoni walked in at No.3 after Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal in the second ODI. As fate would have it, I could not watch that inning live thanks to an hours-long power cut. I "heard" the entire inning on a transistor as he established himself as a force to reckon with, ringing in his first ODI century. The legend of Dhoni was in the making.

I am a first-generation lawyer. In the Bihar and Jharkhand of 2004, if you told someone you want to be a lawyer, you would be met with derision and barbs such as, “Oh you want to sit outside a district court under an umbrella all your life?" When I chose law over engineering, a few of my relatives told me to my face that I was primed for failure—though my parents were steadfast in their support.

Only aspiring for a career in sport was considered more risky than aspiring for a career in law. Not only did Dhoni help thousands of small-town youngsters imagine themselves playing sports for India—he also gave me the confidence to buck the trend. To show people back home that I could chart a fulfilling career in law, that it was not something to be derided. For Dhoni's is also a first-generation story like me.

I moved to Delhi in 2009 and started a career in litigation, which did not pay much. I could barely pay the rent even though I stayed in whatever is on the opposite end of the spectrum from a tony neighbourhood. In September 2010, I fell horribly sick and was out of action for three months.

Low on confidence and forever paranoid about my health, I was struggling with my demons in 2011 when India hosted the ODI World Cup. Dhoni used this opportunity to rescue me again. He hit "that" six to win India the World Cup. He gave the entire nation such joy that people forgot whatever they were going through. More importantly for me, he made me feel that even I could win again. I had fresh belief that I could play against all odds and my best would always come out in adversity. I told myself that I could do well as a first-generation lawyer in the cut-throat world of Delhi’s legal profession. About the same time, I joined the law firm that I now work for. My life changed for the better.

So, for someone like me who saw a bit of himself in Dhoni, you can imagine how hard the news of his retirement has been. He quit at his peak, at a time when I am still finding my feet in my profession. He put my home on the global map, so the least I want is for people back home to be proud of me too. “Main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon...", the song that he chose for his retirement video, puts all our lives in perspective. For while I want to leave an imprint on the legal profession, I am fully aware of the fleeting nature of everything.

After my book was published, a friend jokingly suggested that I should send a copy to Dhoni—the people around me know how much I worship him. I did entertain the thought for a moment, and imagined what I would inscribe in it. Well, I never sent him my book but this essay is the long form of that inscription.

Chitranshul Sinha is an advocate on record, Supreme Court of India, and author of 'The Great RepressionThe Story Of Sedition In India' (Penguin, 2019).

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