The thing about Mahendra Singh Dhoni is that despite being constantly in the public glare for nearly one-and-a-half decades, there is still so much about the person that is wrapped in mystery. There is an official biopic – MS Dhoni: The Untold Story – but you get to know only as much as the protagonist of the story desires you to.
Bharat Sundaresan, one of India’s finest young cricket writers whose penchant for exploring the unexplored stories is well known -- sets about the task of “unravelling the enigma” and he comes out with flying colours in his 206-page eulogy: The Dhoni Touch – Unravelling the Enigma That Is Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It’s an attempt to unlock the persona behind the person, and it succeeds on many counts.
Given Dhoni’s reclusive nature and his aversion to media, there was little chance of Bharat getting anything out from the horse’s mouth for, an interview with Dhoni is a mirage that Indian cricket journalists have been chasing. And with an official biopic on him out not too long ago and a blockbuster one at that, his challenge was to offer something new and that wouldn’t have been possible without getting Dhoni’s inner circle to open up about the man.
So, after chasing Dhoni in vain through much of 2017 IPL to get him to talk for this book, he finally tries a trick that works out. The writer asks Dhoni as to how he himself would have gone about the task of discovering the real Mahi. To which Dhoni replies: “Ek hi aadmi hai… Chittu… lekin woh tujhe milega nahin (There’s only one man for the job… Chittu… But he won’t meet you).”
Two days later, however, the writer gets a call from Chittu himself, asking him to come to Ranchi, and he knows he has hit upon a gold mine of information for his book for no one knows Dhoni better than Chittu or Seemant Lohani. Through Chittu, Bharat meets many others in the Dhoni circle – from his childhood coach Keshav Banerjee to Paramjit Singh or Chottu-bhaiya, who got Dhoni his first kit bag, to former army man and now the chief security officer at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium, Manoj-bhaiya, to the curator at the MECON Colony ground. And each one of them has an interesting story to narrate.
Through their account of their experiences with their beloved “Mahi”, you realise that Dhoni, despite having reached the pinnacle of glory in his chosen field, remains grounded to his roots.
He hasn’t lost touch with any of his close friends and still calls them on whenever he is in Ranchi. There is a deep emotional connect that remains intact despite Dhoni’s stature.
“I thought after playing for India he will change…I thought after 2007 World T20, he’ll change… I thought after marriage he’ll change… ab toh badlega (now he’ll change) … ab toh badlega… But no, nothing. So by the time the 2011 World Cup win came, I knew yeh kabhi nahi badlega (he’ll never change),” Chittu says.
Dhoni’s ice-cool approach to any situation is well documented, but through the book, you realise it’s not a cultivated one. Whether it was a snub by the selectors or a loss in a match during his school days, he maintained equanimity even as his friends would lose their cool.
While interesting stories and anecdotes are unearthed during the course of these conversations that keep you hooked to the book, Bharat has also spoken to a few people who became part of his inner circle after he attained fame. The most interesting among them is Col Vembu Shankar. It’s through Col Shankar that you get a sense of Dhoni’s fascination for the army and its men, especially those who are guarding the country’s borders. Though he is not known to entertain friends and relatives who demand IPL tickets, he apparently goes out of his way to arrange tickets for his fauji friends.
Dhoni is notorious for not replying to calls or texts — he once even royally ignored Amitabh Bachchan’s message wishing him on his birthday – but he is quite active, Col Shankar reveals, on a WhatsApp group of his army friends. He even shares his pictures and discusses the goings-on in his life on the group. Also, we all knew about his craze for bikes and his love for dogs, but did you know about his fascination with guns? He understands the mechanics of each gun he has tried, a knowledge that surprises even the colonel.
The book also dwells on his unorthodox but an extremely effective way of keeping wickets, and his endearing relationship with the people of Chennai through his association with the Chennai Super Kings.
It may not be an official biography, but it is close to being one because it has Dhoni’s stamp over it. There is a touch of reality to it — more fact than fiction.