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The boy from Ranchi

March 16, 2007
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.

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.

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 cricket 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

Photograph: Pan and Devki Singh in front of their home in Ranchi.


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