Legendary India captain M.S. Dhoni speaks to young citizen journalist Shivangini Chaudhary on life, cricket, fatherhood, and how to tackle bullying.
New Delhi: Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a hero to millions of Indians. The man with the Midas touch, who led India to victory in the ICC World Cup, the World Twenty20, the Champions Trophy, and the No.1 ranking in Test cricket.
But how do children of today perceive the legend? On Children’s Day, ThePrint publishes an exclusive interview MSD gave to Shivangini Chaudhary, a young citizen journalist, who is a class IV student at The Shri Ram School, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi. Excerpts:
How did you decide that you wanted to be a cricketer?
I loved sports right from the very start. When I was in school, I used to play a lot of other sports as well, and it would be wrong for me to say that I wanted to become a professional cricketer.
For two years, I played proper football. I was the second goalkeeper for my school team, but our cricket team also needed a wicket-keeper. That was the time when people asked me to try wicket-keeping, and I used to keep wickets when we were playing tennis ball cricket. The reason was that I was very small, timid, short at that time, so maybe all the seniors thought that was the best place for me to be.
In school, I also pursued badminton, and was very active when it came to the annual sports participation, whether it was track and field events or other sports. So, cricket just… everything happened at the right time and I became a cricketer.
What was your favourite subject in school?
That’s a difficult one! I was very good in Maths till class V, and after that algebra and everything came in, and I started playing cricket, so it became slightly tough. So, if I have to pick something, I would say I like Maths, the reason being I was good at it, and even after class VI, though I was quite bad, I loved geometry.
Which was the quality that helped you become captain of the Indian team?
That is again a very difficult one (laughs), because a lot of senior players would have supported me. I was not part of the conversation when I was made captain of the team. I feel that looking at everything, maybe it was the honesty that I had, and my ability to read the game. Reading the game is very important, and even though I was one of the youngest in the team at that point of time, when asked about my views by a senior player, I was not afraid or hesitant to share my feelings about the game. It probably also had to do with the fact that I was quite good with the other team members in the squad at that point of time.
What was your best moment as a cricketer?
We have had quite a few good ones, but the 2011 World Cup, winning in India at the Wankhede Stadium, in front of the home crowd, was something that was really amazing and I think the whole process was good. But that exact point, you know, maybe four or five overs before we won the game, when the whole stadium and the spectators knew that we were going to win the game… that was the time when they started chanting, ‘Vande Mataram’ and all the other songs, that was the moment. We knew from that point that we will win the game. That whole atmosphere has never been recreated, but hopefully someday, I will be able to witness it again.
How was the feeling when you hit the ball for the winning six?
There was no plan to hit a six, and I was not looking for a fairytale finish. It just came, I swung the bat, it went over the boundary and then there was a sense of satisfaction. It was just watching the ball, there was nothing in the mind, and after a few seconds, I realised that yes, I had done it.
We were quite happy with the fact that we were the first home team to have won a World Cup, and also, we were quite relieved because for that whole tournament, there was a lot of pressure from everyone. We were quite relieved. I do not think we got enough opportunity to enjoy the win for whatever reasons, but I think it was really that moment, just before winning the World Cup, the whole atmosphere… it always comes to mind, and it will be tough to replicate that atmosphere. But as I said, I would love to witness it – whether it is while playing or from the stands, I would love to witness it again.
Can you describe the first time you entered the Indian team’s dressing room as a player?
It was very awkward (laughs). It was in Bangladesh, it was a very short tour, and we played three games, and I think three games got over in four days. Like my career, the tour was also one of mixed emotions, as we lost the second game.
Getting into the dressing room… in fact, it was even before the dressing room, when we went into a meeting room, all the senior players were there. It is the first time you are actually seeing the big names when it comes to Indian cricket, and you don’t know how to react, you just keep watching everyone, you are shy, you don’t want to speak a lot. You just want to figure out really what is happening.
I don’t think I spoke much, I was just watching the senior players and it seemed that the whole room was filled with them, people who you at times dreamed of playing with, and that is the time you are actually sharing a dressing room with them, so it was an amazing experience.
What is it like being a father?
It is a very different feeling, and I personally find it very difficult to put it in words. It is more of an emotion, and I feel I have not really missed a lot of things in life, but after a while when I am outside, after a few days, I actually start missing Ziva. Not to the extent that it starts bothering my cricket and all, but it is the first time ever when I feel, maybe I should Facetime to see what she is really doing.
It is not like we interact a lot, she is very independent, she is very young but very independent, she does not really look for many people to be around her. I have played for India for about 12 years, even more, but that sort of ‘missing’ has never happened. I feel that is the fatherly feeling that makes it happen.
Is your daughter naughty?
I think she is naughty (smiles), she is quite naughty. But at the same time, the experience that I have had with her, I think we are blessed to have a daughter like her. The reason being, right from the very start we started travelling with her, she was two months old, she has never troubled us at night. She would sleep at the right time, she would get up at the right time. She has been very good when it comes to eating food on time. These are the things which are very important when your child is very young. You want her to eat well, you want her to sleep well, and she has been very good when it comes to that.
She has also been very careful when it comes to playing, she is careful about the stuff that is around her, so that she does not get hurt. After a while, you feel comfortable that if you are not looking at her for one minute or two minutes or even more, the chances of an accident happening are very small. I also love the fact that she is hyperactive; once she is up, she is always on the move. She takes a nap for some time in the afternoon, but is always active.
What would be your message to children?
Irrespective of the age of the child, I think that childhood is something very important. That is the time which is essentially the foundation stone of life. What you learn in childhood is what you will take with you going forward in life.
You do not have to be boring in life, you have to be naughty, you have to be mischievous, but at the end of the day, you know the boundaries and you are always supposed to be within the boundaries.
So, I would say, enjoy everything in life. Play hard, study hard, listen to your parents, give love and respect to the elders and the ones younger to you, and have a lot of fun. A lot of people crib about the tough times that they go through, but that is what makes life interesting. If everything was smooth in life, you wouldn’t really enjoy it. It is the ups and the downs that happen because of which your emotions also go up and down, and that is what makes life more interesting. So, enjoy each and every moment.
Studies are very important but sports are as important as studies and that is one thing I have always told all the young people that I meet. Being fit is something that has to be there through your life. Even if you are very intelligent and very good in studies, if you are not fit enough, how will you enjoy your life? Everybody does not have to be a top athlete, but a normal level of fitness needs to be there. You are supposed to play some kind of an outdoor sport and spend less time on mobile phones and iPads, and use that time to play some kind of a sport – badminton, football, hockey. Be nice to everyone.
Thank you, sir. Now I would like to ask you a few questions on the specific issue of bullying. Were you ever bullied as a child?
I don’t think I was ever bullied. One of the reasons could be that often, people who are very small, thin or timid, you tend to get away without being bullied; if someone is very cute and cuddly, he/she also gets away with things. I was small and timid.
Another reason could be that I used to play with boys that were much older to me, and they saw me as a younger brother. We lived in a colony and were only two or three of us that were of the same age group, the other children were at least five or six years older to us. Maybe that is one of the reasons that I play cricket well, because I have always played cricket with people who were older than me, which meant that they had more power and they understood the game better. Playing with them made me better.
So as far as bullying is concerned, I do not think we were bullied at any point of time. Even when we started playing cricket at the under-16 or under-19 level, we were never bullied. Often, it depends on the seniors – how the seniors are in the team environment affects the nature of the team, and the juniors also get groomed according to them. What is important is that you keep on passing the baton to the next generation.
Bullying is not a thing that should happen. In a society, it does happen, but there are ways to deal with it. One of the effective ways is to pass on the culture of being against the concept of bullying, and the culture of being nice to people. That is what life is all about.
If someone was hitting you, would you hit back, walk away, or ask the person to stop?
To start off, I would not like to be in a situation where there is fist-fight or a verbal fight going on. If, for some reason, something like that happens and someone hits me, the first thing would be to ask the person to stop doing it, because everything can be resolved by sitting across the table and talking. If he does not stop, then there are different views on how a situation should be handled. So, I would ask him to stop, if he doesn’t stop, I would like to keep a bit of distance from him, but if he is still piling on to me, I would definitely like to defend myself. I would stand up to it, I would not just take everything just because he looks slightly older or bigger.
If someone was bullying you how would you convince him or her to stop?
I think it is important to have a conversation, but you can only have a conversation if the person who is bullying you is open to it, and you don’t start a confrontation with him at that point. The person may not bully you at that point of time due to the confrontation, but the idea is for him to internalise that bullying is bad, and that he should not do it. It needs to be a part of the system. He needs to get used to the idea that bullying anyone is not nice. It shouldn’t be that he bullies me because he thinks I am weak, and when I retaliate, he thinks I am strong, so he stops bullying me but picks on someone else.
As a professional cricketer, did you ever come across bullying and if so, how did you deal with it?
Cricket is known to be a gentlemen’s game. At the same time, there is banter that keeps going on, and that is very different to bullying. It is considered to be within the parameters of the rules and regulations and spirit of the game, where you may often say something to the opponent, and the opponent replies back, and it never becomes ugly on the field. It is called friendly banter, and it is between two friends on the field, and when you compete in a game, there is a bit of chirping to maybe disturb the other guy, so that he may get out or is not able to score the kind of runs that he wants to. That is considered to be fair in our sport. But I don’t think there is bullying.
What would be your advice to children with regard to how they should deal with bullying?
If you are bullied, definitely tell your parents, tell your teacher, and I would recommend a gradual way of doing it. Your parents may get worried, so approach your teacher first, and tell your teacher that he or she is bullying you. The teachers will help you. If that does not happen, you have your parents to turn to.
I would actually say, start with your friends, and then go to your teacher because that also teaches you how to deal with different scenarios. At the end of the day, in life you will often be in situations that you have to deal with yourself, so try to deal with the guy or the girl, and if he or she is unreasonable, take the help of your friends, then come the teacher, the class teacher and then the parents.
If you ask me, life is not fair, and we have to be prepared for it. Everything does not come in a simple way, or on a silver platter. Dealing with these things is important. The person bullying may actually require more help because psychologically there may be something wrong, but he or she may not consider that thing to be wrong, so you are actually going to help him or her realise that what he or she is doing is wrong. It is a win-win scenario where you come out of an unpleasant situation, and the other person realises what he or she is doing is wrong.
At the same time, do not absorb everything while thinking that if you ignore him or her it is fine. It is not fine. You may have the mental or the physical strength to absorb it and keep moving on in life, but not every child is the same. The child may become shy and may avoid talking to new people and may go in a shell. There are a lot of psychological changes that may happen, so make sure that if bullying is happening to you or around you, take a stand. Help the person who is being bullied to get out of it.