It’s as though Dhoni is saying ‘Aaj se main aazaad hoon’
A Sahir Ludhianvi devotee and Mahendra Singh Dhoni tracker decodes the Instagram message and video that brought the curtains down on 15 years of the keeper, finisher and leader. Between one run out and another, will there ever be someone ‘tumse behtar khelne waale and humse behtar dekhne waale?’
This cricket watcher of five decades sure doubts it.
1 Dhoni remained faithful to his conduct right to the end of his career; he displayed no emotion when he announced his retirement. He wrote a 17-word (if you count the aggregation of numerals as one word) retirement release, one of the briefest I have seen (no thanking mom, dad, dog, masseur, rasoiyya and agent).
2 Dhoni got marhoom (deceased) Sahir Ludhianvi to do his ‘talking’ instead -- the song ‘Main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon’ from the 1976 movie Kabhi Kabhie ran in the background through virtually the 4.07 minutes length of the retirement film, serving for what he would have liked to have said at the press conference that never was.
3 Dhoni bypassed the intermediary and went straight to the market through his Instagram page (making it far easier for people like me to ‘sell’ Instagram as a promotional platform to corporates seeking to preen their image; if Dhoni can, anyone can).
4 For someone who had 27.7 mn followers on Instagram as of August 15, 2020, his retirement announcement attracted 24.1 mn views and 7.23 lac comments within just 19 hours, which says something about the universal power of social media access and Dhoni’s loyal fan following (almost as if they were waiting with the phone in front to see when he would…).
5 The Dhoni retirement note does not appear to have been crafted by any slick comma-watching PR agency; it probably came straight from an impromptu mind (the proofreader in me pounced on the ‘ur’ for what should have been ‘your’, ‘Retired’ for what should have been ‘retired’ and the interloper of a full stop in the middle of a sentence).
6 There is a subtle undertone to the retirement timing: it came on a day when India was freed from British rule, indicating the beginning of a new chapter in the land’s existence; in this case one could almost hear Dhoni saying ‘Aaj se main aazaad hoon’ – and what a day to say it.
7 Dhoni used 69 pictures from different time-slices of his career which kept flipping as the kalaam rolled about the transience of life and fame and everything in between; the one at the outset comprising his being run out in his first ODI innings and coming full circle with one towards the end when he is run out again in his last international innings against New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup -- quite an irony for someone who was probably the fastest runner between wickets.
8 Dhoni took the high with the low, remaining calm in victory and stoic in defeat; and so, we have a frame of him walking back in the World Cup 2007 tie against Sri Lanka with the scoreboard label showing ‘0’ against his name, followed by his effigies being burnt as India crashed out of the tournament (he actually carried that visual, some fellow). Four years later, it was a different story.
9 Coming to 2011, of the 69 frames used in the retirement film, the one that deserved to have been used was the one where he is hitting that decisive six that won India its second World Cup – it is not just a Dhoni picture, it is one of the most celebrated frames from India’s cricketing history; permitted to go further, it is one of the most defining moments in the history of a confident nation -- and, it doesn’t figure in the film!
10 The picture montage tells a story: the two pictures that stood out for me were one where he is wearing Santa Claus headgear on the ground with his teammates and the other of him being airborne with colleagues in what appears to be a residential drawing room (can someone ask him the relevance of this picture on Instagram please, instead of the usual ‘We will miss you’?).
11 Speaking of teammates, there are some 47 frames of Dhoni celebrating on the field or enjoying down time off it with his colleagues. He includes them all: Sachin and Sourav, Dravid and Laxman, Kumble and Sehwag, Yuvraj and Harbhajan, Raina and Gambhir, Virat and Rohit, Kuldeep and Chahal, Bumrah and Hardik.... (And to think that in the Kabhi Kabhie song, all that Yash Chopra had to show was his hero standing and singing and his heroine sitting and smiling in the second row.)
12 In the singular frames we see Dhoni the gloveman first, then Dhoni the batsman, then Dhoni the captain; Dhoni the fist-pumper some five times; Dhoni the golfer and even Dhoni the dancer!
13 When the Mukesh croon trails off, The Voice (aka Amitabh Bachchan) comes on. AB recites a few lines extracted from Kabhi Kabhie as the curtains come down on Dhoni’s last innings, on our World Cup 2019 campaign, and on a deserted Team India dressing room. It might interest triviaphiles that for a man who is ‘followed’ on Instagram by the equivalent of three times the population of, say, Israel, Dhoni ‘follows’ only three people in return. Sakshi Singh. Ziva Singh Dhoni. And… The Voice himself!
14 The retirement came at 1929 hours (not 7.29pm). The only plausible connection is that sunset on August 15, 2020 in the westernmost part of India (Guhar Mota) was at 1929 hours. What is the mysterious internal message behind this? Search me. You can get only as far with the Greta Garbo of Indian cricket: he puts you on a trail to seek hidden meanings and you rouse the Poirot in you for the rest of the day, ‘discover’ six layers behind this decision when it could have been no more than a passing fancy for MSD.
15 One can’t but keep getting back to the selection of the song – not only for the rich timeliness of the kalaam but also for Dhoni’s humility to use the line ‘Masroof zamaana mere liye kyun waqt apna barbaad kare… (Why will a world so busy waste its time on me)’.
As the great Khurana would say in Khosla ka Ghosla: ‘(Dhoni) saheb, aapke saath kabhi baithna hai…’
Mudar Patherya is a former cricket writer who still occasionally takes guard. His Instagram handle is @mudarpatherya