From 'Captain Cool' to Lt Col MS Dhoni!
Dhoni exemplified the traits of a classic ‘officer and a gentleman’ who carried himself with the required correctness, rectitude, and the unmistakable Paratrooper élan!
The unforgiving hills of the Kumaon region are a naturally abundant catchment area for some of the finest soldering intake of the Indian Armed Forces. It hosts one the most decorated, gallant and disciplined regiments of the Indian Infantry, the indefatigable Kumaon Regiment. These simple, God-fearing and hardy hill folks of the region, pride in their martial pedigree by claiming to have never fully been subjugated by any foreign power. The embarrassment of military riches from the region has afforded an unparalleled galaxy of military war heroes and decorations, Chiefs of various services and for the native Kumaon Regiment, to have given an unprecedented three Indian Army Chiefs. Therefore, when a fit, ramrod-straight young soldier from a nondescript village called Lwali in Almora district of Kumaon, marches up swiftly in his military uniform, accepts and adds yet another decoration to the overflowing Kumaoni military heritage would hardly make any news, except, that this soldier's name was Lt Col Mahendra Singh Dhoni! Just another proud Dhauni ('Dhoni' was erroneously captured in the school certificate, for posterity) boy who followed the illustrious footsteps of his ancestors who swelled the armies of the fierce Chand Rajas, British Indian Army and today, the Indian Armed Forces – in a perfect ode to Thomas Babington's hoary intonation to the profession of soldering, "And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods".
The innocent, genuine, and unabashed love for the military uniform made 'Captain Cool' confess, "Since childhood, I wanted to join the Army. I used to visit the cantonment area and seeing the soldiers I used to think that one day I will also be among them". In 2011, Mahendra Singh Dhoni realised his childhood dream when he was bestowed the honorary rank of Lt Col in the Territorial Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, a logical choice for the fittest player in the Indian Cricket team, even at the age of 37. Not only did he adorn the uniform, but wore it with trademark dignity, sincerity and aplomb – unlike many others like him, the uniform was not a social prop for MS Dhoni and the paratrooper literally earned his 'wings'. The gentleman officer from 106 Parachute Regiment, underwent grueling training at the Paratroopers Training School (PTS) and earned the right to wear the coveted Para Wings insignia on his chest after making the five successful para-jumps, including one at night. Befittingly, the inventor of the famed 'Helicopter Shot' gravitated towards the 'Red Devils' who adorn the coveted Maroon Berets. Recently, the country erupted in a joyous frenzy when MS Dhoni chose to deliberately wear his military uniform, march with the requisite swagger and finesse, and then smartly saluted the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces, before accepting the third highest civilian award, Padma Bhushan. True to his lineage, career record, and his word, MS Dhoni exemplified the traits of a classic 'officer and a gentleman' who carried himself with the required correctness, rectitude, and in this case, the unmistakable Paratrooper élan!
The Parachute Regiment motto is 'Shatrujeet' (Conqueror), an apt analogy to MS Dhoni's own record outside of his military uniform where he captained and guided the Indian Cricket Team to the highest levels of professional accomplishment and wins. The trademark devil-may-care paratrooper also manifested in the cricket field with his unconventional and intuitive playing style that ripped apart bowlers landing the ball at the best of lines-and-length, only to be dispatched clear of the boundary lines in full flight. The cricketing 'surgical strikes' of MS Dhoni came alive with the surreal pace and ferocity behind the stumps and with the 'kinetic' counter-attacks that he would unleash at the dead-end of the innings that earned him the well-deserved title as the best-finisher of the game. Like a true paratrooper who stealthy undertakes the most hostile challenges in extreme situations – MS Dhoni has been a role-model for mental toughness, innovativeness, and resilience under any circumstance. The intrinsic 'never say die' spirit of the Para's has haunted the opposition tearooms', whenever MS Dhoni has decided to make a mockery of conventional cricketing wisdom and techniques. Under him, the raw talent emerged from the dust-bowl districts of provincial India and each player in the team acquired the kind of confidence, gusto, and dare that personified the adage that described the heroics of paratroopers in WW 11, 'Men apart. Every man, an Emperor'.
MS Dhoni does not dabble in unnecessary jingoism, partake political haberdasher or take on the cricketers from across the LOC on social media platforms, as is the wont of some. From a former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharaf who said, "Dhoni is the most entertaining and exciting" to a former Captain of Pakistan team, Shoaib Malik describing him as 'Legend GOAT' (Greatest of all times) – the endearing humility, solidity, and brilliance has made him transit from a great to a champion, on both sides of LOC. The Pakistani cricket team too has affection for their own Army as Dhoni's counterpart in Pakistan, Misbah-ul-Haq, kept his word to his Pakistani Army trainers in Abbottabad by doing push-ups on-field, after his own century and the team victory in England.
Many eminent sportspersons (e.g. Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev), film star (Mohanlal) and politicians (Sachin Pilot, Anurag Thakur) have been given honorary ranks or joined the Territorial Army in the hope that they act as inspiring ambassadors to the youth of the country. MS Dhoni perhaps more than anyone else, wears his uniform on his heart. He has forewarned of his post-cricket plans by confirming, "Once my cricket career is over, I would definitely like to serve in the army" – not out of any misplaced sense of xenophobic hyper-nationalism but perhaps out of the respect, pride and the nobility of wearing the uniform, and being a soldier. This sense of purpose beseeches and insists upon the 'soldier' towards upholding certain codes, ethics, and behavioural standards, and Lt Col MS Dhoni has 'led from the front' in both his role as a cricketer and as a shining ambassador of the Indian Armed Forces.
Lt General Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. The views expressed are strictly personal