Readers Write In #260: MS Dhoni – The Stoic

Posted on September 4, 2020

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(by Sanjay NM)

Sportsmen are a blessed bunch. The adulation and attention that brings riches to them makes people from other professions look at them with envy. While a person working a desk job might not possess skills that an elite athlete has, it is natural for any human to crave for love and validation. If our work lives were narrated by Richie Benaud or Harsha Bhogle, turning up for work would not be so hard.

In India, such love is reserved only for cricketers and film stars. In a country where even the basic needs are not met for many, surely sports should be in the minds of only the privileged. But nothing can be further from the truth. On the eve of a world cup match, a ‘below poverty line’ man would look forward to the first ball as much as he looks forward to his first meal. Why this adulation? Have things not changed since the days of gladiators where they too were adored and were made to sign endorsements*?

Maybe the answer lies in the fact that sportsmen are philosophers and storytellers in disguise. They are storytellers; helping us live out our dreams and completing our incomplete stories; stories in which protagonists like us never fulfilled our dreams and had antagonists in the form of parents and society. They are philosophers; not the typical stereotypical ones who sit on painted porches* and argue endlessly on virtues, metaphysics & a good life, but ones who live a good life. Deception and ‘fakery’ might work in the corporate world. But in Sport, scorecards do not lie. Every day at the office starts from scratch. There is simply no baggage.

And so, when India’s “Once in a generation” player, MS Dhoni, decided to hang up his boots, the entire nation mourned. Mind you, the mourning came at the time when there is a raging pandemic and the man who portrayed this very player on screen killed himself, in the process becoming a victim of what I now call ‘India’s favorite reality show’.  But the man deserves every bit of it. Dhoni’s influence on not just cricket but fashion, small town identity and leadership is unimaginable. India’s cricket has had many superstars but only 2 major figures and with Dhoni’s retirement, both have walked into sunset. While the current Indian captain would end up breaking most records, one doubts if he would have as much impact as these 2 have had. If Indian cricket history was marked by “Before Sachin” and “After Retirement”, it is the time they added Dhoni to the timeline.

Sachin was a god and an immortal who nobody could touch. Dhoni on the other hand was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things. Sachin was timeless and did not age. Dhoni aged with every single series, hairline receding and beard graying. Sachin had a touch of bad luck. Dhoni turned everything into gold. Sachin’s persona was one of a motherly figure whose image could not be tarnished and one who could comfort us instantly. Dhoni was one of a father figure, frustrating to understand at times but whose value would only be realized in his absence. Sachin was flawless. Dhoni was flawed, often operating in areas of grey.  These 2 players are chalk and cheese, and yet they received the love of a Billion people in similar ways.

Every person would have their own ‘takeaways’ from Dhoni’s cricket life. For me, it would be simple. Dhoni was the most famous stoic to have played the game. He probably wouldn’t know it himself like many other stoics, which is what makes the philosophy more powerful. Stoicism isn’t an abstract theory. It’s a way of life. After all a man who constantly stresses on the process, a man who is immovable in moments of stress, a man who turns obstacles into a path, can be nothing but a stoic. Dhoni didn’t preach, he practiced.

Dhoni was a puzzle, sometimes a paradox and one who worked in mysterious ways. A man who took a bold move to leave out old legs a decade ago, turned up to the IPL with a “grand dad army”. A man who stayed calm in victory seemed sedated and stubborn in losing sprees*. A man who once tread dangerously on the thin line between team loyalty and whistle-blowing. A man who didn’t show any ego while giving glorious send-offs to seniors and handing over trophies to juniors thought that he was the only man who can win games at certain moments. A man who was skeptical of data and disregarded but had immense spatial intelligence and pattern recognition abilities and could ace any Athletic IQ test* on the planet.

As a wise man once said, Piety is not what the lessons bring to the people, It is the mistakes they bring to the lessons. The lessons of stoicism may never be more relevant. We will never hit the ball as hard as him, but we can learn virtues and values from him. So, this week as Dhoni takes the field, its not the time for “Thank you”, it’s not the time for mourning. Its the time to be present in the moment, focus on the joy of the process and enjoy every moment of this “once in a generation” player. Its the time to be a true stoic.

Also from the same Author:

https://baradwajrangan.wordpress.com/2017/03/23/readers-write-in-11-the-world-cup-that-wasnt/

https://baradwajrangan.wordpress.com/2019/10/08/readers-write-in-103-the-turk/

Footnotes:

Endorsements – Gladiators were not only popular but they also did brand endorsements.

Painted Porches – Stoicism derives its origin from the word stōïkos which means painted porches.

Losing spree –  India were whitewashed in both England and Australia in 2011/12.

AIQ Test –  Some NFL & NBA team draft players undergo a AIQ test which has been proved to have strong correlations with performance. The test consists of various questions which test spatial intelligence, route optimization, etc.