It’s 8:30 pm on Sunday, July 4. We’re standing outside a building called Sundaram — 10 B, Bardhaman Road, Alipore in Kolkata — suddenly famous because it’s where Sakshi Singh Rawat, 23, now Mrs Mahendra Singh Dhoni and accompanying him on her first cricket tour to Sri Lanka as an official WAG (wife/girlfriend of a sportsman), grew up.
From what we understand, even as we’re waiting to see if anyone calls on the house, Dhoni, 29, and Sakshi are getting married at that moment at the Vishruti Resorts outside Dehradun (the jaimaalas were reportedly exchanged at 8:37 pm).
The street is empty, till you suddenly spot a man entering the house with a bag of vegetables. Sunil Topar, who’s been working as a cook at Sakshi’s home for five years, was forced to stay indoors through the day because of the media storm outside. Seeing us, he starts running, but after we catch up, and coax him for a bit, he reluctantly agrees to speak.
“Yes, Dhoni has come home about 15 times,” he admits, blushing, adding that he himself is a tribal from Purulia. Asked whether he ever spoke to the Indian skipper, he replies in the negative. “No, they all used to sit in the other room. I was busy cooking in the kitchen.” He says that he did cook for Dhoni, but wouldn’t say what. “I do not want to share the details.” He then runs away to the elevator.
Rabindra Nath Pandit, a local driver, says he’s seen Dhoni around off and on for a while. “The Rawats live in flat number 3C and have been living here for 12 years. Sakshi’s father is a director of a tea company. Her mother is a homemaker, while her brother (Akshay) studies abroad,” says Pandit.
In fact, Sakshi herself was born in Guwahati, where her father ran a tea estate before selling it and moving the family to Kolkata. Sakshi was later sent off to study at the Welhams Girls School in Dehradun but is fluent in Bengali and considers Kolkata home.
Those who know both Sakshi and Dhoni well, aren’t surprised that they decided to keep both their romance and subsequent marriage a closely-guarded secret. “People who know Dhoni know that his public persona and reportedly starry lifestyle are a beautifully orchestrated marketing gimmick — with his blessings of course. He’s very street-smart. But otherwise, his only vice are his bikes. He’s a regular guy, he doesn’t drink, likes home food and his idea of a good time is to hang out with his close friends or lie in bed and watch an old Hindi movie.”
And what of Sakshi? “She’s much the same,” says a friend. “In fact, till Dhoni entered her life, she wasn’t even interested in cricket. Now though, she’s an avid Team India follower.”
It’s almost a fairytale, this story of how the urban girl-next-door from a well-to-do home was successfully won by the boy who epitomises the rags to riches story. His father, Pan Singh, moved to Ranchi via Lucknow and Bokaro in 1964 from a village called Talasalam in Almora district in search of a job.
Dhoni is still, at heart, a small-town boy, Sakshi is very much a big city girl. Her Facebook page talks of her favourite things and it’s an eclectic list: Chick flick meets American reality shows meets Requiem for a Dream. She’s a self-confessed foodie. She graduated from college (the Institute of Hotel Management in Aurangabad) earlier this year, but at this point, there are no plans to work.
So where’s the meeting ground? “You only have to look at them to know they’ve found it,” says a friend. Good for them.