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How Sufi music helps Shikhar Dhawan find his groove

We take the Wadali Brothers and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan fan to experience his first live qawwali at the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin. The result: A batsman on a philosophical new pitch!

brunch Updated: Jun 12, 2016 12:17 IST
Shikhar Dhawan,Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,Wadali Brothers
Shikhar Dhawan listening to a qawwali by Ghulam Saqlain and party, at the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, in New Delhi.(Shot exclusively for HT Brunch by Prabhat Shetty)

Dararein, dararein hain maathe pe maula, Marammat muqaddar ki kar do maula.

The rhythmic clapping echoes in the courtyard. The turbaned man perched on a marble platform rocks his head like a dervish, oblivious to the sea of fawning admirers trying to click him on their phones.

The head qawwal may be invoking the Almighty to fix the lines of fate on his forehead but Shikhar Dhawan doesn’t need to call in the gods to repair his fortune. At least not these days! With four 50s in IPL 2016 that helped Sunrisers Hyderabad win the title, the champion batsman is visiting the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin in Delhi, for an exclusive HT Brunch shoot.

We are taking Shikhar to the mausoleum of the 12th century Sufi mystic, since he is an avowed lover of Sufi music and wants to experience the magic of a live qawwali performance at the dargah, for the first time.

His moustache, tattoos, rat-tail and earrings appear to be a smart subterfuge. Shikhar may wield his bat like a sabre and unnerve bowlers with his braggadocio, but get him talking about qawwalis and another avatar emerges: A mellow man who is content plying his trade in the way of a Sufi.

Not many know Shikhar swears by the lyrics of Satinder Sartaaj, the sublime Punjabi shabads of Wadali Brothers and the soul-wrenching but insightful qawwalis of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. For close to a decade now, Shikhar, an avid listener of music from his native Punjab (his father Mahendra Dhawan hails from Ludhiana), has developed a fondness for soulful lyrics that have a left a profound impression on him. “If you look beyond the catchy beat, you then begin to understand the lyrics. The next step was relating those lyrics to situations in my own life. In this way, I gravitated towards the Sufiana kalam,” says the southpaw opener, as he sips his fresh lime soda at The Lodhi hotel.

One of the reasons for Shikhar’s affinity for Sufi music is its ability to provide perspective in the high-pressure world of cricket. There have been a number of situations in life in which he had to question the inexplicable ways of God, the way Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan does in his epic qawwali: Tum ek gorakh dhanda ho. One of its lines goes: Sub hain jab ashik tumhare naam ke, kyon yeh jhagday hain Rahim-o-Ram kay?

Player of the tournament in the Under-19 World Cup of 2003-04, Shikhar had to wait for almost eight years before he could make his debut for India despite amassing more than 5,000 first-class runs. “Yes, I’ve faced tough situations in life. But I could handle them well since listening to Sufi songs taught me to treat success and setbacks in the same manner,” he says. “People say I struggled in domestic cricket for nine years before I got my international break. I tell them I was as happy in that phase too. Sufism has taught me one lesson: Be grateful for what you have today. I knew my day would come. Even if it didn’t, I was paying shukrana (thanking God) for my present.”

Dhawan’s day came and how! He made arguably the best debut by an Indian batsman, blasting 187 runs off just 174 balls against an Aussie attack that included Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Moisés Henriques and Nathan Lyon. “A century on debut was destiny’s gift for me. When something comes to you from destiny, it opens a lot of doors. If I hadn’t hit that hundred, I may not have made it to the One Day team. But the impact of the century became so big on the popular psyche since it arrived when destiny wanted it to.”

In the Sufi Mood

Songs with Sufi lyrics invoke a gamut of emotions in Shikhar, he says. When he hears Gurdas Maan’s Lakh pardesi hoyiye, for instance, it rouses his inner patriot. The song goes: Jede mulk da khaiye usda bura nahin mangi da (Never wish ill for the country that has given you your bread).

“In another song, Jogiya, Maan sings: Jad tak meh-meh na marre, tu -tu bole koun jogiya. In other words, till the time a person kills his ego, he cannot hope to go on the path towards the Almighty.”

When Shikhar is feeling romantic, he turns to the unfathomable aalaps of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, he says. “In a romantic mood, I listen to Saanu ik pal chain na aaye. When he sings Dil kamla dub dub jawe sajna tere bina (my insane heart is sinking in your absence) it evokes a certain longing. He then resurrects you from the depths of melancholy with Yeh jo halka, halka suroor where a line goes: Saaqi ki har nigah pe bal khaa ke pee gaya, lehron se khelta hua lehra ke pi gaya. (In admiration of every glance of the cup-bearer, I drank swaying with the waves of joy.)”

It is clear that the batsman, known for his dazzling array of strokes, is also a firm believer in the strokes of serendipity. For example, he says, he chanced upon Pyarelal Wadali, one half of the celebrated Sufi duo Wadali Brothers, at the Delhi airport.

“I noticed Pyarelal ji near the arrival area. I told him I was a fan of their songs such as Tu mane ya na mane dildara,” recalls Shikhar. “He did not even know I played cricket for India. But when I touched his feet, he invited me to have lunch with him. His simplicity was disarming.”

Shikhar’s visit to a baoli close to the Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah in New Delhi left many young fans excited. (Shot exclusively for HT Brunch by Prabhat Shetty)

Analyse This

Shikhar relates the songs he listens to, with everyday philosophy. In a song, Hansraj Hans sings that if you get over-excited about the downfall of your enemies, your own fall isn’t far behind.

“Destiny is a very powerful force. The long bad phases in my life were meant to be. They made me think that I have to change things around,” he says.

Shikhar illustrates his point with the 2016 cricket season. The T20 World Cup did not go well for him. He didn’t score heavily in the first few matches of the IPL either. So the lean phase became longer. It was during a four-day break between matches that he decided to turn things around. “Mera kharab phase thoda bada ho gaya,” he gesticulates, spreading his arms.

“So, I sought the advice of [VVS] Laxman bhai and did slight modifications. It helped me turn things around and I ended up hitting four fifties in the tournament,” he says with a smile.

Of Loves & Likes

It isn’t just the cut and dry world of cricket and the lessons that he learnt there, which have reaffirmed his faith in the power of destiny. If it wasn’t for destiny, how could the Jatt-Sikh batsman from Janak Puri have ended up married to an Anglo-Indian kickboxing instructor from Melbourne? It was a matter of destiny, with a little bit of help from technology.

He chanced upon the Facebook profile of Ayesha Mukherjee on his teammate Harbhajan Singh’s timeline and was enchanted by her looks. “I never thought I would get married at 28. In my heart I knew I wanted my wife to be sporty. I used to mock my cousin for falling in love over the Internet. But then it happened to me.”

After tying the knot in 2012 with Ayesha, who is older to him by more than a decade, Shikhar realised how much he loved being dad to his daughters Rhea and Aliyah (Ayesha’s children from an earlier marriage). And when his son Zorawar was born, Shikhar could again indulge his passion for parenting.

“Travelling the world has expanded my horizons. We were brought up in a different manner: I was often scolded and beaten up for my mistakes. I can never imagine doing that with my kids,” says Dhawan.

The Dhawans’ elder daughter Rhea wants to play cricket like her dad and Aliyah is learning gymnastics. “I tell them to be happy in whatever they pursue. Even if they are cleaning a table, they should be happy doing it. I just want my children to stay healthy and happy. I like being surrounded by the playfulness and laughter that children bring to a home,” says Shikhar.

His friends in West Delhi’s Janak Puri, where he grew up remember Shikhar’s happy countenance and full laughter that earned him the nickname Gabbar. Even today, after winning international fame, Gabbar comes across as a contented, happy man. Dividing time between Melbourne and New Delhi, Shikhar is looking forward to joining his wife and kids for a few days before the tour to the West Indies. “For a relationship to be successful, laughing with your husband or wife is very important. My daughters want me to be home for longer. I miss seeing my toddler son for months. After two months, I feel he has grown up so much. But when I am with them I want to spend time on activities that make them happy.”

Shikhar has moved forward in all things Sufi beyond music. He listens to motivational speakers on You Tube and can relate to the philosophy they spout. “It all boils down to fallibility. With the trappings of money many people think they are all-powerful. But they are helpless against the long hands of destiny. A man may think he is invincible but if his kismet draws him to some mysterious disease which cannot even be diagnosed he will be helpless.”

And he has formulated his own brand of street cred from the wisdom of the Sufis. “In the book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes: ‘Realise that the present moment is all you have. Make the now the primary focus of your life.’ One doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring. So I live for the present moment.”

Shikhar Dhawan gets the ceremonial welcome at the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin in New Delhi. (Shot exclusively for HT Brunch by Prabhat Shetty )

Quirks Of Fate?

India Ink

Shikhar Dhawan loves to get inked. But the subjects have evolved. Known earlier for snazzy designs, his tattoos now include one of the archer Arjuna, one of Lord Shiva and one of Baba Deep Singh, one of the most respected martyrs in Sikhism

Rhythm Divine

Two songs that play on loop on his phone: Maanva Thandiya chaavan, Maanvan de harjaney lokon kaun bhare, by Gurdas Mann: About how you cannot ever expect to repay your mother’s debt (harjana).

Sai, by Satinder Sartaj: The popular devotional song that Shikhar turns to when he is feeling down and out

Coach, coach hota hai

Tarak Sinha and Madan Sharma: Besides training with Sinha Sir for eight years, I have been training with Madan Bhai since childhood. I share a guru-shishya relationship with him. My playing for India has not changed things. In this journey I’ve met a lot of coaches. But I can share my most deep-set emotions and concerns only with him.

Fitness Mantras

His fitness regime includes three gym sessions every week that include weight training, power lifting and cardio. Plus, mobility training and some yoga. Shikhar’s workout set includes a 30-minute warm up session which comprises glute exercises, mobility training and stretching after which he engages in push press. He concentrates a lot on enhancing his core.

Shikhar’s greatest highs...

1. First ton against the Aussies at Mohali

2. Two hundreds in the Champions Trophy

3. Becoming fastest Indian to score 3000 runs in ODIs

And the lows...

• Failing in Test series against England, South Africa and Australia

• Being dropped from the playing eleven after a few matches in the last T20 World Cup

Signature on-field moves: Twirling his moustache after he scores a hundred. Walking out calmly after he loses his wicket.

• Most pleasurable pursuit these days: Feeding parrots with his three children at a mountain resort near Melbourne

Reporter’s Note

Shikhar ‘The One’, Stirred And Shaken

Sufi singing is meant to be a gateway to The One. Taking Shikhar Dhawan to the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya sounds like a tranquil exercise. But then you come across thousands (yes, there were a few thousand star-crazed raucous fans) trying to take selfies with the explosive batsman.

One needs all the equanimity of a Sufi saint or a zen warrior to not get run over by fans shrieking and attempting to get closer to a cricket celebrity.

But talking Sufi music with Shikhar turned out to be more exciting than a T20 match. He comes across as unpretentious, happy and warm. It isn’t difficult to imagine the fleet-footed southpaw break into a dervish dance listening to Mohe peer payo Nizamuddin Auliya! But that’ll be another story, for another time.

Photos shot exclusively for Brunch by Prabhat Shetty

Grooming by Magnifique, the luxury boutique salon, Defence Colony, New Delhi

Follow @Aasheesh74 on Twitter

From HT Brunch, June 12

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First Published: Jun 11, 2016 15:47 IST