MUSIC HAS AN ANSWER
The Sufi melodies of the Wadali Brothers and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan are the soundtrack to Shikhar Dhawan’s present state of mind. Days after the IPL victory, Brunch takes him to a qawwali performance at the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin
Darararein, 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 fifix 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 for an exclusive HT Brunch shoot.
We are taking Shikhar to the mausoleum of the 12th century Sufifi mystic, since he is an avowed lover of Sufifi music and wants to experience the magic of a live qawwali performance for the fifi rst 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 Sufifi.
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 been veering towards soulful songs 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 Sufifiana kalam,” says the southpaw opener, as he sips at his fresh lime soda at The Lodhi hotel.
One of the reasons for Shikhar’s affifi nity for Sufifi 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 ton became so big on the popular psyche as 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).
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 awe of every glance of the cupbearer, 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. “When I touched his feet, he invited me to have lunch with him. His simplicity was disarming.”
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 lessons from the cut and dry world of cricket, which have reaffirmed Shikhar’s faith in the power of destiny. If it wasn’t for destiny, how could the JattSikh from Janakpuri have ended up marrying an Anglo-Indian kickboxing instructor from Melbourne? It was a stroke of destiny, with some help from technology.
He chanced upon the Facebook profile of Ayesha Mukherjee on Harbhajan Singh’s timeline and was enchanted by her looks. “I used to mock my cousin for falling in love over the Internet. But then it happened to me.”
Shikhar has moved beyond all things Sufi apart from music. He listens to motivational speakers on YouTube 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 designs 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’ll be helpless.”
And the batsman 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 simply live for the present moment.”
“Sufism has taught me one great 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”
AMONG THE BELIEVERS
Shikhar Dhawan listening to a qawwali by Ghulam Saqlain and party, at the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, in New Delhi
MAKING A SPLASH!
Shikhar's visit to a baoli close to the Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah in New Delhi left many young fans excited