Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - COVER STORY - Text by Aasheesh Sharma; pho­tos shot ex­clu­sively for HT Brunch by Prab­hat Shetty

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.”


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.


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”


Shikhar Dhawan lis­ten­ing to a qawwali by Ghu­lam Saqlain and party, at the dar­gah of Hazrat Niza­mud­din Auliya, in New Delhi


Shikhar's visit to a baoli close to the Hazrat Niza­mud­din dar­gah in New Delhi left many young fans ex­cited

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