Maninder Singh

Talking Cricket

'I had nowhere to go, so I went to the bottle'

Maninder Singh talks about losing his way after his all-too-brief spell at the top, and the hard road back

Interview by Hemant Brar  |  

Maninder Singh was once a prodigy. He was 15 when his hero Bishan Singh Bedi handed him his first-class debut in a Ranji Trophy knockout match. In 1982, against Pakistan, he became India's youngest ever Test player at the time, at 17 years and 193 days. There was a period in the mid-1980s when it indeed looked like he might emulate Bedi at the highest level of the game, but then Maninder lost his bowling action and the wickets dried up.

If success was difficult to handle at a tender age, failure proved to be devastating. Maninder trained hard but his troubles were more mental. He became a recluse, and developed a drinking problem. At 30, when spinners usually reach their peak, his cricket career came to an end. Life brought further challenges after retirement, including an arrest for allegedly possessing cocaine.

In a long and candid chat with the Cricket Monthly in Delhi, Maninder opened up about the highs and lows of his playing days, his struggles with anger and alcohol, self-destruction, and coming back a stronger person.

How and when did you get interested in cricket?
I was interested in sports since childhood. I think I was about 11 or 12 when I saw a Test match [on TV] being played in Delhi. And I saw Bishan Singh Bedi bowl. A Sikh. I was also a Sikh. He was a left-arm spinner, I was also a left-hander. So I said I wanted to be like him.

Then I started working towards how to convince my parents, because I was very good at studies as well. My mother always used to say, study and find a good profession. When I was about 13, in 1978, I said, okay, let me play for just two months in the summers. I found out cricket was being played at the National Stadium [now called SAI], near India Gate.

"No, it's very hot," my mother would say, "Loo lag jayegi." [You will get sunstroke.] My brother convinced her and I was allowed two months. When I came back, my mother would be there with a glass of lime water. But when you do something passionately, you don't feel the heat.

And after those two months?
It was the last day at the National Stadium in the summer of 1978. Mr Gurcharan Singh was holding an All-India U-19 camp in Bombay, but that got over about a week early because of the rains, so he came back to Delhi. He was at the stadium, watching, and he asked somebody who this sardar was.

"When I used to see my videos after I retired, I used to go, 'Wow... wow.' I used to think about what I had wasted. And that was a big frustration"

The coach at that time, Mr Bhatnagar, told him that this was my last day, I wasn't going to continue. When I was coming back on my cycle, Mr Gurcharan Singh called me and asked, "Aur khelna hai?" [Do you want to play more?] I said yes. "But Bhatnagar sir is saying this is your last day." I said I only got this much permission. He asked, "How you are in studies? What percentage marks do you score?" I said, 95-97. He took my address.

When I reached home, he was sitting there. He said to my parents, "He must be going to a nearby park to play. You send him to me for the same duration." My parents said, "No, no, going to the stadium daily will consume a lot of time. Then he will be tired and won't be able to concentrate on his studies." "Okay, send him for three days," he said. For three days my mother allowed it. After a few days he said again that he wanted to meet my parents. My parents knew he would say to let me play more or something like that. So they didn't go.

I told my brother: if they don't allow me to play, I won't study. My brother went and met my coach. My coach said, "This is a diamond kept in dust and I want to shine it." Then my brother understood. He saw my passion and convinced my parents and they allowed me to play for five days a week.

After two-three months, my coach said, "I want to change your school." I was in Central School and there was no cricket team there. He wanted me to go to a school where there was a cricket team, so that I could play good, competitive matches. He wanted me to get into Bal Bharati Air Force School.

Now in Central School the fee was Rs 3 a month. Here the fee was Rs 130 per month. My dad said he could never afford that kind of a fee, because he was in government service. My coach said, "Okay I will get you 50% concession, so it will be Rs 65 per month." My dad said, "Sir, this is impossible, I just cannot pay this kind of a fee."

I was crying that evening. My brother saw it and said he would pay my fee. And he was only in college at that time. He used to bike 20km a day to give tuitions and make some money. My coach took a promise from the school principal: that if he plays for the state, you will remit his fee. Soon after, I played for Delhi and the fee was remitted.

Then you went to England with the India Young Cricketers team.
Before that I had played Ranji Trophy also. I remember Bishan Singh Bedi had seen me at the National Stadium and he called me to practise with the Ranji Trophy team, and against all odds he made me play Ranji Trophy at the age of 15. Three matches, only two wickets, didn't do too well.

Mike Gatting survives an appeal for a catch off Maninder on day five of the 1986 Headingley Test, which India won. Maninder took four wickets in the final innings

Mike Gatting survives an appeal for a catch off Maninder on day five of the 1986 Headingley Test, which India won. Maninder took four wickets in the final innings Ken Kelly / © Popperfoto/Getty Images

And then I went to England. Think it was in 1981. I took a lot of wickets. And they had all county players [in the opposition].

They had a fast bowler, David Lawrence. I saw him playing with one of those slot machines and I took some money out from my allowance and tried to play. When I put it in, the machine started making some weird noise. So I ran up to David Lawrence and said, 'Uncle, uncle, this machine is making that noise. I don't know what to do.' He came and thhak thhak kiya kuchh [knocked the machine a couple of times], I got a couple of pounds. Next day, we are going to play the match against England and I see David Lawrence coming out to play against us. I was that young, and their team was all these county players. And I got wickets in every match that I played.

The next Ranji Trophy season you did pretty well.
Bishan paaji had retired by then. Mohinder Amarnath was the captain. I used to do three, three and a half hours of practice and bowl to every batsman, from first to last. I don't know what Mohinder paaji saw in me. We went to Patiala, and one night before the match he called me and said, "Beta, tussi kal khed rahe ho." [Son, you are playing tomorrow.] I was shocked. I was thinking I was there only to bowl in the nets, because there was another senior left-arm spinner in the side. He was another messiah in my life, Mohinder Amarnath. The next day he goes for the toss, comes back and says: This is the team. Maninder Singh at No. 11.

I got 14 wickets in the match, eight in the first innings and six in the second. I don't know how Jimmy paa took that kind of a decision, in that kind of pressure. If I hadn't done well, people would have torn him apart. That season in five Ranji Trophy matches I got 40 [39] wickets. Three Duleep Trophy matches, in the first two games, against East Zone and Central Zone, I took 18 wickets, nine and nine. And as Delhi had won the Ranji Trophy that season, we played the Irani Trophy. I got six wickets in the first innings, two in the second. So eight there. I got some 66 wickets in eight matches and got selected for the Pakistan tour.

Tell us about your introduction to Test cricket.
Before the Pakistan tour we were told that relations are not very good between the countries. There was a proper class taken, telling us that when a decision goes against you, you have to keep quiet, because we don't want to spoil diplomatic relations.

I played five out of the six Tests, got only three wickets. Because it was their umpires, there was no chance of getting lbw, caught-behind, caught at silly point. Nothing. At one stage, I appealed for a catch at silly point against Saleem Malik, and late Shakoor Rana sahab said, "Aaja, aaja, ethe sirf bowled kar, ethe ohiyeo wicket milegi." [Come back, you need to get batsmen bowled - that's the only way you'll get a dismissal here.]

"The ball used to get stuck in my hand. There was a fear seated in my mind. And then there came a stage I used to think: whoever is watching would be laughing at me"

About a week after returning from Pakistan, there was the West Indies tour. Same situation with the umpires. There was no way you could get lbws. And West Indies were a very strong team anyway. Out of the five Test matches, I played the first three and then I got dropped, not only from those Test matches but from the team.

I went to Sri Lanka in 1985, I did pretty all right. Then 1986 in England I did very well. I got one and three in the first Test. Second Test I don't think I got to bowl in the first innings. Second innings I got four wickets. And the last Test, I got two and two. My analysis [in the second innings of the first Test] was 20 overs, nine runs, three wickets, 12 maidens - like that. I bowled brilliantly. I had worked very hard.

You were also very successful against Sri Lanka and Pakistan at home in 1986-87, but after that you lost your form. What went wrong?
I used to bowl for two hours, two and a half hours, in the nets, but then came a time I used to bowl 20 minutes, 25 minutes and think that's enough. Which wasn't. I remember Bishan paaji used to tell me: the more you bowl, the better you get and your confidence level stays high. But at that age you think you know everything. I didn't realise that such a great man was giving me advice which I should take.

I was in the Rest of the World team in England [in 1987]. I stayed after that series, had a holiday, and fell sick there. I got these fevers. I would take some medicine and when the fever subsided, I used to go out for a run. I was still training. Watching Jimmy paa, Madan Lal train, I had sort of become fond of training. By the time I came back to India, I started feeling very weak. No strength in the body. And when I went to bowl in the nets, I kind of lost my action.

What happened to your action?
I don't know. I just lost it. I think I was one of those players who wanted a continuation of cricket, and that break of four months, just training, not playing cricket at all, mere te bhaari pai gaya [cost me dearly].

After that I watched a lot of videos, went to my coach, went to Bishan paaji, but I couldn't get my action back. I had that double jump, which I lost.

What was your mental state at the time?
It was very, very frustrating. I couldn't bowl the way I was bowling. I wasn't getting the bounce I used to get.

I was 22-23. I became very temperamental. Started misbehaving. Anybody said anything, I would take it the wrong way. I remember once we were in Calcutta and a photographer who used to really like me came to my room and said, "Manni, put in some hard work because the selectors are talking of dropping you." And I blasted him, saying get out of my room and all that. Those kinds of nonsense I did because I couldn't take anything negative.

At the MCC bicentenary match in 1987

At the MCC bicentenary match in 1987 Patrick Eagar / © Popperfoto/Getty Images

That was the time I should have taken help - maybe gone to a neutral person, a psychologist, and told him or her that this was the problem I was having - how to handle it? But in those days if you went to someone like that, people would think you were mad.

And then I was a name. I was scared if I went to a psychologist or a psychiatrist, people would write in the newspapers and all that. So I showed a brave front. But from inside I was gone. Fukk gaya si. [I was totally spent.]

So how did you handle that?
How did I handle that? I didn't. I couldn't handle that. And that's where I became destructive. Mentally. Trying too hard. Getting more and more frustrated. There were times I used to go to the nets at five in the morning and bowl alone. Kyon ni aa rea, kyon ni aa rea, kyon ni… [Why is it not happening, why is it not happening, why is it not…]. Sometimes when you are trying to get to your goal with too much eagerness, the goal starts running away from you.

Did comparisons with Bishan Bedi put extra pressure on you?
That was a pressure from the very beginning. First, you are playing international cricket, then the added pressure of being the next Bishan Singh Bedi. I started taking that on board. I started feeling that I have to start from where he left off, without realising that I was only 18 or 19.

In fact, I think comparing anybody to Bishan Singh Bedi is an injustice to the great man. I feel I couldn't ever match something even as tiny as his fingernail.

I saw him bowling when he was 35 and about to retire. And I used to go "Wooowww! What is this?" Oh, he was like poetry. So flowy, such a beautiful action, and then there were revolutions on the ball without any effort. It was amazing.

When you start getting compared, you sometimes start copying the person and drift from your own strength. So that also didn't help. And when I started sliding down, it created more mess in my mind.

And then you developed a drinking habit.
When I lost my action, the frustration was so much, and as I said earlier, I couldn't go to anybody. When I used to get very frustrated, I used to take some. O pher thodi nahi si hondi. [And then it was never a small quantity.] For that time you forget about your frustrations, but when you wake up the next morning, there is more frustration. And then the evening comes and you don't think about what happened in the morning. You again, you know [drink]. And I don't think that helped at all.

I had a few arguments with some BCCI officials. I mean, it was total self-destruction.

"In those days, if you went to a psychologist, people would think you were mad. So I showed a brave front. But from inside I was gone"

When did the drinking start?
This was in 1987, when I lost my action. I had become very temperamental and rude, and my parents couldn't control me. I was totally out of control. My brother was working in Zambia by then. He was like a friend to me, and probably if he were there, I could have shared my frustrations with him. But it didn't happen and I kept sliding down.

You didn't think you could talk to your parents?
I was very scared. I used to be very scared of Dad, even though he never said anything to me. I used to see him as a very strict man, even though he wasn't. With Mum, I couldn't open up because she probably wouldn't have understood what I was going through. My sister was ten years older and married. I didn't want to disturb her. I had nowhere to go. So I went to the bottle.

Do you think being temperamental affected your selection as well?
Yes, it did affect it. Good behaviour always takes you far. You can never win with bad temperament or anger. If you are not talking nicely to somebody, people start disliking you. And I did need anger management at that time, to get my temperament right.

Did your captains help you?
I think Kapil [Dev] paaji tried to sit with me, tried to convince me. But how much can someone do? Everybody has got a limit. Jimmy paa tried once or twice, but I think I had gone out of control.

Bishan paaji tried. He called me for practice. Bishan paaji's thing was that fitness was very important. So when I went, he asked me to do running and all. I felt I was losing my cricket, and I had gone there to get that back. Not to do training. Training I used to do anyway. I didn't say this to him but I stopped going. Because I used to be so tired after training that when it was time to bowl, there was hardly any energy left. Paaji didn't realise I was doing my training anyway. Still he sat with me, he tried to explain to me.

Probably I was destined to play only this much.

There were problems with your marriage as well.
I got married in 1991. You see, it's not easy because my partner also couldn't understand how to help. And with my temperament it was very difficult for people to understand. They were like, "What's the benefit of talking to him, he will lose it anyway." So people started staying away and I was on my own.

Do you think you started cutting people off too?
Yeah. I became a loner. Because at that time I was thinking, koi samajh hi nahi reha mainnu [nobody is understanding me]. It was all me, me, me. And me kills. They say in Gujarati ee-gyo [he's gone], ego.

"Sometimes when you are trying to get to your goal with too much eagerness, the goal starts running away from you" Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

So there was a mix of too many things. There was a bit of frustration, temperament went bad, ego. Main, main, main. Mainnu samjho, mainnu samjho [Me, me, me. Understand me, understand me]. So yeah, I became a loner.

I used to drink on my own. I couldn't drink at home, so I used to hide in the car and drink, or have some from outside. When everybody went to sleep, I would drink in my room.

You made your Test debut at a very young age. In hindsight, was that a good thing?
No, no. Too early. I feel generally spinners and batsmen should be given some more time in first-class cricket. Fast bowlers can be picked raw. At that time I felt I was ready because I was getting a lot of wickets. But later I realised if I had a couple of seasons of first-class cricket, probably I would have been in a better position to handle the ups and downs of international cricket.

To handle success is also not easy, especially when you are very young. Everybody cannot be a Sachin Tendulkar or a Rahul Dravid or a Sourav Ganguly. Even Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly played a couple of seasons in first-class cricket [before making their international debut]. Why don't we get a driving licence before 18? Because we are not ready, right? And after getting the driving licence, you have driven for a year or so, then you get the confidence that you can drive now. This is international cricket. This is the case with your life.

You played one last Test, against Zimbabwe in 1993, and then were dropped for good. Did you expect that?
I think we won that Test match because I did well. I got seven wickets and was dropped the same evening. But I knew that was coming.

[Ajit] Wadekar sahab was the coach at that time. And he used to say those one-liners, which used to hurt you sometimes. Probably he used to say those to pep us up or make us perform better, but my mental state was such, I think I said something to him also. But I wasn't rude. He said something, I said something. Not argued. One-liner back. I didn't like him and he didn't like me. It was very clear. I knew even if I had done well, I was going to get dropped.

You played for India, you got seven wickets, you won the Test match for your country, contributed heavily. And then I asked myself: I have to go back and play first-class cricket again. Am I ready for it? I wasn't. Mentally I was gone. Totally gone. Then I had a shoulder injury. Then I had a groin injury. Next season, I couldn't play the full Ranji Trophy season.

You announced your retirement at the age of 30.
It was 1995. I remember my dad was suffering from cancer. We came to know about it in March and the doctors said [he had] maximum six months. One day I was sitting with him and he was looking very frail. And I said, "I don't want to play cricket, dad. I am done. The more I try to play, it's frustrating me more." He said, "Then why are you playing?" I said, "Is it okay if I retire? I am very young." He said, "If you are not enjoying something, leave that." I said, "But what will I do?" He said, "If you don't close one door, the other one won't open."

"I am a touch person. Like with my kids - I love to hold them, give them a kiss on their foreheads. I don't think my parents knew all that"

The next morning I announced my retirement from all forms of the game. And it was such a relief that I don't have to play cricket anymore. Those were my dad's last words that made sense to me, that unless you close one door, the other won't open.

They say that is the age around when spinners mature.
As I said, I was so frustrated that it wasn't taking me anywhere. And I couldn't see me getting back my action. It had gone when I was 24. So if it didn't come back in six years, then it was never going to come back. And that action was my everything. Yeah, they say a spinner and a batsman mature when they are 27 or 28. But it wasn't going to happen. I had to move on.

You once said the team should always have a psychologist.
Yes, I believe there should be somebody who can counsel the boys, because everybody cannot be a Rahul Dravid or a Sachin Tendulkar.

Now I will give you a very big example. According to me, Yuvraj Singh was a fantastic player. Thankfully one-day cricket, T20 cricket came around. If it was only Test match cricket, we would have lost another cricketer, a good cricketer. Yuvraj Singh was such a good player that he should have played more [Test cricket]. Mohammad Kaif should have played more.

Virat Kohli is an example. When he came from the Under-19 level, he lost his way. But then he is somebody who has learnt the most among the youngsters, playing with Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag or Gautam Gambhir. I think he took good qualities from everybody, but not everybody can do it. Rohit Sharma is a great example. If somebody was after him, pushing him, by counselling or in whatever way, he would have been your regular Test member. Such a talented cricketer. That's why I believe a psychologist or somebody who can keep pepping you up is very important.

Did you take any professional help later in your life?
I met Mr Sameer Bahadur, who was connected to Delhi cricket in some way, once. He said to me, "Manni, why don't you take some help?" It was after I retired but I still needed help. He gave me a book, Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr Brian Weiss, where Dr Brian, a psychiatrist, talks about one of his patients. I read that book and some of his other books.

In the meantime, I had a friend whom I confided in. We were having a drink together [around 2003-04], and he was like Manni yaar, this is your sixth or seventh drink, why are you drinking so much? I opened up to him. And he said, go and see this doctor, Dr Amrita Wadhwa. "You were saying you wanted to talk to a neutral person. Go and speak to her."

With fellow slow left-armer Murali Kartik during the India-England series in 2008

With fellow slow left-armer Murali Kartik during the India-England series in 2008 Anjali Sinha / © Hindustan Times/Getty Images

And this goddess brought me back to life. I even sometimes tell her that you must have been my mother in my previous birth, because she understands me so well even though she is much younger to me. She helped me with medication. I called her every day and she would counsel me. And slowly I started coming back to life.

Another person who has helped me in life is my friend who is an astrologer, Chander Mohan. He has been a great help. Because of Dr Amrita, I have got into yoga. I do a lot of breathing exercises early in the morning. Because of Chander Mohan, I do a lot of chanting and everything, which makes me peaceful. I think if I had found these people in 1986-87, probably I would have had a longer career. They say with age you mature, but if you have gone mad - well, not mad, but if you have lost it, you do need people to bring you back from there.

Today I am a better person. I feel better. Temperamentally I am brilliant. It's not that I don't get angry but I know how to stay calm.

I have learnt a lot from other people also. I have learnt a lot from MS Dhoni. I have just met him once, but what I see of him - he stays so calm in whatever pressure situation. The calmer you stay, better the decisions you make in life. The better the decisions you make in life, you get better results.

I am a very strong and staunch believer that there is a power, there is somebody controlling us. And now I am at a stage where when I get a little frustrated, I have pictures of Sikh gurus, Sai Baba's picture, at home. I look into their eyes and they start talking to me. And they relieve me from whatever I am going through.

In 2007, you were arrested for possession of drugs.
Now that was very unfortunate. There was somebody who was trying to malign my name and was going to any extent to do it.

It's not that I have not tried things. People don't realise there is somebody sitting up there, looking after you. And if you have done good deeds, he will save you from everything. After that when I used to go out, people used to say, Oyye laga liya, oyye ye kar liya, oyye wo kar liya. [You have done this, you have done that.] But I used to ignore because I wasn't doing it.

You did not ever have a drug problem?
I was never into it. I had tried things. It was just one of those things where friends are sitting and they say, try this, you will feel relaxed. And that was after I retired and I was still troubled. They were friends not in Delhi - somebody was in Bangalore, somebody in Bombay. It was only when I went there and met them, I tried it. But that was never a problem. Drink was a problem.

"Life is all a mental game. Where you are mentally is all that's there. Sometimes God gives you fear so that you don't lose it by being haughty"

In 2007 there were news reports that you tried to commit suicide.
That was again an unfortunate accident in which I hit my hands on some glass in anger. When I hit the second time, it pierced the skin. That was reported as a suicide attempt. It was shown on TV as well - attempted suicide - and that coincided with that drug case. The ticker was showing that Maninder Singh tried to commit suicide. And I thought to myself: What are you writing? At least confirm once what has happened. I know this hand thing was an accident. Because I cannot cut both my wrists, can I? Both my wrists were cut because I hit both my hands on the glass.

What do you do on a daily basis to stay calm?
Whatever time I wake up in the morning, from the time I wake up till the time I finish my chanting, my breathing exercises, my yoga, my back exercise, I need a minimum of two and a half hours.

I live alone in Noida. Then I come and see my mum [in Delhi], stay with her till 3-3.30 pm, go back to my flat. When I am driving as well, I am doing some path or some chanting. I do my Japji Sahib in the morning, I do chaar ashtpadi of Sukhmani Sahib every morning. And when I am coming to Mum's or going back, most times I am doing mool mantra. If I don't feel like doing that, I recite Hanuman Chalisa. Then I get back home, freshen up, go for a walk. A good 4km walk at a brisk pace. Come back, have a shower, go for my show in the evening at News Nation. Come back home, then I have got a few more chantings to do. Have my dinner, watch something light on YouTube, like a comedy or something. And go to sleep.

In your younger days, were you not that religious?
I used to recite Japji Sahib every day but then I lost my way in the middle and I stopped it. You know, you get into that mindset - there is no God, there is no this, nothing happens with all this. When you are not thinking right, you make your own assumptions of what is right and what's wrong. So yeah, I have gone through those periods. It has been a roller-coaster ride, actually.

I believe when God brings you into this world, your testing starts. How you manage that is up to you. If you think you will get a peaceful life, that never happens with anyone. I believe in destiny, I believe in astrology, but I don't blindly believe it. You cannot change things but I believe with your karma, with your deeds, you can find a better way of handling things.

When I say I have done well, it's by the grace of God. I haven't done anything. I am basically just a good human being who always thinks good for everybody, even for the people who try to destroy me. Probably that's why God has helped me all along. That's why he gave me people, sent messiahs - first coach Gurcharan Singh; then Bishan Singh Bedi; then principal ma'am, Mrs Bakshi; then my college principal, Mr Randhawa. I never had a problem of kit or such. Whenever I was supposed to go for a match or return after playing a match, my college principal used to make sure that I got a car to be brought to college. Then Mohinder Amarnath, Dr Amrita, Chander Mohan. This is God's way of saying that you are a nice person. You lost your way, I will bring you back, so I am sending people.

There was a time in your playing days when you started to get the yips while bowling.
Yes, when you are not sure where to pitch the ball. It's bound to happen because your mind is so confused. Cluttered. Frustrated. And it wasn't one thing - there were hundreds of things in my mind. There was a fear seated in my mind. And then there came a stage I used to think that whoever is watching would be laughing at me. Sometimes the ball would land at my own feet, sometimes it would go over the wicketkeeper's head.

Maninder took ten wickets in the four Tests against West Indies, his third series, in late 1983

Maninder took ten wickets in the four Tests against West Indies, his third series, in late 1983 Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

What was the fear?
The biggest fear was that people would laugh. That made the ball stick in the hand. This fear comes in the mind when you have lost control of a certain thing, when you have lost control of life. Leave the bowling aside - otherwise also I used to think people would be laughing at me.

I read a book titled The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, and you know, our subconscious mind is awake 24x7. If you are thinking negative while sleeping, you will wake up with a negative mind. There is no magic trick that you go to bed thinking negative and wake up positive.

I had a lot of problems. I had a sleep disorder. I think it started in 1989. And I didn't sleep for years. When you are not sleeping - you ask people who cannot sleep, talk about their mental health: they go mad. And in my case, I played for the country and I lost it. So sleepless nights plus this was drowning me.

What did you think through the night?
I used to think about what I had wasted. Because when I used to see my videos after I retired, I used to go, "Wow, wow." And that was a big frustration. Then came the drug case. It took five years to resolve. I think it was sorted in 2011 or 2012, when the judge gave the decision in my favour.

I got divorced last year. Unfortunately it took almost 18 years. Can you imagine a person going through that? It started when I was 35, finished at 53. It's a lifetime. That was a very frustrating part as well.

But then with the help of Dr Amrita and Chander Mohan I started handling that a lot better. And 2007 onwards I slowly and steadily started getting into meditation, chanting, breathing exercises. That's when life started getting better mentally.

What is your state of mind now compared to then?
I am basically the kind of person who thinks for others. If we are having a meal together, with your action I know that you now need a glass of water. I will just put it in front of you. I will know that you are sitting uncomfortably, so I will adjust the table.

Now the problem with me, and with everybody, is that we want people to understand us, whereas most of us don't even understand ourselves. So when you don't understand yourself, how do you expect others to understand you?

"I am a happy man today because at one time I used to think there is no going back, and after all that I have come back to life"

And another thing I learnt is, you cannot change the world, but you can change yourself. I started accepting things, I started accepting people - insensitive people. I started realising that if you want to be happy in life, change yourself, change your thinking.

Did your parents understand what you were going through?
My father understood but he was helpless. He didn't know what to do, that's why he probably went to my coach to seek his help. Mum, I think my mum is too gaay [naive] to understand. Mother Amrita has understood me better.

That was also actually painful, that even my own mom is not able to understand. She had her own limitations, which I was not able to understand, and used to get frustrated about.

And I am a touch person. Like with my kids - I love to hold them, give them a kiss on their foreheads. I don't think my parents knew all that. I am the kind of person who needed that warmth. Didn't get it.

Sometimes it gets very painful that you have been wanting this. I used to cry. Kisi ke saamne bhi rona nikal jata tha toh main utth ke chala jata tha. [If someone was sitting there at that time and I felt like crying, I used to get up and leave.] I have cried a lot… a lot. Because of my own mistakes as well. Being not able to control the situation is different, but I was not able to control myself. For that reason also I have cried a lot. I don't think people will understand this. It will be taken that I am a weak man. I don't know how to put it in words. But yeah, now I am on a better platform mentally.

And life is all a mental game. Where you are mentally is all that's there. Sometimes God gives you fear so that you don't lose it by being haughty.

Do you think you lost your God-given talent?
Oh, yes. Absolutely. I will never blame anybody for me being out of the Indian team. It's me, myself. Misbehaving, non-performance at times. Could have still got a chance because I was talented. But then you are not doing well and you are misbehaving also, so who is going to give you a chance? Nobody to blame, nobody whatsoever. Destruction. Destroyed myself. But I am a happy man today because at one time I used to think there is no going back, and after all that I have come back to life.

"Today I am a better person. I feel better. Temperamentally I am brilliant. It's not that I don't get angry, but I know how to stay calm"

What is religion to you?
You know, I am living today. I know who I am. I am somebody who feels happy to see happiness in somebody. If I give a sweet to a kid in the street, I feel happy that I made him smile. That's what religion is. We are all born human beings. The religion is what you are, how you behave. Religion shouldn't mean there is a binding "You have to do this." No, that's absolutely wrong.

During my playing days I saw a fight in a gurudwara, people abusing each other during some gurudwara election. I got put off. I remember my mother used to tell me: you should go to gurudwara. I told my dad that I didn't feel like going. My dad said only one thing to me, Beta, kisi da dil na dukhayi jaan-deyaan hoeyaan. [Son, don't hurt anyone's feelings knowingly.] In this case, if you don't go to the gurudwara and you tell your mom you have been going, then there is nothing wrong in it. Even though my dad went to gurudwara every day for the last 25 years of his life, this was his suggestion.

Do you think you should have opened up more to your dad?
I was very scared of my dad. For some reason he slapped me once. I was about 12, and he slapped me so hard that I wet my pants. And after that day, this was the only big communication I had with my dad, about this gurudwara thing. I was one of the most obedient kids ever. Whatever my mum and dad wanted I did. But that slap I didn't deserve - I got it for no fault of mine and that distanced me from my father. Distanced in terms of communication. Love wasn't lost. I still love them the same way I used to in my childhood.

You don't have depressive phases anymore, or do you?
No, I still do, but it doesn't last too long. Because I start doing my chanting, my prayers.

When was the last time it happened?
Oh, it has been a long time now. I don't know if I can actually call it depression. If I go into a low, it's for half an hour, 40 minutes, one hour. Then I find a way of coming out. I will go for a walk, I will sit. I have got a picture of just Sai Baba's eyes. I will sit in front of it, look into the eyes and within two-three minutes, I get a smile. That means he has told me that he will sort it.

What do you look forward to?
I am just looking forward to accepting everything that's coming. But basically, I want to see peace. I cannot see two people fighting. I feel like saying, "Why are you fighting? There is nothing in it."

Every morning I finish my prayers, I just ask for one thing, that God please spread peace, please give peace to people. If someone has done something bad, give him peace as well, so that he doesn't repeat it in future. And this is not being over the top or anything. This is just me of today.

I still lose my head, I still get angry. And then I tell myself: you are asking peace for others, you yourself should also be calm. And mostly I do calm down. I still make a mistake sometime or the other, but most times I am at peace.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

 

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