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A brand in question


BACK THEN: MS Dhoni takes a breather during his match-winning innings in the World Cup final against Lanka

We create so much magic out of victory that we do little to understand failure. The silence around Dhoni represents the silence of a society that has no sense of how to heal a mistake, how to rethink defeat.

There is something about India which is overtly symbolic. Actors like Ranbir Kapur smell of disrespect, a Sonam Kapoor is constructed like a perpetual model. The body language speaks eloquently. This was also true of the Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni. Dhoni before England portrayed ultimate infinity of cool. He oozed cool, was cool, spread cool. He conveyed a sense of ease, enjoyment with that twist of competence that made him so potent. Victory came easily, serendipity even more. He guessed right and it usually worked out right for him. Dhoni and even Virat Kohli conveyed a sense of victory. They were embodiments of success, brand Names for Victory.

Today, Brand Dhoni is in question. It like watching an animation movie at the wrong speed. It does not read right. The body slumps, it is tired, it is inarticulate in anger, puzzled in defeat. Brand Dhoni is a question mark because he was presented as an instant brand. There is a ruthlessness in the air. The choice is, is he yesterday's newspaper or will he acquire vintage quality wearing his new found scars like epaulettes. Can Dhoni become a veteran creating his own narrative of return like Rahul Dravid or Sachin Tendulkar? The latter sculpted their return by altering style to accommodate aging bodies or by returning to basics. Their tenacity gave Dravid and Tendulkar that touch of vintage, the hallmark of a genius.

Dhoni cannot approach his problem only as individual biography because as captain, he is the embodiment of a collectivity. A dashing century will not mend things. He has to face the deafening silence of defeat, the prospect of a colourful Indian team losing to an English team, which is a competent composite of black and white photographs. His return needs a touch of magic because it is precisely magic he has lost today. In fact, he must be grateful to Anna Hazare's exploits which allowed our cricket team a quiet exit. It is not coincidental that team Anna has taken over as Team India. Dhoni has lost the claim to being Captain Magical.

To me, this might be the most interesting phase for Dhoni. Instead of being a team hero, rock star style, he can be a true leader, more thoughtful, more courageous, telling selectors where to get off. He has to do it on his own. Gary Kirsten is missing and he will have to rebuild team India, realizing that it has ridden too far on luck. How Dhoni does this will be interesting. Yuvraj Singh had his Guru, but Dhoni has little possibilities here. Leadership can be lonely, lonelier still when crowds abandon you. But a drama awaits. The return of Dhoni has all the makings of a much awaited serial, the sense of opera which Indians love, of phoenix like characters who rise against the odds.

But to do this, Dhoni will have to live thrice. He has to be a vintage batsman. He has to become a captain who knows the difference between IPL and Nation and thirdly, he has to fine-tune his image. The symbolic Dhoni has to be reworked from ninja to samurai, from the erratically unpredictable to the classically dependable figure. I think Dhoni has to convey three messages. A message about the body. The cricketing body is not just a vessel for discipline, it bears the marks of life. The danger is we are damaging young India by ignoring its vulnerability. Care and competence have to go together.

Secondly, Dhoni has to create the synergy of a new team with some unknown names. He has to sprout a second round of genius hungry, greedy for success, willing to learn and ready to survive. Finally, his symbolic message has to be different. The uncrowned King of Ranchi, the small town hero portrayed as riding a bike needs new symbolic inputs. He needs the equivalent of a spiritual guide, Ram Charan style. Ranbaxy hired the latter to discuss the logic of transitions. He needs such wisdom or has to find it in himself to evoke such wisdom. He has so far been presented as a fact of nature. He must become a fact of culture, going beyond nature, to create a new model for young India, a brand India which signifies the genius of survival, the toughness of the guerilla, and the will to recover whatever the odds. This will be a less brittle construct.

In this sense, the saga of Dhoni is a fable. We create so much magic out of victory that we do little to understand failure. The silence around Dhoni represents the silence of a society that has no sense of how to heal a mistake, how to rethink defeat. In India, it is not just the market that is ruthless;the spectators as consumers are too. Dhoni will have to do a Chak De! India for cricket. But to achieve this like the Chak De hero, he will have to go beyond selectors who glibly promise that India will return to a No 1 ranking in 18 months. He will have to produce both the genius of the solo and the brilliance of a symphony to recover glory. Dhoni Mark II constructed with deeper thought and deeper skill might be a greater gift to India. One hopes lady luck returns to give him that second round of grace. He deserves it.

The author is a social scientist

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