Mahendra Singh Dhoni: as told by coach K.R. Banerjee, Jawahar Vidya Mandir, Ranchi

We were conducting a football coaching camp and Mahendra, who was in class VI at the time, was one of the participants. I noticed that he was a good goalkeeper, adept at making dives to save goals. As it happened, he was a student at the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School and I was a sports teacher there, in charge of the school cricket team. I told him that since he was a good diver, he should try wicketkeeping in school.

Listen to the school teachers of Sourav Ganguly and Pankaj Advani talk about their early days.

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Some months later, after the monsoons, the cricket season began and he came and asked me if I would take him in the school team. Now, we already had a wicketkeeper, so I told him to practise with the team for a year and we would take a call after that. He agreed, and this is how he began playing cricket.

Mahendra never spoke much; if you asked him to do something, he would say “Yes, sir" and proceed to do it. He was quiet, like his father and mother. People from Uttarakhand (where his family originally hails from) tend to be aggressive, but not him; he channelled that trait into the game. When faced with a situation or a task, he was never beset by anxieties such as “What will happen?" or “How will it happen?"

Initiator: Banerjee (right) first suggested to Dhoni that he try wicketkeeping. Rajesh Kumar Sen. (Left) Dhoni. Aijaz Rahi/AP

Ours is a co-ed school, but he never showed much interest in girls. By the time he was in class IX or X, he knew his future lay in sports. I assured him that if nothing else, he could always get a job as a sports teacher at the government sports college.

In 1999, an out-of-town cricket tournament (he played for the Central Coalfields Ltd, CCL, team) fell smack in the middle of his class XII exams. Board exams are not to be taken lightly, yet he had a commitment with CCL. Mahendra remained cool—he appeared for a paper and after that headed directly to the railway station from the exam hall to catch the train. He returned four days later, in time to sit for the next paper the following day.

He became the school team captain but was never the opening batsman. Once, in an inter-school match, he told me he wanted to open. I didn’t think that was such a good idea but when he insisted, I agreed on one condition—there would be no batsman padded up to replace him or his fellow batsman. He agreed to this unusual condition and sure enough, Mahendra and Shabbir Husain remained not out for the entire 40-over innings. After seeing him play that day, I told him that he was four or five years away from making it to the Indian cricket.


Nandan Nilekani: as told by Deepak Phatak, Subrao M. Nilekani chair professor, IIT Bombay

I became a teacher in 1971-72 and Nandan Nilekani passed out of IIT Bombay in 1978, so the age gap between us is not that much. I never taught him but I recall him being an active student on campus, with exceptional organizational skills. He was bright, but winning the gold medal (for academics) was never his priority. He did seem to be aware that he would do something extraordinary in life—he moved with that kind of confidence and conviction.

Grateful: Phatak(left) appreciates Nilekani’s help with his time and money.(Right) Nandan Nilekani. Hemant Mishra / Mint

It is important to remember that Nandan made his money legally and ethically in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when wealth creation was not easy in India. In keeping with the ethos at Infosys and following the example of Narayana Murthy, he didn’t want to publicize the donation. But I felt that society needs good role models, and therefore insisted on making it public. Nandan has also given the greatest amount of time to the institute—time, unlike money, is one-way traffic, and therefore more valuable. It can’t be regenerated.


Chetan Bhagat: as told by Sanjeev Sanghi, professor, IIT Delhi

After I got my PhD, I joined the IIT Delhi, faculty in 1992 and began taking a tutorial class in fluid mechanics—Chetan was one of my students and he came across as friendly and active. As far as academics go, he was never at the top of the class, but he definitely wasn’t a poor student like the protagonist in his first novel, Five Point Someone. In class, he always asked interesting and practical questions. Students who are keen learners and ask questions bring out the teacher’s creativity—you feel motivated and try to anticipate their questions. Based on our classroom interaction, I expected him to score higher in tests than he actually did.

Buddy: Sanghi (right) was friendly with Bhagat and other students.(Left) Chetan Bhagat. Hindustan Times

Recently, Rajkumar Hirani—who directed Munnabahi MBBS and is now working on the film Three Idiots that is based on Five Point Someone—came and met me at Chetan’s behest so that he could get a feel of what the IIT campus is like.

For some reason, during his final year, Chetan retreated into a shell, and though I wasn’t teaching him then, I recall asking him why he had turned into an introvert. Regardless, my memory of him is that of a popular young man.