When army officers and their wives met M S Dhoni on a duty call to Leh as part of his stint as an honorary army officer, he was extremely courteous and mostly silent, listening quietly while others spoke, says PRIYA KHANNA

As an army wife, sometimes even exotic locales lose their sheen when you are dining in the army mess for all three meals, seven days a week. And if you happen to be in Leh during the winter, you just have to gird your loins and settle down to repasting on potatoes, canned vegetables, dal and rice, when no fresh fruit or vegetables are available for weeks. Sometimes you could break the monotony by eating fried bread pieces dunked in sugary thin custard for dessert, to cheer yourself up a bit.

But then again, man, and woman for that matter, does not live by bread alone. Occasionally the universe showers grace and unbelievable luck all over you.

Luck came our way when Lt Col MS Dhoni, the erstwhile Captain of the Indian cricket team and a national hero decided to complete his stint as an honorary army officer, beginning with a visit to the soldiers stationed at the border areas of the Siachen glacier. He landed at Leh on August 14, 2019, before moving onwards and was resting in the Officer’s Mess for a day before his departure early the next morning. Graciously he agreed to set aside some time to meet officers and soldiers stationed at Leh and sign a few autographs.

M S Dhoni with the author’s daughter Saloni Khanna

Excitedly we got ready to meet the cricket icon, a dream come true for the lucky few. At the appointed time, we made our way to the Mess and were invited into his sitting room by the young officer who was there to coordinate his meetings.

Moving to a dimly lit room from the bright light outside, suddenly I found myself face to face with Dhoni himself. I was a little dazed as I stared at him until he smiled and said hello. His face was thinner and longer than what it appeared on television and his body was supremely fit and well muscled. I could feel the power and strength that he emanated. He greeted all of us courteously and invited us to sit.

We started chatting with him about this and that, as we slowly sipped our tea. My husband discussed India’s loss in the World Cup with him, as Dhoni had just returned after playing the World Cup in England. Dhoni said it wasn’t possible to bring cricket to Leh, as the high altitude conditions made it difficult for sportsmen to run between wickets without losing their breath. 

Dhoni with the Khanna famlly

I took the opportunity to tell him about the excitement among the army ladies on learning that Dhoni was visiting the army as an honorary officer. A light-hearted message was circulating on the army social media groups about ladies feeling excited and wondering if Sakshi, his wife, was going to be joining the army ladies too and what welfare duties could be assigned to her. He laughed when I assured him it was a joke and he needn’t worry on behalf of Sakshi.

Dhoni was extremely polite and courteous and was mostly silent and listened while we spoke. We handed him our cards and books for his autograph and he was busy signing away. Then someone suggested we click some pictures. Happily I handed my phone to Dhoni and requested him to click, as no doubt he was used to taking selfies with his fans. Willingly he obliged and even suggested how we could improve the image. Each of us clicked multiple pictures with him, individually and as a family.

Finally, we could linger no longer, for it was time for his next appointment. We bid him farewell and left, taking with us priceless memories of the few moments we spent with this wonderful, courteous and soft spoken true gentleman. Since then, I have found that I get the maximum ‘likes’ of all my posts, whenever I post my pics with Dhoni on social media. The man and his legend continues to this day. 

An offspring of two fauji doctors, Priya Khanna is now a full-time, stay-at-home fauji wife and mother to a teen terror and a gorgeous golden cocker spaniel. When she’s not reading, Priya Khanna is likely bingeing on a crime series on Netflix and reminiscing about the time when she was jetting all over the world for her work as an instructional designer with a Gurgaon MNC.