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Dhoni? Who’s that?

Arun Kumar being the driver of the team bus during the cricket World Cup has its perks.

Written by Debesh Banerjee | Published: March 13, 2011 12:39:57 am

Arun Kumar has never been crazy about cricket. But being the driver of the team bus during the cricket World Cup has its perks. So on March 7,as Kenya and Canada slugged it out at the Feroz Shah Kotla grounds in Delhi,Kumar took his place at the general stands with his ticket and a bottle of water to catch Kenya batting at 2.30 p.m. “My supervisors gave me the ticket. So I thought,match dekh hi leta hoon,” says Kumar,who had just driven down the Canadian team from their hotel.

The ticket is for Rs 288 and from where he is sitting,he can’t see much of the game,but Kumar is not complaining. “If I had to pay for the ticket,I would have never come,but since it was complimentary,I grabbed it,” he says.

This is his first experience inside a stadium and he is enjoying it. It didn’t really matter that he didn’t know a single player from either of the playing squads or that he didn’t understand much of the game or its rules. Being in the stadium was exhilarating itself. “Itna achcha mahol hai (It is a fascinating mood there). Everyone cheers when the ball crosses the boundary line,” says Kumar,32,with the innocence of someone left untouched by the frenzy of the game in this cricket-crazed country.

During the India vs Netherlands encounter,he sat next to the pavilion and had a panoramic view of the field. “I could even see the players in the dressing room but could not recognise anyone,” he says. Kumar admits his interest in the game is limited to watching the last 10 overs of any one-day international—“only India matches”. “I don’t have the patience to sit through an entire match,” he says. So on the day of the India vs Netherlands encounter,after he dropped the Netherlands squad to the venue,he brushed past Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the entrance to the players’ dressing room and asked a security guard: ‘Yeh kaun hai?’ “He looked familiar,but I could not recognise him. I could not even recognise Sachin Tendulkar when I saw him with the team,” he says. Call it his ignorance,but Kumar isn’t the one to get star-struck.

Kumar,who works as a Volvo driver with a tourist agency,has been assigned the task of ferrying the cricket teams of South Africa,West Indies,Canada and Netherlands for their respective group matches at the Kotla grounds during the World Cup. In the past,he has driven cars for politicians like former union ministers George Fernandes and T R Baalu. He even drove Hamid Karzai’s delegation when the Afghanistan president visited India in 2008. “For me,tourists and VIPs are equal. I don’t distinguish between them and have never wanted to pose with them for photos,” he says.

Kumar,who is from Nalanda,55 km from Patna in Bihar,left home at 15 “to study in Delhi”. But fate had different plans for him as he stepped off the train at New Delhi Railway Station in 1996. “My studies went out the window. I tried enrolling at an open school at Timarpur,but the pressure of work was so much that I couldn’t find the time to study,” he says. So he worked at a courier company,became a Blueline bus driver and after a few other jobs,took up this job at the tourist agency. He earns about Rs 6,000,plus tips,in his driving job and sends home Rs 2,000 to his mother and younger brother every month.

Of all the jobs he has done,Kumar likes the present one best. “This is the least stressful of all the jobs I have done and I also get to see new places,” he says,adding that he he took a seven-day course to be certified to drive Volvo coaches. Kumar says he has made peace with the seven-day-a-week duty and the uncertain hours.

When the matches are on,his routine is mundane,varying from a nine-hour shift to a 12-hour one. For day-and-night matches,he has to report to the team hotel at 10 a.m.,pick up the team by 11:30 a.m. and leave for the stadium. His duty ends only after the team is brought back to the hotel at 10 p.m.

“I get a ticket if I ask for it. But I usually sit where the buses are parked and chat with other drivers,” he says. For match duty,Kumar had strict instructions from the Crime Branch officials (who provided armed escort to the coaches) to be wary of anything out of the ordinary. A mention of the Lahore bus shooting of 2009 at the Sri Lankan cricket team and the recent stone pelting of the West Indies team bus at Dhaka makes Kumar sit up. “I have been told that in case of any suspicious object,I should stay calm and composed. There has never been a cause of worry since I am always alert,” he smiles reassuringly.

But once the World Cup schedule for Kotla gets over,Kumar will settle into his routine of taking passengers to nearby tourist spots like Manali,Agra,and Jaipur. “I hope to become a tour guide some day. There is no respect for drivers on the road. But first,I need to learn English,” he says.

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