How far will you go in the name of love? Especially if your fixation rests on Cricket?
Never miss a single match that is telecasted? Or even better, watch it from the stadium in person? But no matter what, your passion for India’s most loved sport might never amount up to the level that Dharamveer Pal has displayed.
Most ardent Indian cricket fans would have instantly figured out whom we are speaking about. But for the uninitiated, he is the differently-abled ball boy who has been part of every match that India plays since 2004.
Hailing from a small village in the Morena district of Madhya Pradesh, Dharamveer suffers from severe muscle paresis and skeletal deformities that prevents him from moving on his feet.
But that has not stopped the man from travelling across the globe, just so that he can watch his favourite team perform in the stadium!
The obsession with cricket begun at an early age for Dharamveer, who had always dreamt of watching a cricket match live in a stadium. One of six children in a family that was so financially bootstrapped that they could not afford a wheelchair for the boy, Dharamveer’s dream would have probably never seen the light of day, had it not been for his unfaltering passion for the game.
In 2004, when India was to battle it out with Sri Lanka during an ODI in Mohali, the 11-year-old got into a train and set off on his own. With no food or money with him, his only hope rested on fellow passengers and ticket collectors, who went out of their way to help the young cricket-enthusiast.
Dharamveer did manage to reach Mohali, but three days ahead of the match.
Heading straight to the stadium, he spent the next two days outside its premises with the hope that someone would offer him a ticket.
“I hadn’t even eaten for two whole days, but it all paid off — the Indian team came to practice the day before the match and Mr Daljit Singh, the pitch inspector, and a former cricketer happened to notice me. He saw how much I wanted to watch them play. He took me in,” he told Forbes.
And sometimes, things just have an interesting way of falling in place. Not only did Dharamveer clinch the opportunity of watching the team practice, but he was also made an honorary ball boy, who got to field from beyond the boundary line.
And thus began a journey extraordinaire, which involved two years of hitch-hiking across the country with no money to finally finding some financial aid and eventually coming to be nationally recognised as one of India’s most devoted cricket fans.
“By 2006, I’d somehow made it to enough matches that the cricketers started to recognize me and would come up and talk to me. At a match in Faridabad that year, the legendary batsman Virender Sehwag came up to me. From then on, at every match players would give me their jerseys, bats, and helmets. MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, all the biggest stars in Indian cricket have acknowledged me and offered to help me,” he told Forbes.
13 years from then, Dharamveer has visited England, the West Indies, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the UAE to support the team. He continues to be a prominent face in stadiums where India has its matches, with TV cameras never failing to capture his smiling face.
Dharamveer’s story is inspirational enough from a fan’s perspective, but more so, when the stigma surrounding disabilities is taken into account.
From home confinement to a lack of job opportunities and marriage prospects, people with physical limitations are often treated with disdain and indifference.
Luck seems to have played a role in Dharamveer’s life, here as well.
“All through my journey, people have wanted to help me. On trains, on the road, in the stadiums—the kindness of strangers has been amazing. By embracing rather than trying to hide my disability, I’ve been able to turn it into my biggest strength,” he said.
Today, Dharamveer, all of 24, is nothing less of a celebrity in Madhya Pradesh.
Apart from travelling across the world to support the Indian team, he also dons the captain’s role for the state during All India Cricket Association for the Physically Challenged tournaments. But, this hadn’t been the case all the time.
Extraordinary stories of people like that of Dharamveer’s are what makes one believe in the sheer strength of human spirit and how chasing one’s passion isn’t disillusioning always.