DOOR OPENS. “Yog paaji, Yuvi is bowling.”
“Get out, get out! And don’t you dare disturb me again.” Door shuts.
Yograj Singh is in the middle of an interview. Now he’s wearing a vein on his forehead. We’re at his petrol pump in Sector 17, Chandigarh. His office has two sections, divided by the said door. Yograj works out of the one further back, surrounded by paper pin-ups of Hindu deities and Sikh gurus. The section in front is vacant but for giddy fumes and a TV screen displaying a live cricket match—a match that has vindicated his belief in God.
India is playing England in the Pune ODI, the first game since his son Yuvraj returned to the national side in three years. And perhaps more significantly, the first since MS Dhoni resigned from captaincy. Both these events Yograj confesses to have prayed for on a daily basis over the past few years. But today, the day those unlikely wishes bore fruit simultaneously, he hasn’t once lifted his head from the recorder to watch the proceedings.
“Yuvi has my blessings, he always will,” he says. “But I don’t need to watch him play. I’m done with watching cricket. He’s my son. But my life as Yograj Singh also goes on, no?”
Yograj wears many faces. Former cricketer. Firebrand coach. Famous Pollywood movie star. Full-time businessman. Some even address him (with good reason, he concedes) as a failed husband, fallible family-man. But it is in his role of father that he is best remembered. “That’s how it is,” he says with a twitch of shoulders. “But understand this, I am not what I am because of Yuvi. I am my own man. I should have my own identity.” His attempt to do that, strengthen his identity, has made Yograj an honest, outspoken man. A little too honest for the liking of those who were once close to him, Yuvraj included. Key in his name on the search-bar of YouTube and you’ll know why.
In one of many videos (all of which went viral), Yograj abuses Dhoni’s parents for raising a ‘ghatiya insaan’. This was in 2015, when Yuvraj wasn’t selected for Dhoni’s World Cup squad. That kind of outspokenness estranged him from his family, friends and former team-mates. It was also perhaps what led him to once load a gun and train it at his temple, right here in this very office. “I have also trained a loaded gun towards the cricketer who betrayed me, who ended my career,” he says. “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Listen to my story first.” To the story, then. Partly apocryphal, wholly blockbuster.
The narration begins with his miraculous birth. To Sardar Bhaag Singh, a 72-year old man. “It was the wish of the prophets,” he says. “My father was a hunter of repute in the jungles of Kaladhungi. Yes, Jim Corbett was his friend.” Yograj claims to have wet himself when he, from the safety of the machaan, watched his father shoot a tiger barely ten feet away. He was five. “He put the tiger’s blood on my forehead, like a tika and said, ‘I am very old. Now become the man of the house’.”
He sure started looking like one once they returned to the city. “Jungle life had made me bigger and stronger than anyone in my age group. Athletics came naturally to me. And so did fast bowling.” Like all budding cricketers in Chandigarh in the 70s, Yograj was spotted by Desh Prem Azad, famous for coaching Kapil Dev. “For Mr Azad, it was always Kapil and Yograj. Kuku and Yog. We were the best, we were like brothers,” he says. “Little did I know then that the brother would backstab me.”
Cut to 1980, when Yograj received his first (and only) national call-up for the tour of Australia and New Zealand. “Right from the first camp, I could see that Kapil didn’t want me in the team. His eyes gave him away,” says Yograj. Why? “Perhaps because he felt threatened by my pace. Perhaps because he felt I was in Sunil Gavaskar’s camp, who had chosen me in his capacity as captain. The team was split between Sunny and Kapil.”
Before his only Test in Wellington, Yograj played in six ODIs, fighting more than just the opposition. In Melbourne, just his fourth ODI, Yograj, an opening bowler, wasn’t given the ball at all. “I was thinking ‘what the hell is going on’. There were all these negative forces in the team. No one was talking to anyone because the split meant that everyone was competition.”
“When we returned to India, Sunny called me the find of the tour. But Kapil found a way to nip that in the bud. He was captain of my state team, Haryana, and the North Zone team. He dropped me from both. I knew right then that my career was over.” Yograj, though, was not one to go silently into the night. “I walked over to Kapil’s house with my gun and told him that if we ever cross paths again, I will put a bullet through his head.”
1981, the year Yograj played his only Test. 1981, the year Yograj brought a gun to a willow fight. 1981, the year Yograj was blessed with his first child. “The day he was born, I said, ‘Yuvraj, tu tere baap ka badlaa lega (you will avenge your father)’.”
The interview is interrupted for the second time. A lady filling gas at the station has noticed the owner of the petrol pump. “Sorry to disturb. But are you Yuvraj Singh’s father?” “No madam,” replies Yograj. “Yuvraj Singh happens to be my son.”