A gold medallist in the university, Navjot Singh Sidhu had cleared tests for National Defence Academy and for appointment as a Probationary Officer in a bank. But he ended up as a cricketer, commentator and motivational speaker besides being a talk-show host on TV. In politics for the past 15 years, the cabinet minister in Punjab unwinds by reading, shopping and playing with his nine dogs. That is when he is not campaigning for the party. He took time off from his campaigning to unwind with SSD at Chandigarh for National Herald
People say there is a spiritual side to you, that you are deeply religious. Is that true?
My mother was a deeply religious person. Before going to bed every night, she used to tell stories about the life of Sikh Gurus, Sikh warriors and so on. As she was a Hindu, she also had a deep knowledge of the Vedas and used to recite shlokas from Bhagvad Gita, Ramayana and other religious books. She was a staunch Shaivite. My father, Sardar Bhagwant Singh Sidhu, was a Jat-Sikh and a scholarly person. He was Advocate General of Punjab and authored a book - Sikhs at Crossroads. He was well versed in languages such as Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, English and Punjabi, which was his mother tongue. I learnt the recitation of shlokas from my mother. Both my parents have played a great role in developing me as a spiritual person. At the school level, I studied Sanskrit as an optional subject.
How was your childhood in Patiala?
I studied at the famous Yadvindra Public School (YPS) at Patiala run by the Patiala royal family. But I received real education at home. My father had laid a strict daily regimen for me. Before going to school, I was to read the main headlines of four newspapers- The Tribune, Hind Samachar (an Urdu daily), Ajit (a Punjabi daily) and Punjab Kesari (a Hindi daily).
My father would sit near me and ask me to read the main headlines. There was no exemption for me in this regard. It was a daily chore to be religiously followed. And in the evening, it was my unfailing duty to listen to English and Hindi news bulletin on Doordarshan.
I learnt the art of speaking English and Hindi from Doordarshan news readers such as Tejeshwar Singh, Manjari Joshi and Salma Sultan.
Is it true that contrary to your public image of a garrulous, quickfire speaker, you were tongue-tied when young?
I was certainly a shy person in school. And tongue-tied. Once I was asked to deliver a talk at the morning assembly in school the next morning. I contrived to stay away from school for the next three days. As a school prefect, even to say ‘disperse’ in the morning assembly used to be a huge task for me. My legs used to shake.
How did you take to cricket?
My father was a cricket crazy person. He had set up the Yadvindra Cricket Club at Patiala for youngsters. He put a cricket bat in my hand when I was 7. He would daily come to the stadium to seeme practising. I was keen to join the Army and cleared the exam. I packed my bag to leave to join the NDA. As I stepped out from home, I saw tears rolling down his eyes. He told me that he wanted to see me as a cricketer. I was unable to say no to him as he was not only an affectionate father but also a friend,philosopher and guide to me. I stepped back, unpacked my bag and returned to the daily routine of going to the stadium with a cricket kit loaded on my lanky frame.
How did you get to wear the national colour?
I started playing first class cricket in 1981-82 but made my international debut in 1983 when I played against the West Indies team having Andy Roberts and Malcolm Marshall in its ranks. I had scored a Century (122 runs) against this team while playing for North Zone team at Amritsar. But I was dropped after the Test series.
I staged a comeback in 1987 and that year the World Cup was co-hosted by India and Pakistan. In that world cup, I hit five consecutive half centuries. I also hit a record number of 28 sixers in that World Cup. Fans named me “Sixer Sidhu”.
A cricket writer had described me once as a “strokeless wonder”. The same writer years later wrote a piece with the headline, ‘From a strokeless wonder to Sixer Sidhu’. Shane Warne, the legendary spin bowler, once stated that sometime in his dream, he would see me hitting him for a six.
I enjoyed my cricket and before hanging up my boots in 1999,had the satisfaction of scoring 15 centuries including a double century against the West Indies. I also remember my encounters with some of the fiercest fast bowlers of the time including Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar, Michael Holding,Marshall, Andy Roberts, Hadlee, Walsh and Ambrose among others.
You were a cricket commentator also for several years…
I hosted cricket talk shows for seven years without a break. I also started doing commentary of international cricket matches for a sports channel. At that time, I was charging them Rs 25 lakh per day. I have also delivered 1300 motivational talks for corporate employees. There is hardly any corporate house for which I have not delivered motivational talk. I started by charging Rs 5 lakh for delivering a motivational talk but my fees went up to amounts between Rs 70 lakh and Rs 80 lakh per talk.
Part of my secret of turning into a self-assured person is when I read the first volume of the ‘Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda’. That changed my life forever. I am a strong believer and have experienced what I say. I recite Gurbani- Mool Mantra- several times in a day. The life is the way you look at it.
Besides ‘talking’, what is your passion?
Reading is my passion. I spend a lot of time reading books.And then I spend a lot of time with my dogs. As of now, I have nine dogs -three at my official residence in Chandigarh and others at my home in Amritsar. When I am tired, I play with them. My other passion is shopping for clothes. Ido it alone and spend a lot of time. In fact, shopping on my own is how I unwind. I have a huge assortment of turbans. The number could be near 1000 turbans.