Dharamveer Pal may need to use his hands to walk but he’s probably been to more countries, and certainly more cricket matches, than you have. Afflicted by polio as an infant, Dharamveer suffers from severe muscle paresis and skeletal deformities. But his love for cricket has fueled an extraordinary journey across the world.
We meet at the lobby of the Trident Hotel in Nariman Point, Mumbai, where IPL Teams are staying, and where Dharamveer has come to wish players luck ahead of a match.
Born to a family of farmers in a village in the Morena district of Madhya Pradesh, growing up, Dharamveer could not afford a wheel chair. He’s learnt to use all fours to move, making up for any deficit of physical strength with his exuberance and determination. Obsessed with cricket since he was a boy, he was 11 years old back in 2004, when he decided to take his dream of watching a cricket match live at a stadium, into his own hands. India was to play Sri Lanka in Mohali, Punjab, and Dharamveer was determined to be there.
He set off on a train with nothing, relying on the compassion of fellow passengers and ticket collectors for food and directions. He reached Mohali three days before the match, and made his way to the stadium, waiting outside in the hope that someone would give 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.”
Not only did Dharamveer get to watch the team practice, he became an honorary ball boy, fielding from just beyond the boundary line — something he continues to do at matches 12 years later. Today, any cricket lover in India will recognize his smiling presence — he’s been to England, the West Indies, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the UAE to support Team India, and TV cameras cut to him at almost every match he attends.