Back in the day, Ranjit Singh was called Jonty Rhodes on Indore’s junior cricket circuit. Now with more than a lakh Facebook followers, 24,000 Instagram followers and 2 crore Youtube views, he is the city’s “world-famous” dancing traffic cop. On Monday, Ranjit’s two worlds met as he was deployed at the Holkar Stadium to ensure that the buses carrying the India and Bangladesh teams sail smoothly through this cricket-crazy city.
As the players trained on the field ahead of the Test starting on Thursday, Ranjit was on the turf close to the dressing room as he looked back at his own cricketing days. “I was an under-19 cricketer for Madhya Pradesh. I used to field in the covers and there wasn’t a ball that could pass me,” he says squatting a bit and throwing his hands out to pluck an imaginary cricket ball from thin air.
The very next moment, almost seamlessly, he starts making those robotic moves that have made the 41-year-old father of two, a Michael Jackson fan, an internet sensation. “Growing up, I loved dancing and cricket but my family’s poor financial condition forced me to give up both. Once I joined the police force, I got busy with my job and I never thought about any of those things,” he shares.
But a tragic morning changed Ranjit's life. It had started with the traffic constable losing a very close friend in a road accident. Posted at the city’s busy square, he couldn’t stand still. He was getting restless as memories of his departed friend kept hitting him hard. To overcome anxiousness, Ranjit started pacing the road while directing the vehicles. That’s when the magic happened.
“While walking forward and backward and moving hands asking people to stop and move, almost sub-consciously, the dancer deep inside me kicked in. Before I knew, I was moon-walking, making those Jackson moves,” he says. His senior at the site asked him to continue doing what he was doing since it was making him feel better.
More encouragement by colleagues resulted in Ranjit continuing with his novel and immensely entertaining traffic management method. Soon the lean traffic constable, with Rayban sunglasses, handlebar moustache and Bollywood hero looks got a nickname. “They started calling me Singham sir and the square where I was posted was known as Singham square,” he says.
Did it ever feel embarrassing or did he ever have a change of heart, one asks. Ranjit narrates an incident which made his resolve to keep moon-walking stronger. “Once I was dropping my little girl to school and everyone on the road would shout at me ‘Singham sir, Singham sir’. She was just six then. She didn’t say a word all along the way but once I dropped her at the school gate, she stood a while looking at me. After that, she looked me in the eye and saluted me. Why would I ever change after that?” he says.
Ranjit’s dance was too ‘cool’ to stay off social media. And when it eventually happened, the dancing traffic cop from Indore was charming net surfers and going viral. Since then, life hasn’t been the same. Ranjit is easily Indore’s most recognisable face. He has appeared on several television shows, one with Amitabh Bachchan. He says he has had Bollywood offers and also shows a mail from Mumbai Police inviting him for a Traffic Cop Expo as a special guest.
While narrating his story, Ranjit acknowledges calls of ‘Singham Sir’ from the terraces and moonwalk requests. He says the India cricketers also recognise him. “Ajinkya Rahane always asks me to accompany him to the Ganesh temple here,” he says.
Ask him if he ever thought that he would be a break-dance celebrity while being a traffic constable and he gets philosophical. “I have learnt one important lesson. Life gives you a stage to realise your dream when you least expect. You need to grasp that moment. I did.” It’s not for nothing they used to call him Jonty Rhodes.