Born free: Gambhir on Gambhir
THE EIGHTIES were the halcyon days of Doordarshan when the national broadcaster held sway over millions in the country.
Given the limited options, a wide-eyed Gautam Gambhir, then aged six, settled down to watch the 1965 patriotic motion picture "Shaheed", little knowing that the portrayal of Bhagat Singh's struggle to shake off the chains of bondage would play a long hand in shaping his personality.
"Watching him made me curious and I delved deeper into his story. What he did for the nation at 23 (when Bhagat Singh was sent to the gallows) was incredible and I constantly draw inspiration from him," said Gambhir.
Repeated viewings of the film's videocassette - the first birthday gift Gambhir asked of his family - had an everlasting effect on the young Gambhir.
Even today, images from the film are fresh as ever, just that, in keeping with the times, that video cassette has given way to a compact disc and the collection has grown to include titles like "LoC" and "Rang de Basanti". But that Shaheed CD remains a favourite, and is an integral part of the cricketer's baggage as he tours the world.
His career can still be termed fledging, with just 13 Tests, 32 ODIs and eight T20 games under the 26-year old's belt, but the troughs he has been through have further steeled an already-tough Gambhir.
Sanjay Bhardwaj, his coach from when Gambhir was a class V student of Delhi's Modern School, remarked, "Gautam was always tough. Even when we made the kids play on grass, he would embark with the intention of fighting it out and winning."
Narrating an incident that gave credence to the budding Gambhir's resolve, Bhardwaj continued, "Modern did not pick him for an inter-school tournament but I fielded him as part of my academy's XI. He answered his critics by remaining unbeaten in the two-day game."
For someone just 32 ODIs old, a fifth India comeback during the summer tour of Bangladesh sounds unusual but the Delhi southpaw is unfazed, quietly confident of his back-up system, led by childhood friend Vivek Chadha and a close-knit family.
Despite the disappointment of not making the cut for the Caribbean World Cup, the southpaw has not looked back since the tour of Bangladesh and has tried to make best the opportunities that have come his way.
The Twenty20 World Championship in South Africa was a watermark in Gambhir's career as he emerged one of the key figures in India lifting a cricket World Cup after 24 years, but the player, who derives joys from life's small pleasures, remains unmoved by the newfound success. "Whatever I do, I do keeping India in mind. T20 was an ideal platform and I am happy it came off."
His opting to keep a low profile and a natural reserve have often had him branded aloof and arrogant. But the man is unmoved. "I will not change myself just because I'm playing for India. While it's true I keep to myself and hold on to things, once I'm comfortable with someone, I am fun to be with."
Coach Bhardwaj, too, sees that aloof public image as a boon. "It's good. At least he'll never be embroiled in controversy,"