The man in the iron mask

He may not shy away from a fiery seamer, but this reticent opening bat does not really have any opening lines for the ladies. Sukhwant Basra writes.

india Updated: Jul 24, 2011 01:22 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times

The whimsical monster of fame extracts a heavy price from its favoured. Gautam Gambhir shoulders not just the pressure of opening for India, he is also prey to his own intensity. The man who dedicated the World Cup final win to victims of the 26/11 terrorist attack on the host city of Mumbai finds it extremely difficult to talk about himself sans the burden of his responsibility as a public figure in a nation that insists on deifying cricketers.

"When it comes to my profession, I am very intense. When it comes to the country I am very intense. Because I feel from the heart - whether it has to do with cricket or my country. If I strongly believe that something is right, deep inside, I end up saying it. If my conscience is clear I need not be wary of anything," he tells HT.

It's not usual for active members of the Indian team to make politically-sensitive statements. "When I said that I want to dedicate this win to the victims of 26/11, that was my own personal decision. That was really not a controversial statement, it was just for the victims. I felt that way and I expressed it. What I feel strongly is what I say."

Like rubbishing the notion that it was his captaincy alone that was pivotal in changing the fortunes of the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. "I will never be a good or a great captain - it's always the team. His (a captain's) credit comes from taking the right decision. Ultimately, if he doesn't have the strength in his team to back that decision he'll never be appreciated for captaincy."

Gambhir illustrates further: "Just see where Ricky Ponting was one and a half year ago and where he is now. He had the likes of (Glenn) McGrath, (Shane) Warne, (Matthew) Hayden and (Adam) Gilchrist. Everyone used to say he is the best captain in the world and what has happened in one year that has led people to say he's lost his captaincy skills? It is not his skill but the players he has lost. Players make good captains, captains can never make good players."

Behind the mask
Getting behind the wall of cricket-speak to unmask the man behind the batsman takes over an hour of chipping and parrying over more willow talk. Finally it is possible to ask how come someone so serious does something so metrosexual as shaving his arms and legs. "Lasered it," he smiles. The raised eyebrow elicits a seemingly logical answer: "Too many injuries, too much taping. This is convenient." Extreme too, just quintessential Gautam.

Does the look help with women? Turns out that the man who strikes fear in the opposition bowling, is quite a pussycat when it comes to bowling them maidens over. "I am very shy. I still can't go up to a woman and make the first move." And if she does? "That does happen sometimes," he grins all the more. But still he will have an arranged marriage. Didn't meet anyone interesting enough on his travels? "Even you have been sitting here and calling me intense and emotional. Think anyone will stick with me if she gets to know me well before marriage? That's why arranged marriage is best!" guffaws Gambhir. But his taste does seem to run more earthy than ephemeral. Ash or Bipasha? "Neither. I prefer real women."

His preference in clothes veers more towards staid old-world greys, pastels and browns. His computer skills too belong to your father's era. "I am the only guy in the team who does not have a laptop. It would be wasted anyway, I don't even know how to switch on a computer."

Gambhir's also not one for the books. "The only one I have read is, 'Without Fear - Life and Trial of Bhagat Singh' by Kuldip Nayar. Really admire Bhagat Singh."

Guarded by Bruno (German Shepard) and Buddy (Labrador), he has a beige limited edition BMW parked in the driveway of his father's expansive house in New Rajinder Nagar. Sitting in its opulent psychedelic drawing room reminiscent of a futuristic sci-fi flick, one of the richest self-made 29-year-olds in the country says that, "money after one point of time is irrelevant." There are some roads he won't cross: "Young kid on the road seeing me endorsing a pan masala/ tobacco brand will feel there is nothing wrong with it. I won't do that."

Other roads he has bridged across. For, does he think cola is good for kids? They are watching him endorse that. "Even now when I talk to my family my mom may say that cola is not good for health but I had long discussions and they told me that this is all a myth. There is nothing wrong with an aerated drink. It's absolutely safe. Not good for bones and all that... there is nothing of that sort."

What else if not cricket? The bubble of familiar ease bursts and it's Gambhir with the fierce intense eyes all over again. "I would have been in the infantry. The army' is my first love. I think they are the biggest heroes in this country. Despite whatever fame a cricketer, politician or a Bollywood star gets, for me they are the actual heroes."

It's time to leave Gambhir to his brooding self. He did let his guard down, albeit for barely five minutes. But then, that's more of a breach past his armour than most bowlers ever will manage.

First Published: Jul 24, 2011 01:20 IST