Driving through a shady bylane in Delhi, I double check my Google Maps by slowing down and asking a vegetable seller, “Gautam Gambhir ka ghar?” He tells me to go straight down the road and hang a right. As I enter the spacious atrium of the former cricketer and now Lok Sabha member’s multi storeyed house that overlooks a leafy park — right into the all-white lounge where our HELLO! shoot is underway — the first thing that hits the eye is the perfectly arranged wall of trophies won over the span of a 15-year international career. “It’s all Natasha’s work,” says Gautam Gambhir, who’s dressed in a sharp, dark blazer, white shirt and tapered black pants, of his wife’s impeccable arrangement of accolades that highlight the extraordinary career of the former cricketer. Gautam retired as the undefeated Team India captain of One-Day Internationals. Besides storied wins as the skipper of the Delhi Daredevils, he was also the tournament-winning captain of the Kolkata Knight Riders and gave the country an unforgettable performance in India’s 2011 World Cup win against Sri Lanka.
The mind-boggling display of his cricketing prowess in a single room is enough to make any sports fan go weak in the knees. There’s the framed famous blue T-shirt he wore during the 2011 World Cup-winning match, a photograph of him accepting the Padma Shri in 2019, the Arjuna Award he won in 2014, the IPL Man of the Match Award from 2016… The list of medals and honours goes on! “He literally dumped the trophies in a huge store room all these years,” says Natasha. “I thought it’d be a nice surprise, to remind him of his achievements, something he doesn’t like to flaunt. So I made a home for his trophies. Even now, there are so many in the store; there wasn’t enough room for all!” How did Gautam’s life change after politics, we ask. “There’s a lot more at stake now compared to what I had earlier,” says the former Team India opener, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019, in his trademark, soft-spoken style. “You’re under a lot of criticism, more so than when you were on the field. You get criticised even when you do good and have to be that much more careful about what you say.” Natasha believes the stakes are even higher now, and that “there’s a lot more pressure”. “Earlier it was individualistic — centred around his highs and lows. But now, we have the responsibility of serving the country,” adds Natasha, the woman who bowled over this left-handed batsman, the daughter of his father’s friend. The two got married soon after India’s momentous 2011 World Cup win.
“Our families knew each other well,” he says. “Although I can’t pinpoint the exact time I fell in love with her, it happened over a course of time. I found in her someone who understood my profession, which was important because I was under a lot of pressure back then.” Natasha saw Gautam go through highs and lows, emotions she understood well as an empath. “He took some time to understand me, as he was quite busy, and I wasn’t into cricket at all. In fact, I had zero knowledge of the sport! I didn’t realise how important the World Cup was for his career and missed the match! I regretted it later, when he went on to become the highest scorer and saw how the whole country celebrated. I missed something great in my life.” Gautam and Natasha courted for two years. He had made it clear he’d get married only after the World Cup, to keep his focus on the tournament, “with no distractions”.
“We had been friends for 20 years, but our relationship grew organically over two years,” recalls Natasha. “Our families are very close, with our dads in the same business (her father is into textiles, and his father is the field of denims). We waited for the World Cup and after that, decided to get married.” At home, Gautam says, it’s his beautiful wife and his mother who are in charge (“the ladies rule the house!”). Big decisions like ones on the children’s education (they are parents to two daughters, aged five and eight), are made jointly, while he takes care of other decisions outside of home — though he’s grateful to have control of the TV remote “because Natasha doesn’t watch television!” We remind him of the famous cheeky tweet Natasha sent out right after Gautam was conferred a Padma Shri in 2019. It read: “Behind every successful man, there’s a woman.” “That’s probably the last such tweet we’ve made on each other!” says Gautam. “But for me, the Padma Shri wasn’t just another award; it was a responsibility to the nation to help society and try and change as many lives as possible. If I can inspire even one of my fans to do something for the nation, I’d have done my bit.” The Delhi-born Gautam started playing cricket as a boy of 10, in the lanes of his neighbourhood.
His mother sent him to a cricket academy during his summer vacations as a constructive way to keep him engaged. “I was fortunate to attend Modern School (Barakhamba), which had a fabulous sporting infrastructure and culture,” says the former cricketer, who picked up cricket at the school and also tried his hand at all the sports on offer, except for swimming and hockey. However, his first love was joining the Indian Army, a wish that remained unfulfilled. “I wanted to join the National Defence Academy, but I played for the Ranji Trophy while still in school,” he says. “I did really well in the first two games, so I continued playing cricket. Had I not played the Ranji Trophy, I’d have gone into the army.”
A three-time IPL captain, he was first with Delhi Daredevils, then Kolkata Knight Riders, and back again, albeit briefly, with the Delhi Daredevils before he retired in 2018. He admits that his stint with the Daredevils “wasn’t his greatest”, and that his time with KKR was “far better” — he led the team to victory twice. “It was a challenge when I went to Eden Gardens in Kolkata,” says the highest paid cricketer of those heady days of the IPL in 2011, who was able to turn the fortunes of the team around, after the first three years of debacle. “I was able to do that the first year itself; that was a huge positive. Winning it the next year was even bigger, and I continued from there on.”
Gautam’s most cherished ODI win would have to be the 50-over World Cup final in 2011, when India defeated Sri Lanka by six wickets at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. “The stakes were higher and the occasion was that much bigger!” he says of the day he scored those 97 runs from 122 balls, in a crucial, matchwinning partnership with MS Dhoni. “I can say that because I only managed to play one 50-over World Cup. It was my only World Cup, but being on the winning side, at home, and me contributing to the finals… It was special.” Ask the player who secured India many a win over rivals Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka in thrilling ODIs in the early 2010s, was the unbeaten captain of six ODIs between 2010 and 2011, and also had a glorious test career (the only Indian and one of only four world cricketers score 100 in five consecutive Test matches), about these incredible statistics, and he says: “To me, the stats mean nothing. When you look back, it’s how much you contributed to the team’s success that matters. India is a country obsessed with numbers, but it shouldn’t be like that because it’s a team sport. I was able to perform to the best of my ability, made my country proud, and contributed to my team’s success. I’ve never been obsessed with numbers.”
And how would he look back upon his career? “I’d say winning those world cups (he also scored 75 runs at the 2007 ICC World Twenty20, saving that test match in Napier (when he scored a majestic 137 against New Zealand), winning in Australia… These have given me satisfaction,” says Gautam, who has turned mentor for IPL team, Lucknow Super Giants. “My job is to pick the right players at the auction, the ones with the right attitude and values, because a good franchise is based on a good foundation,” he says. “We started well in our maiden season; hopefully we can grow and create a franchise that players would want to be a part of.” Among the younger crop of players, Gautam is most impressed by Suryakumar Yadav, Sanju Samson and Deepak Hooda. And his top three picks for the upcoming 2022 World Cup would be “KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav”. Beyond his memories from the field and sharing light-hearted moments with his team — “there was never a dull moment when Yuvraj (Singh) and Harbhajan (Singh) were around” — Gautam often has in mind the army, his first love. He even started the Gautam Gambhir Foundation in 2014 to serve the children of the paramilitary forces. “We look after the education for life of 150 children, 99 percent of whom study in convent or boarding schools,” he says. “We also take care of 20 girls, daughters of sex workers, an initiative close to my heart; their identities are strictly confidential.
We help them until they get married, so they don’t return to the same rut.” The man who donned the politician’s mantle in 2019 says he’d rather act on an issue than sit around in his lounge and tweet about it. “If you have the courage to tweet about it, then I should have the courage to be on-ground and change it, as well,” says the parliamentarian from the East Delhi constituency, who has worked to reduce Asia’s biggest landfill in his area by 50ft, a feat he’s proud of. “In the next few years, we should be able to get rid of it completely. That will be the biggest achievement of my life!” “Imagine how the lives of the people and children who live around that landfill can change. They are living in hell — literally!. We have a responsibility towards them. I can give my kids the best possible life; they can breathe fresh air, stay indoors and drink mineral water. But our responsibility towards Delhi and towards the nation is to look after the other kids who aren’t as privileged.” Gautam also feeds 5,000 people in his constituency every day via five community kitchens — a quality-controlled meal that costs Rs 1. “It’s a proper kitchen that I often visit with my team to have lunch,” he says. “Rice is mandatory, but it changes every day — rajma, dal, chhole, kadhi. On special days, there are desserts and salads. Young kids with no money are welcome.”
Asked whether he’s a foodie, and he denies it, but he does enjoy going out with his family to TK’s Oriental Grill at Hyatt Regency, Megu at The Leela Palace, House of Ming at Taj Mahal Hotel, or The Imperial on occasion. He runs 5km to 6km at least six times a week to keep fit and loves to visit Dubai or the Maldives, which are close by, as he’s not fond of travelling, an obligation that’s over, now that his cricketing days are behind him. “Our last vacation was in Phuket, with 30 of my cousins, my first trip with the whole bunch!” he says. “And last year, Natasha and I went to the Maldives and Gstaad; it was our longest vacation with the kids. I wasn’t that good at skiing, but the girls were! We spent a white Christmas there and New Year’s in Paris.” Eventually, he’d like both his daughters to take up sports: “The older one, Aazeen, plays tennis, and Anaiza is only five; she’s too young. But if they can play a sport, there’d be nothing like it.”
When asked about their parenting responsibilities, Natasha shares how her husband spoils their daughters while she likes to keep them grounded. “He goes all out when he shops for them — whatever they desire and fancy. But I keep them under control. No gizmos or gadgets, no television! But he doesn’t get to spend time with them, so when he’s home, it’s hard for him to say no.” Into spirituality and holistic living, Natasha practices yoga and pranayama. She has a personal trainer at her home gym and follows Rujuta Diwekar’s insights on health. However, she’s also a big foodie and loves to indulge when she goes out. “My friends are envious of me as I’m skinny — I’m just blessed with good genes!” says the fashionable diva who has a closetful of bags and shoes (Hermès and Valentino being her faves). During the day, you may catch her in a dress or jeans and a white shirt, but she does add that her style is chic and comfortable, yet a bit formal. For Indian dos, it’s a sari, and for evenings out, dresses. At the moment, she has her hands full, as a mother of two little daughters. “That’s a job in itself,” she says. “I’m focused on their upbringing, and when they grow up and are a bit more independent, I might do something. Plus, I am a trustee at the Gautam Gambhir Foundation. But Gautam is a handful, and a demanding husband!” And as far as the future is concerned, Gautam says he wants to save Delhi. “Make Delhi like Delhi. I’ll never say Delhi can be like London, or Paris, or New York. Don’t make a promise you can’t fulfil. Try to make Delhi a place where people can breathe clean air and drink clean water.” As for his political ambitions, Gautam says he has none: “I have zero ambitions. The only ambition I had was to join the army.”
Photography: Ashish Chawla; Creative Direction & Styling: Amber Tikari; Makeup: Puja Taluja; Hair: Altaf Shah
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s August 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!