Ashok Patil, a tea vendor at Mumbai's Crawford Market area had a special visitor to his stall yesterday. A visitor called Jean-Benoit Jaouen who also participated in the Mumbai Marathon last January albeit in different categories.
Frenchman Jaouen presented Patil Rs 9000 - half his prize money earnings - after reading his story in January 14, 2012 edition of MiD DAY in an article headlined: 'Vendor swaps tea leaves for running shoes this Sunday'.
Jaouen was touched by this story by sports reporter Sundari Iyer, who wrote about how Patil sold tea during the day, but trained hard in the early hours of the morning at Marine Drive to excel in the half marathon. Jaouen was struck by the fact that the tea vendor earned only Rs 4000 per month.
The following day, 53-year-old Jaouen took part in the 42-kilometer veterans category of the Open event and achieved a third place finish with a timing of 3 hours, 14 minutes, 49 seconds.
When Jaouen learnt from the organisers that his reward was $500, he decided to share his earnings with Patil whose story he couldn't get over.
Return to Mumbai
Jaouen made a return to Mumbai over the weekend after touring several parts of India. He expressed a desire to meet Patil through an e-mail communication with this writer.
Jaouen was taken to Patil's tea stall near Crawford Market and was amazed to see him work. After sampling his tea served in a plastic cup, Jaouen pulled out an envelope that contained Rs 9000 (half of his marathon earnings after tax) and handed it over to Patil.
The tea vendor's eyes welled up and it was not due to the flames of his stove! "I am lost for words. I can't believe he (Jaouen) came all the way here to give me the cash.
Being a foreigner, he knows the importance of running. I wish there are many more like him in India who would come forward to extend a helping hand to a needy person like me," said Patil, trying hard to keep his emotions in check.
Jaouen was keen to know how on earth could 25-year-old Patil train without a trainer. "It must be very hard to train in this heat and after that, work like the way he does. It's amazing how he endures the heat from the stove here. His timing (1:19:10 in the half marathon) is impressive and he should try his luck with the full marathon.
"I have been a leisure runner for 30 years and this sport gave me so much in my daily life. Ashok does not have an easy life, but he proves that everybody can do it. He's an honest boy, working hard to help his mother and two young brothers. He deserves to be helped," said Jaouen.
The former hardware engineer didn't expect his third place finish in Mumbai. "I am a bachelor. Ten years ago, I decided to live my life traveling all around the world. I just run for fun. I never expected to win here.
This came as a surprise to me," said the runner, who has participated in more than 125 marathons. He works as a freelance journalist for a French magazine and also organises races in France.
As Jaouen decided to bid adieu to his new-found Indian friend with a hug, Patil came up with a promise: "I will put this amount to good use. I have a dream to make India proud someday.
I wish the dream comes true soon." He certainly has the ability to realise his dreams since he has the experience of four half marathons in Mumbai and clocked his second best 1:20:11 in the Delhi half marathon last year. In his solitary full marathon (the Vasai-Virar one last year), he finished eighth.
He wants to have a crack at the full marathon in Mumbai next year. For that, Patil will require better footwear and Jaouen is keen to send him a good pair of shoes.
This is Patil's 20th year in Mumbai. He came here to earn a living after his father, Shyamrao went missing in the communal riots that shook Mumbai in 1992-93. He is still not sure if his father is dead or alive.