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Marathon salute to ‘heroes’ like Koel

She does not travel in a red “batti gaadi”.

She is not gheraoed by fans.

Yet, she will be saluted by all those walking or running in the Tata Medical Center Kolkata Marathon on January 5, from 6am.

She is Koel Datta from Malda in Bengal, who has shown exemplary courage in her race against cancer and has come out a winner.

The first time I met her in Mumbai four years ago was her last day in the city. Her mother was emotional. Koel’s father had cancer when the second blow struck. His little girl, just nine years old, was diagnosed with leukaemia.

The most moving moment for the family came when Koel’s father said: “I have lived my life… now I want to give my only daughter Koel, a chance to live hers.”

Parental concern superseded all other financial constraints. Koel’s mother recalled her family’s four-year trauma of travelling to Mumbai countless times, pulling her son out of education and going back and forth coping with the treatment and with life in Mumbai.

That did not take away the twinkle in Koel’s eyes or her amazing dazzling smile.

As I shook her hand and wished her well, we took a few photos of her last day in Mumbai.

Whoever imagined she would become the face of a campaign that would touch so many hearts.

Thanks to her family who moved us to tears by saying Koel helping other children with her inspiring story would mean the world to them and they wanted nothing in return. Koel became the face of courage as she travelled with breathless pace across social media.

She is today a sweet 16 going on 17. Cancer-free and a star in her own right. Ready to participate in the Marathon.

Indeed Koel represents the plight of alarming numbers of underprivileged cancer patients who come from eastern India, who now have a beacon of hope.

Tata Medical Center, a world-class facility at their doorstep (New Town) where half the beds are exclusively reserved for them.

Statistics have a dull ring to them. The Indian cancer registry shows maximum numbers of specific cancers come from eastern India.

But to actually see large numbers thronging Mumbai’s cancer hospitals, without a roof over their heads, is heart-wrenching. To see the underprivileged have the footpath as their home humanises statistics.

Thousands will run for the Tata Medical Center in the Kolkata Marathon for hope and compassion.

As they say in Bengal, “Jotokkhon shaash... totokkhon aash (As long as there is breath there is hope).”

People of Calcutta will indeed give their “shaash” for the “aash” of underprivileged cancer patients.

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