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Calcutta puts on its running shoes for a cause, straight from the heart

Notorious among her friends for being a late riser, Alipore homemaker Savita Kothari was not supposed to be up at the crack of dawn on Sunday, especially after her Saturday night party continued till 3am. But at 5.15am, it was she who was waking up friends Deepshikha Bihani and Sarita Mohta and urging them to hurry up.

Sunrise was still 63 minutes away and Red Road was still wrapped in fog and darkness but Calcutta was busy putting on its running shoes.

Savita, Deepshikha and Sarita were among the 12,000-plus runners/walkers from Calcutta and beyond who put their heart first to reach the starting line of the Tata Medical Center Kolkata Marathon, Dil Diyey Douroben, organised in association with the ABP Group, to support the treatment of underprivileged cancer patients.

Toddler to teenager, homemaker to honcho, athlete to arthritic retiree, weekend warrior to couch potato, schoolchildren to soccer stars everyone lined up, united and spurred on by a cause. Some were wrapped in mufflers, some clad in windcheaters, an odd one ran bare-chested but all in their running shoes and all brimming with enthusiasm in front of the Mohammedan Sporting ground.

“We are here primarily for the cause and also to have a fun run through the heart of the city,” said Deepshikha.

Long before the marathon started, singer Usha Uthup had started belting out her hit numbers from atop a truck to enthuse the runners.

While the regular joggers performed their routine stretches in one corner, the late risers rinsed away their leftover sleep with a steaming cup of tea and children blew fog smoke. The Facebook fraternity made sure they managed a few good selfies to boast of their run, online.

“They won’t allow me to run the marathon, otherwise I would have done it!” smiled governor M.K. Narayanan. “It’s fabulous! I think the weather suits the enthusiasm,” he added.

At 6.15am, former India captain Sourav Ganguly flanked by the governor and commissioner of police, Surajit Kar Purkayastha, flagged off the main 42km run, which was followed soon after by the 11km run for men and women.

Sourav, in a navy-blue tracksuit, could not run along with the others because of the frantic rush of autograph hunters and photograph seekers. “I came to run, but there are so many people!” smiled the sporting star amid chants of “Dada...Dada!”

Top cop Purkayastha saluted the “spontaneous response” of the people to “a very noble cause”.

Also present on the dais were former tennis champion Naresh Kumar with wife Sunita and chess grandmaster Dibyendu Barua.

The behind-the-scenes team was led by Geeta Gopalakrishnan, director, donor relationships, Tata Medical Center. She could not sleep on Saturday night and was on Red Road at the crack of dawn on Sunday.

“Oh god, it’s like a cricket match, except that there are millions of players with Sourav Ganguly leading them! I thought Calcutta was quite laidback, but everybody is out since 4.30am.... Overjoyed is the word,” she smiled.

Prochy Mehta, organising secretary of The Kolkata Marathon, too was overjoyed. “It feels fantastic. We are celebrating the spirit of the city,” she said.

Among the long contingent of sinewy and athletic marathon runners from across the country, a familiar Calcutta face turned up at the starting line but in a different avatar. Far from his usual role in khaki, deputy commissioner (north), Gaurav Sharma, in a white tee and shorts, warmed up with other athletes for the 42km run.

“It was lovely matching steps with fellow Calcuttans who kept motivating me to keep going every time I got tired. It was great to see the city filled with so much support and clapping for you regardless of whether you are first or last,” said a tired but beaming Sharma after the run.

While thousands put their best feet forward to jog down the marathon stretch, Jimmy Vatcha, 62, stood out in his electronic wheelchair, followed closely by wife Khurshid and 13-year-old son Raizan. As the others ran alongside him, Vatcha rode his wheelchair at a steady pace, the green T-shirt tied around his head like a bandana of bonding.

“I have lost a close friend to cancer and know how painful it is to see a loved one afflicted by it. I am here to do my bit for the cause and am overwhelmed to see the turnout,” said Vatcha as he wheeled down Red Road and eventually completed the 4.2km Fun Run.

For the full marathon, the runners started from Red Road and proceeded towards Park Circus via Lenin Sarani. They then ran through EM Bypass past Ruby Hospital and crossed Sukanta Setu through Santoshpur. The second half of the run was covered through Prince Anwar Shah Road and Chetla from where the athletes entered Diamond Harbour Road. The final stretch saw the runners run past Kidderpore and once again enter the Red Road to head for the finishing line.

The other editions that took place soon after were the 11km Mini Marathon and the three races — Fun Run, Corporate Run and School Run — 4.2km each.

The marathon was won by Satya Prakash while Sudha Singh stood first in the women’s Mini Marathon, both of whom received their winner’s cheques — Rs 3.20 lakh for him and Rs 1.10 lakh for her — from state sports minister Madan Mitra.

Once the races were over, a carnival atmosphere of music and dance took over thanks to Uthup’s chartbusters and Mir’s commentary. In between, Tanusree Shankar’s dance troupe put up a choreographed performance in keeping with the theme.

T.V. Narendran, managing director of Tata Steel, ran his second 11km marathon on Sunday after his debut at Singapore a year ago. “Even though Sourav Ganguly drew very loud cheers, it was heartening to see Calcuttans reserve their best for the run. A marathon is a great property for any city to have and we hope to continue our support next year as well,” said Narendran.

12,000-plus run and walk to stand by cancer patients
Sourav Ganguly, one of the faces of The Kolkata Marathon, couldn’t run because of crowd frenzy. Governor M.K. Narayanan, ever the sport, said he would have run if only he was “allowed” to.
Usha Uthup was there well before dawn. “I am so excited! I’ve never seen something like this in Calcutta,” said Usha, who composed and sung the marathon anthem of Dil diyey douroben. She turned Red Road into a mini disco on Sunday morning with Dum maaro dum, Ramba ho and Oori, oori baba. Singer Kamran Khurshid pitched in with recent Bolly hits. “The point is to show the whole world that if we want to unite, we can,” smiled Usha.
The senior citizen and the sub-junior ran side by side on Sunday. Arun Kumar Singh, 64, and Ayush Pal, 5. The retired insurance agent took to athletics at age 53 and has won gold for Bengal in the 110metre hurdles at the National Games for senior citizens. “It was a great experience,” said Singh. Ayush, who came all the way from Chittaranjan in Burdwan with his father and coach, was perhaps the youngest to complete the 4.2km Fun Run for children. An athletics student at Coomar Institute of Yoga, Ayush trains daily and completed the stretch with ease in 35 minutes. “I am very happy,” he whispered.
Jimmy Vatcha, 62, rode his wheelchair at a steady pace. “I have lost a close friend to cancer.... I am here to do my bit for the cause and am overwhelmed to see the turnout. It shows that Calcutta does care,” said Vatcha, who completed the 4.2km Fun Run. Calcutta salutes you, sir!
The li’l mascot of the Kolkata Marathon was Koel Datta, the Class X student, whose fight with leukaemia sowed the seeds of the Kolkata Marathon in Geeta Gopalakrishnan’s mind. “It’s great being here. I am feeling very happy,” smiled the Malda girl. The Hrithik Roshan fan was there with her mother and brother and was all excited to see “Sourav Ganguly, Usha Uthup and Mir (who she is seen here sharing the stage with)”.
“Dil diyey douroben speaks volumes about the spirit of Calcutta,” said emcee Mir. “I have been here since 5.15am.... and this will go down as the first maha festival of 2014 for Calcutta.”
Arup Ratan Chaudhuri did a jig as Usha Uthup sang. Chaudhuri, 67, a bone-marrow cancer survivor from Belgachhia, took part in the Fun Run. “Tata Medical Center is my temple,” smiled Chaudhuri, cancer-free since end-February 2013.
Sanaya Mehta completed the 11km run. “It was great fun! My mum’s (Prochy Mehta) helped organise the marathon, my husband’s (Sandeep Vyas) singing. I love it!” she said. With Sanaya was Indira Anklesaria and her team from Calorie Burn Centre. “We all ran 4.2km,” said Indira.
“Khub enjoy korechhi,” beamed Pinky Mukherjee, part of the team from the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy (Taratala) who took part in the Fun Walk. Here, Pinky (below right in picture) and her IICP friends are seen with soccer stars from the Maidan.
London-based Matt Ponting and wife Momtaz Begum Hossain were in Calcutta for Christmas. “Matt has run the marathon in London. What was really nice was to see all the sights of Calcutta without any traffic or people. It was really special,” smiled Momtaz.
Golf coach Indrajit Bhalotia was there with 30 of his students from the academy. “It’s great to see so many people come together for a cause. All the boys had a lot of fun,” smiled ‘Sir’.
“We could see the youth geared up for the cause. They feel for the city and their heart feels for Calcutta. There were hundreds of children from schools and colleges,” said Anshu Saharia, associate director, donor relationships, Tata Medical Center.
Akanksha Gupta and Camellia Dutta, both students of Class III, Mahadevi Birla World Academy, loved the green of their jersey. “We both are enjoying a lot,” said the Fun Run/Walk participants.
Long jump champion Prabir Sarkar, who lost his left leg in a train accident when he was four, took part in the Fun Run. “I feel proud to be one with this cause. Never give up!” said the 34-year-old.
Text: Saionee Chakraborty and Ratnalekha Mazumdar. Pictures: Amit Datta, Pabitra Das and Saionee Chakraborty

 

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