Runners jog, a cause sprints

For education and love of running 

By Brinda Sarkar
  • Published 30.11.15
Kiran Bedi flags off the Airtel Run for Education 2015 organised by Round Table India, in association with The Telegraph, at City Centre Salt Lake on Sunday morning; (below) a sea of runners takes off. 
Text: Prashun Mazumdar; Pictures: Arnab Mondal


Middle-aged Shelly De Tarafder, a T-shirt pinned to her sari, showed on Sunday morning that miles alone don't matter in a marathon. Smiles and spirit do too.

Airtel Run for Education 2015 by Round Table India, in association with The Telegraph, woke up 7,000 Calcuttans at dawn to run and have fun in a road race for a cause that raised Rs 80 lakh for a Howrah school.

Professional runners, fitness freaks, weekend warriors, students, homemakers and senior citizens battling everything from back pain to high blood pressure were in the starting line-up for the three races that made up the event in Salt Lake.

The longest race was over 21km, requiring the participants to run from City Centre till the Infinity Building in Sector V and back twice. Around 300 runners had registered for this category. The second race was over 10km, where the participants had to cover the same distance once. The last run, along a 5km route around Central Park, was the most popular, drawing 5,500 participants.

Metro trailed the runners from start to finish, capturing the mood of a road race that was more about the effort being worth the cause than about winning.

Run and reflect

Sunmbul Rahman, who ran the 21km race, was among those who didn't find getting up early on a Sunday any different from their usual weekend routine. "Several of us are part of an amateur runners' circuit called Kolkata Running Squad. We meet at Victoria Memorial to run thrice a week," she said.

For every serious runner focused on the finish line, there were many more who ran for a lark. "On Sundays, I don't open my eyes before 1pm. Today is different," said Manya Ahalani, a Class IX student at La Martiniere For Girls who ran 5km. "It is fun as all my friends are here and we are helping fund a charitable cause."

The 5km field was more colourful than competitive. Most runners made a dash for the finish in their enthusiasm, only for the sprint to turn into a jog and then a weary walk. Many sat down after a couple of kilometres to catch their breath. One group was seen walking with a pro-vegetarianism banner, another wore stickers against drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse and a third played antakshri throughout.

"We are archers who train at the Sports Authority of India. Fitness is part of our daily regimen and so we are not here to prove anything. We are just enjoying the moment," said Vimlandra Pandey, struggling to be heard above the chorus of Khaike paan Banaraswala.

The road race didn't have just runners, there were some skaters too! "I wanted to roller blade for 21km but they thought I was too young and didn't allow me," said 10-year old Vachan Gupta, who came to Salt Lake all the way from Behala. "I am skating 10km," he declared.

The boy's father Saurabh, an avid runner, completed the 21km race.

One runner who stood out was Shelly, who had pinned a Bank of Baroda T-shirt over her sari because it was a size too small for her. "I didn't want to run without it. So I brought out my safety pins," laughed the lady, egged on by her colleagues.

Bank of Baroda had registered 500 employees for the race, the highest by any organisation.

Many ran despite aching limbs and ailments. "I fractured my leg earlier this year but didn't want to miss this run," said Shreekant Ladia, who "retired hurt" after half a kilometre. Nimesh Doshi fought a backache to run. "When I found out that this run was for education, I wanted to do my bit," he said, walking when he could no longer run.

Mortuza Sheikh, a driver having tea at a stall opposite the statue of BC Roy along Central Park, was taken aback by the sight of a sea of runners. "This stretch gets its share of morning walkers but never have I seen such a large gathering," he said.

Rap and rejoice

At City Centre, there were several sideshows to keep everyone engaged and entertained. Rising hip hop star Feyago performed a song he had composed for the event, dancer Subhajit Khus Das and his troupe Subhangik led flash mobs, a Harley Davidson fleet drove ahead of the 10km run and a drone hovered overhead to film the activities.

Kiran Bedi, the first woman to become an IPS officer, had come down to flag off the races and kept posting updates on Twitter. "I have run all my life, so today I am making others run," she chuckled when asked why she wasn't running. "This marathon is a win-win situation as the participants get to work out and the proceeds go to charity."

Industrialists Harsh Neotia and Sanjay Agarwal were at the prize distribution. Agarwal likened a marathon to life. "The lesson to learn is that life is not a 100m sprint but a marathon where slow and steady eventually wins," he said.

Daniel Langat, a professional runner from Kenya, won the 21km race in 1:11:34. "This was my first time in Calcutta and I found the city to be very welcoming. I thought the other runners were reasonably fit too," he said with a smile after receiving the trophy and a cash prize of Rs 35,000.

The biggest winner in the second edition of the Airtel Run for Education was, of course, the cause. Around Rs 80 lakh was raised through the event, out of which more than Rs 30 lakh was through registrations. Corporate sponsorships accounted for the rest.

The proceeds would be used to build a new block at Sarada Sishu Mandir in Tanterberia, Howrah, said Suman Voora, the president of Round Table India.