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Dad defends a seven-year-old son who runs 70 km and collapses
“Just one second,” says Padmacharan Mandal. “Mritunjay felt faint for one second and you guys in the media made such a hullabaloo. He was okay immediately.” He is talking about his son who collapsed at the 70 km mark, at Kemp’s Corner, on his run from Kalyan to the Gateway of India, a distance of 80kms on Sunday morning.
“You have to understand he is a boy from a village in Orissa,” continues Padmacharan. “All of a sudden, he is running in front of crowds, in front of such huge buildings he has never seen before and there was so much of pollution. So he fainted for one second.”
Mritunjay, who is sitting next to his father, in a blue tracksuit, says, “Just one second. My reputation has been spoiled.”
It is a big sentence for a seven-year-old. I try to visualise myself at seven and all I could recall was the desire to play football all the time and how to avoid going to school. So, clearly, this seems to be a tutored dialogue.
Padmacharan, 42, with a grey stubble, thin hair and chapped lips, looks 15 years older. He is an ayurvedic doctor and has an elder son and two daughters, besides Mritunjay. When asked whether he was exploiting his son, he says, “Not at all. He loves to run. He has been running ever since he could walk.” He says that as a doctor, he ensures that Mritunjay gets a medical check up every six months. “He is perfectly fine now.”
It’s bad manners but I lean forward and touch the boy’s forehead with my palm: he is cool as a cucumber.
“There is no exploitation going on,” says Shrikant Kumar Padhi, president of Rashtriya Oriya Yuvak Pratishtan.
In the midst of the questioning, Mritunjay suddenly starts drumming on the table with his fingers. He looks relaxed except for this tiny hint of nervousness: every now and then, his right leg twitches.
As the photographers come closer to take pictures, his father whispers something in Oriya and the son immediately comes up with the ‘V’ sign.
So what are the plans for the future?
“I want to run in the Olympic Games and win a gold medal,” says Mrintunjay. “What is the Olympic Games?” is the question put forth. For once, the boy’s eyes blink and there is a silence all around.