The Run For Life: Story of a gangster-turned-marathoner at this year’s Tata Mumbai Marathon – Mumbai Mirror

The Run For Life: Story of a gangster-turned-marathoner at this year’s Tata Mumbai Marathon  Mumbai Mirror

Rahul Jadhav finished the Mumbai Marathon 2020 in 4 hours and 17 minutes. His best event record was 4 hours 1 minutes and 30 seconds which he failed to improve this time.

Mumbai: Rahul Jadhav has been running since many years now. Initially for life. Now to live life.

“I have been running for over 19 years. For the first 10 years, to save myself from the police. Thereafter, it became the very purpose of my existence,” said the 43-year-old mobster-turned-ace-marathoner during an interview with Mirror Online.

We caught up with the Dombivli man on a chilly afternoon at the Worli Seaface, a couple of hours after he got his ‘ticket’ to run this year’s edition of the Tata Mumbai Marathon, scheduled to be held on Sunday.

Though the tiring overnight journey from his ‘new home’ in Pune and long wait for the entry pass at the Bandra-Kurla-Complex (BKC) had left visible signs on his face, his tall athletic frame came back to life once he slipped into his running gear for a warm-up on the promenade.

Gearing up for life. Photo: Ramesh Sable/TIL

“This is my fourth attempt at the Mumbai Marathon since 2016,” announced Rahul, taking a brief pause from the workout. The maiden attempt four years ago had signalled his liberation from the life he dreads to recall now. “When I close my eyes and look back, it feels like a rebirth from the hell I was trapped within,” said the dreaded mafia sharp shooter who once figured on top of the ‘hit list’ drawn out by police in two mega cities–Mumbai and Thane.

He was one of the very few who not only survived the hounding bullets of the police and his rivals in the underworld, but went on to live a life which few of the hirelings in the gang could dream of. “Call it my luck or ‘Maa Baap ka Karam’ (the Karma of my parents), I am here,” Rahul said, the sharp gaze of his searing eyes still intact.

Like many in the far suburban townships of Mumbai and Thane, Rahul too had a modest beginning. His father, employed in a private company in Thane, mother, a home maker, an elder brother and a sister. Rahul was the youngest amongst the siblings. “Being the youngest, I was spoilt and a rebel too,” said Rahul who grew up in a setup teeming with criminals and vagabonds as jobs were few and far between. “I was always a back bencher in school and never excelled in studies.”

Did sports, running in particular, come naturally to you? “In fact, never,” replied Rahul. “I would come fifth or sixth in the sprint events.”

A test of perseverance and endurance. Photo: Ramesh Sable/TIL

Towards the end of the last millennium, Rahul, like his fellow batchmates pursuing BCom courses at a college in Thane began thinking of life beyond college. “The situation at home was not good. My father’s income was barely enough to support the household. Topping it was my sister’s marriage which drained up the savings. What will I do with a BCom degree with 50-60 per cent marks once out of college? May be some Rs 40,000-50,000 job, somewhere,” Rahul said matter-of-factly.

“Looking around, I found my friends making big bucks by threatening people or getting lucrative contracts by using muscle power.” Barely did he know he was slipping into a trap with his obsession for quick money. The inevitable did happen.

Soon, Rahul found himself in the league of marksmen for a dreaded underworld outfit that was unofficially headquartered in Dombivli. Rahul became the trusted lieutenant for the fugitive mob boss, while for the police, a marked man.

Police officials versed with Rahul’s past recall the latter as a reckless criminal with a couple of 9 mm pistols tucked into his waist, protruding from his loose shirt on the lanky frame.

The growth of his notoriety marked a corresponding increase in the number of run-ins with the police, Rahul said. “I was soon involved in extortion, gun running, to name a few. As the police came closing, I had to be on the run all the time.”

Preparing to touch the depths. Photo: Ramesh Sable/TIL

The life of a desperado, Rahul reminisced, drew him into substance abuse and alcohol addiction. “I became too much addicted to alcohol, charas and mandrax pills. I got hooked to those as I was finding it difficult to sleep,” he said.

Recalling one of his run for life from police, Rahul said it was set on the picturesque background of Girgaum Chowpatty. “I found the place safe from the police glare and quietly slept in a garden on the beach.” At dawn, Rahul woke up to some noise in the vicinity. “It was a Sunday. I found hundreds of people running in what appeared to be a marathon.” The crowd gave an escape route to Rahul. “I too began running alongside the participants, took a detour and reached Grant Road, and proceeded to Borivali. Though there were policemen all over, no one could recognise me.” It was after a few years, Rahul realised he had unofficially joined the Mumbai marathon while running for his life.

By 2007, Rahul found himself involved in about a dozen of offences, including one under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). And soon, the police came calling. Rahul was arrested that year by the late encounter specialist, police inspector Vijay Salaskar, who was leading the Anti Robbery Squad then. “I was fortunate to escape his bullet,” Rahul said.

The next three years, Rahul was lodged at the Arthur Road jail, facing trial in various courts for the cases that were his undoings, before he was out on bail in August 2010.

However, the long stay in jail gave him a chance to introspect. “I could not sleep as I would get flashes of the horrified faces of people who were coerced by me to pay up. Their cries echoed in my ears. I would repent for my deeds.” The incarceration, Rahul said, made him think about his future, which he struggled to visualise. “It was high time to change, now or never,” he said of his resolve to reform following the release from jail.

At his Pune residence with his laurels.

The path to reform wasn’t as easy as he had thought it to be. The bloody past continued to hunt him. “After my release I got a job in a private firm. However, the next year, I was picked up by the police and kept in detention for 24 hours following the gunning down of journalist J Dey. The police were rounding up known criminals for questioning and I wasn’t an exception,” he said. However, the detention cost him his job as his employer insisted on an NoC from police, which could never be obtained.

The incident only aggravated Rahul’s addiction problems, before he was finally admitted to “Muktangan”, a rehabilitation centre at Pune. It was perhaps life that offered another chance to the gangster to live.

“I found myself at Muktangan when I had almost given up on life. For a few months, the withdrawals were agonising. I was lucky to survive the ordeal.”

As Rahul struggled to cope without alcohol, hard work and therapy helped tackle the side effects, lack of sleep in particular.” I purposefully took up the job of cleaning the 17 toilets at the centre which was extremely tiring. Often I would clean the floor of the rooms splashed with vomits and human excreta. At the end of the day, the leftover food would be made into compost.” The tiring and unfriendly job gave Rahul the much needed sleep and appreciation came his way at the centre too.

Dilli Chalo: At one of his milestones on his maiden run to Delhi

“Parents of other addicts who came to visit at the centre, would give their children my example.” Rahul enjoyed the new-found limelight.

By the end of 2015, he also volunteered to participate in a marathon organised at the centre for which none of the inmates agreed. “I ran among ‘big’ people, was given a medal for participating,” Rahul recalls how the medal and the recognition brought about the confidence he had lost long ago. “I was a bad performer in school. I never got any recognition from anyone. There was negativity all around. Suddenly the medal gave me a recognition and the appreciation I never got in my life,” he recalled.

The encounter with his parents that followed the event, changed Rahul’s life. “I told my parents I wanted to go back home. But they insisted I stay back as I would get into my old habits once I was back in the same circle,” Rahul said.

“After my parents left, I went outside the campus and began running aimlessly. I remember I was crying all the way, thinking of the dark future that lay ahead for me. I kept on remembering my past and by the time I got back to my senses, I found myself at Lonavala had unknowingly sprinted over 53 kilometres by then, almost an ultra marathon I had run.”

The run and the thoughts that accompanied the feat, Rahul said, brought the poison within out and gave him a reason to live. “I had found my way. I decided to run for my life,” he said.

Rahul found a samaritan within the rehab centre, a fellow addict who was on a reformation course. “He gave me a job at his company in Byculla while asking me to continue with my new found passion.” Rahul soon shifted to Dombivli and took up the job.

The busy work schedule did not come in the way of Rahul’s dreams. “I would get down from the train at Thane on my way back from the workplace and run for the next 22 km to reach home (Dombivli),” he said.

And when the news reached his employer, he gave Rahul a place at Kalbadevi so that he could keep up his practice at Marine Drive.

While preparing for the 2016 Mumbai Marathon, Rahul once bumped into senior inspector Vinayak Vast, who was then heading the anti-extortion cell and knew Rahul from his earlier days. “I was taken for inquiry at the office of Mr Vast. However, when I showed him the medal and certificates I had and told him my preparations for the impending marathon, the entire staff at his office gave me a standing ovation. Vast also wished me luck, saying he will never bother me again. I was in tears as it was at the same office where I was once hung upside down from a ceiling fan during interrogation,” he said.

The same year, Rahul participated in the Mumbai Marathon, clocking a career best of 4 hours 1 minute and 30 seconds in the full marathon. “I then started my first long distance run to my village in Konkan,” a distance of 224 km which he covered in 4 days. More than the running feat, Rahul was overwhelmed by the reception he received at the village. “Those who once looked down upon me as a gangster, drug addict and worthless man, waited in patience on the precincts of the village to garland me. It was nothing short of an achievement for me,” he recalled.

The next was a 1,475 km run from the Gateway of India to the India Gate in New Delhi to spread awareness about drug de-addiction. By then, he already had several recognitions in his bag, having run the Pune, Thane, BKC and other marathons in between.

Last August, Rahul found his soulmate in a nurse from Muktangan, who once treated him during his reformative days, and tied the knot with her. The union only hastened his shifting to Pune to take up a full-time job of an instructor (counsellor) at the centre.

With friend, guide and instructor, Habiba Jetha at the India Gate

Continuing with his running streak, Rahul wants to improve his timings to less than 4 hours during this year’s run at the Mumbai Marathon. Though he has set his eyes on the Boston Marathon, it won’t be possible until the courts give him a go ahead in three pending cases.
Not surprisingly, Rahul has been selected as one of the ‘inspirational runners’ by the organisers of the Mumbai Marathon this year, while a biographical account of the gangster-turned marathoner is set to release in August this year.