Sunil Kumar PS had modified the back of his three-wheeler to look like a Scorpio, the popular Mahindra & Mahindra SUV. Anand Mahindra applauded this innovation by gifting him a Supro mini-van. Nikita Puri reports.
It's 5.30 pm and Sunil Kumar PS is standing by a gas stove, making tea for the guests visiting New Bharat Hotel, the restaurant where he works.
Tucked away in Pullad, a small town near Tiruvalla in Kerala, New Bharat Hotel is your regular local eatery, where lunch thalis often come with a serving of fish curry. This is also the place where Kumar has been working for the past six months.
It isn't Kumar's skill with hot beverages that has made him the focus of recent social-media attention; as someone in charge of handling supplies for the eatery, making tea isn't even in his official job description. It's his head for jugaad that has fetched him fame and benefits.
About two months ago, Anand Mahindra, a regular on Twitter, saw a picture of an auto-rickshaw: the back of this three-wheeler had been modified to look like a Scorpio, the well-favoured SUV brought out by his Mahindra & Mahindra.
The picture was sent to Mahindra by Anil Panicker, a Hyderabad-based employee of the Mahindra group. Panicker, who had recently joined the company, had tweeted the picture to his new boss after finding it among his old downloads.
"Iconic. A way to 'Rise.' Thanks for sharing this. Can you help locate him?" Mahindra responded to Panicker, adding that he'd like give the person four wheels.
This tweet set in motion the chain of events that had twitterati look up the auto-rickshaw's registration details and find its unsuspecting owner.
Kumar, the man who had remodelled the auto, doesn't use the internet, and was completely unaware of the events that took place on social media, till a number of individuals showed up at the hotel looking for him.
Last week, Mahindra announced that his team had managed to locate Kumar. Wearing his Sunday best, a checked shirt teamed with a traditional white mundu with a gold border, Kumar went to pick up his new Supro mini-van.
Ironically, Kumar has sold off this auto about a year ago, but since the vehicle was still registered on in his name, Kumar could be found.
"Kumar used to drive a Scorpio a few years ago when he was employed with a travel agency," says Omana Kuttan, manager of the eatery Kumar works at.
For over 25 years, Kuttan has lived across the street from Kumar.
"He had really liked driving the Scorpio, so when he quit and began driving an auto-rickshaw, he scraped up Rs 25,000 to get that modification done," shares Kuttan.
Kumar has shuttled between odd jobs for a long time: the 37-year-old has also done manual labour before driving an auto-rickshaw for three years.
A few months ago, a picture of Kumar's modified auto-rickshaw had also made its way to Facebook.
"I don't really remember who uploaded it, but it had received 60,000 likes," says Kuttan. His manager-cum-friend's recollection of the event doesn't elicit much response from Kumar.
Comfortable in Malayalam alone, Kumar says he's thoroughly honoured by Mahindra's gesture, but he's still getting used to the idea.
His colleagues say Kumar is the most "regular" guy around; the remodelling of the auto-rickshaw is the one feat that truly stands out in his life. Like clockwork, he diligently reports at work at 7 am every day and works well past 9 pm, doing "everything that he's asked to do".
Kumar's friends believe he's likely to sell the new mini-van since his first priority is his family's well-being: a wife and teenage son.
"His house is not in a very good condition and he knows he can get a few lakh for the mini-van. He can then move to a better place," says Kuttan.
But the man whose jugaad unintentionally won him a four-wheeler directly from Anand Mahindra is yet to decide.