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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

From chai wala to fashion wala for Pakistan’s blue-eyed boy

Arshad Khan didn't know he was famous until boys and girls started thronging around his market stall and taking selfies wth him.
Pakistani tea vendor Arshad Khan, 18, center, surrounded by shopkeepers and colleagues at a market where he sells tea in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016.  B.K.Bangash AP Photo
Pakistani tea vendor Arshad Khan, 18, center, surrounded by shopkeepers and colleagues at a market where he sells tea in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. B.K.Bangash AP Photo

ISLAMABAD // Arshad Khan has no phone and knew nothing of social media until recently, when photos of the handsome young Pakistani went viral and transformed him from tea seller to fashion model in a matter of days.

Arshad, an 18-year-old with piercing aquamarine eyes, got the first inkling of his rising fame when boys and girls suddenly started thronging his tea stall to take selfies with him. At first he thought he’d done something wrong. He quit his job and went into hiding until friends and relatives told him that it was his picture that had made him popular

Now, sitting among friends at the tea stall in the Islamabad flea market where he worked until only days ago, Arshad says he never dreamed he would become famous.

His change in fortunes began when a freelance photographer, Javeria Ali, took his photo as he poured tea for a customer and shared it on Instagram, with a caption “Hot Tea”.

Overnight, Arshad became an internet sensation in Pakistan and beyond, with his picture shared thousands of times on social media with the hashtag ChaiWala — or tea seller.

The Islamabad-based clothing retail site Fitin.pk then contacted him for his first modelling shoot and he now graces the site’s home page, modelling T-shirts.

“Chai wala is no more chai wala, now he is fashion wala,” says a message accompanying his photos.

Arshad, one of 17 siblings from Pakistan’s conservative town of Mardan in the north-west, had worked at the tea stall for months, serving customers from morning to sunset for US$5 (Dh18.36) a day. He now hopes to work in TV and films.

“I need money to help my family. I also want to do charity work across Pakistan,” he says.

Arshad does not know how to read and write, but he has a dream: he wants to educate others.

“I am not an educated person and cannot claim that I will become a doctor or a judge,” he says.

“All I want to say is that I will help those children who are deprived of education. If I get enough money, I will set up schools for children.”

Growing up, he had wanted to get an education, “but poverty did not allow me”.

Before working at the tea stall, Arshad sold fruit, vegetables and used clothes at the flea market for years.

Recalling the moment Ms Ali took his photo, he says he was serving tea when a woman passing by suddenly stopped, took a snap and went away. He forgot the incident and only realised the picture had made him famous when people told him his blue-green eyes were a top trending topic on social media.

“I know I am handsome, but I also knew a poor person like me cannot become famous,” he says.

“My mother often used to tell me that one day you will become a famous man. I always thought it was a wish and nothing else. But now I feel it is due to my mother’s prayers that I have become a model from a tea seller.”

* Associated Press

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