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ISLAMABAD – A Pakistani tea seller with striking eyes who saw his life change overnight after a picture of him at work went viral, said Friday he was totally unaware of social media until recently, when boys and girls suddenly started thronging his tea stall to take selfies with him.
Arshad Khan, an 18-year-old with piercing light green eyes, initially became so nervous that he quit his job and went into hiding, fearing he might have done something wrong. But his fears quickly diminished after friends and relatives told him that it was his picture which made him popular and helped him become a model.
Sitting among his friends at tea stall in an Islamabad flea market where he worked until days ago, Khan said he had never dreamed he would become famous. But his life changed after a female 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, Khan 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.
It also prompted Islamabad-based clothing retail site Fitin.pk to contact him for his first modelling shoot. He now graces the site's home page modeling t-shirts.
"Chai wala is no more chai wala, now he is fashion wala," the site said in a message accompanying his photos.
For Khan, one of 17 siblings from Pakistan's conservative town of Mardan in the northwest, it has been a life-changer. For months he worked at the tea stall, getting paid $5 per day to serve customers from morning to sunset. He says 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 said.
The 18-year-old has no phone and doesn't 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 said.
"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," he told The Associated Press, sitting at the same stall he had worked at for months.
Recalling the moment when Ali took his photo, Khan said he had been serving tea when a woman passing by suddenly stopped, took a snap and went away. Khan said he forgot the incident, but later realized that picture had made him famous. He said people had told him his 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 said.
Growing up, he had wanted to get an education, "but poverty did not allow me." For years Khan sold fruit, vegetables, and used clothes at the capital's flea market, which is also frequented by foreigners.
"I started working at this tea stall months ago and my mother often used to tell me that one day you will become a famous man," he said. "I always thought it is 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."