'Slumdog Millionaire' at the Oscars got the whole of India euphoric - mainly because Indian talents were being acclaimed, globally . While there was so much hype over 'Slumdog', for reasons still being debated, another India-based creation, 'Smile Pinki' was quietly basking in the limelight of a new found glory.
While Slumdog portrayed a white man's lopsided view of the 'real' India --which humiliated several Indians in its wake-- smile pinki is a touching, real life, ' darkness- to- light' depiction - an experience that can be quite humbling.
The documentary 'Smile Pinki', is an enchanting modern day fairy tale about Pinki Kumari, a poor little Indian village girl, who was born with a cleft lip and palate and whose life was magically transformed after a simple surgery, made possible by the world's leading cleft charity ' Smile Train'.
The vibrant style of this film's narration captures the true-life tale of its protagonist's liberation from stigma and shame. Directed by American film maker Megan Mylan, this film won the Oscar for the Best Short Documentary at the 81st annual Academy Awards .The documentary, made in Hindi and Bhojpuri, is 39 -minutes long and was shot in the villages of Uttar Pradesh and Varanasi in Northern India.
'Smile Pinki' attempts to throw light on the global problem of cleft lip and palate and also acclaims the work of the plastic surgeon Subodh Kumar Singh. By providing free surgeries, Dr.Singh has been bringing smiles on the faces of poor children with cleft lip and palate.
'Smile Pinki' is the moving story of a 5-yr old Pinki Sonkar, who was born to impoverished parents in Rampur Dabai of the Mirzapur District in Uttar Pradesh. To add to her misery she was born with a cleft lip and a cleft palate.
Pinky had the misfortune of being born poor in one of the most backward areas of rural India. She also had to live with the burden of being born a girl, with an embarrassing physical deformity, in a region where a girl child was not as welcome as she should be. It came as no surprise that she was denied school, shunned and was even ostracized.
Pinki's family hardly realized that all that she required was one simple surgery for her to become a 'normal' little girl and even if they did, they could hardly afford it. One day they chanced upon Pankaj, a social worker who traveled between villages gathering patients to avail of the free surgery being provided at the hospital in Varanasi thanks to Smile Train, an international charitable organization that focused in helping people with cleft lip and palate.
Pinki's unilateral complete cleft was operated upon by plastic surgeon Dr Subodh Kumar Singh and her life was transformed for ever. Dr.Singh says, "Earlier she was very depressed, she wasn't like a child at all. Now she is like any other eight-year-old,".
The doctor along with Pinki and her father Rajendar attended the Oscar ceremony.They also visited Smile Train's Head quarters at New York.
The Smile Train
The Smile Train, is the world's leading charitable organization dedicated to helping people with cleft lip and palate. Its goal is to ensure safe and quality treatment to the millions who can ill- afford it. The charity also aims to continue providing these treatments across India until the problem is completely wiped out.
On March 17, The Smile Train is all set to celebrate its tenth anniversary. It has carried the torch in 76 poor countries for over ten years, and has funded nearly 500,000 cleft operations. Hundreds of thousands of children with cleft lip and palate have benefited from the patronge of The Smile Train.
The organization has achieved these wonders with the selfless dedication of 2,238 doctors and nurses, 1,037 participating hospitals and 1,345,567 magnanimous donors.
It has empowered local hospitals, doctors and other health care personnels and has actively participated in weaving a strong network of medical skill all over the world.
The GS Memorial Hospital, an associate of Smile Train, specialises in reconstruction of cleft lips and palates through surgery. As an epicentre of smiles, it is open on all days of the week, and has carried out approx. 14,000 surgeries ( largest number for a single hospital in Asia).
The Oscar award is bound to provide the Smile Train with a much-deserved booster and showcase its valuable cause internationally. Brian Mullaney, Co-Founder of The Smile Train, said "Pinki would not only be the youngest person to ever win an Oscar but also be a shining symbol of hope and inspiration for millions of children who are suffering with clefts".
What is Cleft Lip?
Cleft lip (cheiloschisis) and cleft palate (palatoschisis) are variations of a kind of clefting congenital deformity caused by an abnormal facial development during embryonic development.Both these conditions tend to occur together. In the case of cleft palate , the two plates of the skull that make up the roof of the mouth (palate) are not completely joined.Both cleft lip and palate can be successfully repaired immediately after birth.
The frequency of occurrence of this condition at birth is 1 in 600-800 births.Its prevalence is highest among Native Americans and Asians. The lowest prevalence rates are recorded among the Africans.
Cleft Lip /Palate-Causes
The exact cause of cleft lip and palate is,by and large, unknown although a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors (such as viruses and chemicals) are implicated. Sometimes it occurs as a secondary condition to another medical problem.
The probability of a child being born with these conditions is greater if a sibling, parent, or a close relative has had the condition.
Certain medications taken by the mother during pregnancy are also believed to cause cleft lip/palate.Some of them include acne medications containing accutane, anti-seizure/anticonvulsant drugs and methotrexate, a common drug used in the treatment of cancer, psoriasis and arthritis.
Cleft Lip / Palate- Effects
Some of the problems that arise from cleft lip/palate are associated with feeding, ear infections, speech and socialization.
• An infant with a cleft lip/ palate lacks suction and this brings about difficulties during feeding
• The affected also suffer from middle ear infections which, if uncared for, can eventually lead to complete loss of hearing .
• Individuals with cleft lip/ palate suffer from speech impairment and require the help of a speech therapist
• Bonding with a baby born with cleft lip or palate can be difficult
• A cleft palate/lip will lend an unusual appearance and speech to the affected individual whose low self esteem, combined with society's deprecating reactions, may heavily impact behavior, confidence and socializing skills
Cleft Lip/Palate Facts
• According to Smile Train statistics, greater than 4.7 million children belonging to developing countries live with unrepaired clefts in their upper lip/palate, a condition that is completely treatable
• In India 35,000 children are born each year with a cleft in their upper lip /palate ; more than half of these children do not get treatment simply because they are too poor
• Each of these affected children could be brought back to normal life, Pinki -style, with a simple 45 minutes surgery that would cost as little as Rs. 8000 ( approx. $250).
• Children with these deformities are isolated and traumatized. Many of them do not attend schools;some of them are even killed at birth or , even worse, abandoned
• As adults they fail to get regular jobs and are not in demand in the marriage market
• Since 2000, Smile Train has funded more than one lakh fifty thousand free, but safe, surgeries throughout India
• However, there are still about 10 lakh untreated cases in India alone
Let the Children Smile
The website for The Smile Train observes that "There are many other Pinkis in the world who still need help. Millions of poor children with unrepaired clefts who are waiting and wondering if anyone will ever come along and help them. For the vast majority of them, Smile Train is their only hope".
As for the rest of us it is important to be sensitive to individuals, especially children, with deformities. Let us help, in our own way, to put a smile on these children's faces - if we cannot help them let us make sure we do not hurt!
Today, Eight-year-old Pinki, goes to school. She has more reasons to smile about as a Medical and Management institute at Indore has offered her a full scholarship if she desires to study at the institute in the future!
Dr Reeja Tharu/S