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Updated: January 27, 2013 04:31 IST
INDIA'S ANTI-POLIO DRIVE

The reluctant celebrity

Ananya Dutta
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FACE OF CHANGE : Firoza Bibi, with three-and-a-half-year-old Rukhsar Khatoon in Sahapara, near Kolkata. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish
FACE OF CHANGE : Firoza Bibi, with three-and-a-half-year-old Rukhsar Khatoon in Sahapara, near Kolkata. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

Two years after Rukhsar contracted polio, she walks with a slight limp.

Three-and-a-half-year-old Rukhsar Khatoon does not know why, but is aware that many people from Kolkata are interested in her. Social workers, doctors and journalists come frequently to her home in Sahapara village in West Bengal’s Howrah district.

They do so to track her progress — as the last case of wild polio recorded in the country.

Intimidated by all the attention, she said over lunch one day: “If you let any more of those people come, I will not speak to them,” says Abdul Saha, her father.

True to her word, she refuses to speak to strangers or oblige any requests to sing her favourite song — a recent number from a Bengali film — although half the residents of their locality of Fakirpara try to coax her into it.

There is still no motorable road to Rukhsar’s home, and all along the short trek up to her house from the last point that a car can go, curious villagers peek out of their homes, shops or tea-stalls to appraise the visitors. A quick glance is enough to assure them that, “oh, they have come for polio.” In Sahapara, it is a well-known fact that Rukhsar’s infection was an important event, although not everyone knows the importance of the fact that no other case has been reported in the country since.

“When left with us, she talks nineteen to the dozen. But when there are unfamiliar faces, she feels unsure and clams up,” Mr. Saha says, though he is only too aware that his daughter requires expert attention.

Two years after Rukhsar contracted polio, she walks with a slight limp.

“When playing with the other children, if she tries running, she will come back complaining that her leg hurts,” says Rukhsar’s mother Zubeida Bibi.

The family will travel to Kolkata next week for an appointment with the doctors of the Infectious Diseases Hospital for a check-up.

Apart from the concerns about her leg, Rukhsar is doing well. She loves watching her parents work at the zardosi saris they embroider for a living, but takes a break to go to the khichdi school (the local Integrated Child Development Services centre) every morning.

Though she will not give interviews anymore, she is willing to oblige the paparazzi. She uninhibitedly poses for the camera.

Those pictures have made her the face of the polio eradication campaign.

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