Smiles all round

The gift of a smile: Dr. Subodh Kumar Singh with Pinki.

The gift of a smile: Dr. Subodh Kumar Singh with Pinki.  


Pinki’s transformation from a child with a cleft lip to a normal six-year-old is the subject of a documentary that’s been nominated for the Academy Awards.

Life has been tough for six-year-old Pinki. Born to poor parents in a small remote hamlet Rampur Dhabhi in Mirzapur, Pinki carried upon her fragile shoulders the burden of prejudice. Her cleft lips made people shun and spurn her. While elders considered her inauspicious and avoided her, the children made fun of her. Laughter became alien to her; she stopped going near children. In short, Pinki forgot to smile.

And then one day Pinki’s black-and-white world suddenly turned into technicolour. A volunteer of the Smile Train, the international organisation that does free surgery for cleft patients all over the world, spotted her. And neglected Pinki became the protagonist of the regional language documentary, “Smile Pinki”, made by Emmy-nominated producer Megan Mylan.

A journey chronicled

The 39-minute film, in Hindi and Bhojpuri, with sub-titles in English, has been nominated for the Oscars in the short documentary category. The film chronicles Pinki’s 60-minute journey that led her from ostracism to acceptance following corrective surgery. It was shot in the village and at the G.S. Memorial Plastic Surgery Hospital, in Varanasi, where Pinki was operated on by plastic surgeon Dr. Subodh Kumar Singh.

Meeting Pinki in Dr Singh’s clinic was a delightful experience. She had just returned from Delhi armed with the visa and passport to attend the glittering Academy Awards at Los Angles and would be accompanied by her father Rajender Sonkar, a labourer, and Dr. Singh. I tried to strike a conversation with Pinki, as she sat beside her father. But she was in no mood to chat. Unmindful of the camera flashing, she played with the two dolls that the Smile Train volunteers had gifted her. Dressed in pink trousers, a multi-colour T-shirt and a pink pullover, she looked like any other child of her age; a complete contrast to the earlier insecure introvert.

Free again

As soon as Dr. Singh entered the room, Pinki pulled out his digital camera and started clicking. Amused and impressed, Dr. Singh said, “Pinki is doing so many things for the first time, including travelling by air, using escalators, living in five star hotels ...” After a minute, he called Pinki. But she paid no heed and continued playing. He called again. This time she looked up but answered firmly, “No.” Dr Singh smiled indulgently. “I am so happy to hear this. Till yesterday this girl did not have the courage to say ‘yes’. Now, she is confidently saying ‘no’. Pinki has got back not just her smile; she has also got back her voice and self-esteem.”

However, he adds, “Frankly, for me, it is not just Pinki’s case; it is the issue. The film is about a mission. It is not about one surgery. It is about creating awareness about the plight of patients with cleft lips.” He is happy that, through Pinki’s case, global attention has been drawn to the cause and that there is awareness about the deformity and its easy surgical correction. “Pinky has given hope to million of Pinkies leading lives of anonymity, trauma and neglect. Out of 4.7 million children in developing world who need this surgery, one million live in India,” he said.

Dr. Singh, who has 15 years experience in the field, said that treating children with cleft lips gives him instant happiness and satisfaction. Creating many more Pinkies with a smile and voice is his mission now. He hopes that Smile Train will chug on into the remote Indian villages where some little girl like Pinki is waiting to board it for Destination Happiness.

Courtesy: Women’s

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