Minakshi was born in Oriya Basti, a part of Bhopal where the water is poisoned. Pesticide wastes are leaking into the drinking supply from the Union Carbide factory upstream of this community. Birth defects here are many times more common than in the rest of India.
Minakshi’s father is a temple drummer, but hardly earns enough to feed his family. When she first came to Chingari she was badly undernourished and too weak to stand unaided. A tiny scrap of a thing, she lay bawling in her mother’s arms.
Until two years ago Minakshi couldn’t walk or speak. You should see her now.
She’s a little fizzing ball of mischief, tearing about gabbling nineteen-to-the-dozen and making a splendid nuisance of herself. Physiotherapy sessions have strengthened her limbs. She plays basketball and shoots baskets in style.
A titch she may be, but is a huge character, zooming around keeping everyone cheerful.
During our assemblies she sings in an impossibly loud voice, which is also to be heard protesting mightily whenever she has to have a blood test. She hates injections and after the last one sulked a full hour.
Update, June 2014
Before attending Chingari, Minakshi moved around on all fours. A few children in her neighbourhood sometimes pointed and called her “dog”, and other names.
Fortunately, Minakshi is not the sort to be cowed by such things. She has progressed so spectacularly that she was recently registered for attendance at a school in Oriya Basti, near to her home, and we hope she’ll make the transition soon. Perhaps she’ll treat her classmates (and former tormentors) to a performance of the self-written poem with which she entertained staff at Chingari last year, and which you can also enjoy here.
This is what the poem means:
Madam madam, let me go,
mummy has a fever
my horse is ready, eager
I was singing ABCD
lying on my mummy’s lap,
mummy gave me such a slap!
Papa brought lime sweet and sour
how the cop’s fat wife did glower