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A Look at New Delhi

There was always a desire to see lakshmi crawl, play and lead a normal life like other children, but the fact remains Poonam Devi believed her daughter Lakshmi to be an incarnation of goddess of wealth LAKSHMI like thousands of people did.

“I wanted her to be normal like other children. I never wanted her to be an ‘immobile’ goddess”, but I had to accept her the way she was,” says Poonam Devi, 26, Lakshmi mother.

Lakshmi was born with an extra pair of limbs; the new born girl was thought be a reincarnation of the goddess of wealth LAKSHMI and people worshipped her.

“It was early morning when Lakshmi was born, It was at my fathers house, When I saw her first it took me hours to reconcile myself, I was clueless it took me time to accept the reality. There was no way to escape the reality and I was helpless. I accepted her as my daughter inspite of her deformity.” She says.

Gradually, Poonam started believing her to a goddess “Hundreds of people thronged to our house to have a glimpse of Lakshmi. Their were people without coming with donations and people who were in need of divine help. Right on the day she was born more than 500-600 people visited our house”.

Initially she become a bit impulsive about her deformity but then she thought her to be a gift of the creator. “I started believing her to be a Devi (goddess), may be because there was no other option”.

“It was a real pain to see her not move, she used to spend days and nights unmoved, she waited for me to move her”, says Poonam. For lakshmi, there was no other priority except for her daughter, “Right from the day she was born I had acted like her shadow, there was not a single moment I left her alone, I had to give every minute of to her”, she reminds.

For both Shambu Tamat and Poonam Devi there were no hopes taking in account their economic status. Shambu, an illiterate was a landless daily wage labourer at his village in India’s backward state of Bihar. “I used to earn 30-40 rupees a day and it was really hard to suffice our day to day needs.” Says Shambu, 29, Lakshmi father.

When Lakshmi was born at her mother’s paternal house, Shambu was at his home. “A local shop-keeper, who owes the single telephone line in the entire village of more than 5000 people, came with news from his my father-in-law. Your wife has given birth to a girl (the birth of girl is itself considered a bad in many parts of India). My reaction to the news was lukewarm I wasn’t that excited. I went to his shop and called my father-in-law, who was a bit perturbed and requested me to come at an earlier date to see her new born daughter. (The village has no proper road and only 6-7 buses ply on the outer road a day, which is some 3 kilometres away from the village).

It took me almost 8 hours to reach there. The moment I reached to the village I saw a huge gathering about 500 outside my in-laws house. I thought someone has died, may be the new born or her mother. Worried I rushed inside the house and asked my father-in-law about the matter, “He consoled me and led me to the room (which was filled with women). I saw the new born girl wrapped in a white cloth. The females were bowing and touching her feet. “I was surprised and almost blank, I asked my father-in-law about the unusual matter. He took the cloth off from the baby. “I was scared at first when I saw the baby, but was consoled by him and brought to terms. It was very hard to believe. It took me a while to grab the reality. I didn’t hold her that time; I felt cheated by god and left the room.”

The news spread like a wild fire and people from neighbouring villages came to the see ‘Lakshmi’, (according to Shambu the name was given to her as she was born on Lakshmi Pooja Day and because of her extra limbs.) There were all types of talks and taunts, some at the village said, she is a re-incarnation of the goddess and some held our deeds responsible for the deformity.”

People didn’t stop there, Shambu’s father was an idol maker people crafted stories. “My father was an idol maker and people said it is because he used to make idols, the gods chose his home for the reincarnation. Shambu had even couple of fights with the villagers over their bizarre comments. “Initially, it was traumatising, I used to avoid social gatherings and stayed with my family. It was a grilling situation when people used to taunt me particularly unacceptable things about my wife. But after some time never paid attention as I knew they will never stop talking”.

Lakshmi father made an idol of Lakshmi, which is still been worshipped in her native village in Bihar. “She (Lakshmi) came in my dream and asked to construct a temple”, says Poonam Devi. We had not enough money to construct the temple, so he (Shambu) made an idol and placed it at our home. It is all faith I believe, she was still a goddess for herself and her family. She changed our lives.”

“The feeling of her being a goddess creped in, I myself started believing the same. After spending 4 months at my in-laws, we moved to our village, “It was like the whole world had turned to see my daughter. It was more painful. She was an attraction of everyone be it the goddess or deformed. But we stuck to our duties; we took care of our daughter normally and humanly. Says Shambu.

“I prayed day and night for her well being, I prayed for her deformity to be cured, because it was painful to see her like that. We even sacrificed couple of animals for her cure”, says Poonam Devi. She adds, “I am a mother and can’t see my children in permanent pain. When she grew old and it was time for her to crawl but she couldn’t that made me wretched.”

Shambu became more worried about the future of the girl when a circus approached him to sell Lakshmi to the circus, “One person came to me and offered me money for Lakshmi. His offer triggered my efforts for help to cure Lakshmi’s.”

In 2006, Shambu went to New Delhi to seek advice from doctors. “I took Lakshmi along and we stayed in Noida, on advice of my friends who lived in Delhi, When we reached Noida house of my friend, people started pouring in the moment we reached there to have a glimpse of my daughter. ” I thought I should go back but my friend stopped me.” In the mean time some people from a local NGO came to see Lakshmi, they assured me of all possible help and took Lakshmi too many hospitals and doctors. “Doctors in Delhi were hopeless and said no to any surgery.” I was disheartened and we returned to our village, couple of days later a journalist from Britain called me and wanted to make a film on Lakshmi, I was in a fix whether to say yes or no, but finally I agreed”, says Shambu.

The journalist came to our village, accompanied by a member of Sucheta Kriplani Shiksha Niketan, an NGO, they made a film and assured me that she will get well. “Around the beginning of 2007, the NGO took to Lakshmi to doctors in Delhi and finally we met Dr. Sharan Patil and he gave me hope that Lakshmi will be alright.”

In November, 2007, Lakshmi was operated by a team of 30 doctors headed by Dr. Sharan Patil in Bangalore. The marathon operation lasted for 27 hours. “While she was in the operation theatre I was praying for her safety. We were hopeful she will survive as doctors were doubtful.” She Lakshmi had become more important and precious to us. We wanted her to be a normal child now, so we were ready for anything”. I saw Lakshmi after 5 days and was more than happy, we are debited to the doctors was in ICU for 2 months and all the expenses were met by the hospital trust.

“Looking back at our past, I feel she is a goddess for her family, if not for the world. She made our lives secure, particularly his brother and sister.” says Shambu.

“My last and first wish for her is she should stand on her feet and lead a normal life. I will make her a doctor.”

After five months, Lakshmi along with her family are returning to their village to attend a marriage of their close relative. And that is not all, her father intends to construct a temple in her name at the village, for which his father-in-law donated the land. Lakshmi is staying at a residential school at Jodhpur in western state of Rajasthan. Her whole family stays with her. Shambu works as a causal employee in the school and her wife Poonam Devi takes care of the Lakshmi and the new born girl child. Lakshmi will be operated next month in Delhi.

Jalees Andrabi is a Delhi-based journalist who covers a wide range of issues in India.

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