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The walk of life

July 29, 2008
Text: Archana Masih. Photographs, Video: Rajesh Karkera

It was an unsteady walk, like a child learning to walk for the first time, but that Lakshmi Tatma, 3, could actually do it was a miracle.

She had been born with four hands and four legs. While toddlers her age ran around her, she just about managed to drag herself in her poor village in rural Bihar. Last November, she underwent a 27-hour rare surgery in Bangalore to remove the extra limbs. The fighter that she was, that Diwali day of the operation, Lakshmi fought hard and made it.

Today in the sands of the mighty Thar desert in Manaklao near Jodhpur, Lakshmi is learning to walk again. There are two more surgeries to be done this year that will close her pelvic floor and remove a piece of the spine of her parasitic twin that is fused with her spine.

If you didn't know that Lakshmi once had eight limbs and had a headless conjoined twin, you would disbelieve she was the same child. Unless, of course, you recognised those eyes -- bright enough to light up a million lives.

"She is a very charismatic girl and has a wonderful personality. She is not quite normal and knows she can't walk fully well as yet," says Sneh Gupta, a filmmaker who took up Lakshmi's cause and made a documentary on her for Channel 4. After living in Nairobi and the United Kingdom for most of her life, Sneh moved to India in 1996, and is the executive director of the residential school for handicapped children where Lakshmi's family now lives.

Image: Lakshmi outside her home in Manaklao, Jodhpur. Her family had returned the previous day from their village in Bihar. Lakshmi was still cranky after the two-day journey.

Also see: 'My daughter was born all over again'

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