My line of work is so immersive that one gets deeply entrenched into an ecosystem of socio-cultural and societal constructs, while somewhere along the way, one also sometimes gets co-opted into the life of patients. It happened to me with Pinki. Amongst the many cleft patients I have the privilege to serve, my life intersected that of Pinki — a shy, unsure, thin girl, all of six years old from a small village of traditional weavers and marginal farmers around Varanasi. As is the process, Pinki underwent her cleft surgery successfully. Post-operation speech training followed, and she gradually settled into the normalcy of life: regular school, ease of eating, speaking, and for the first time, smiling. Smile Pinki, which won an Oscar® in 2008, is her story, her life. Pinki is today full of beans, a bright, confident young girl. A student of class XI, she aspires to become a teacher.
It was Pinki who insisted on keeping in touch. She still calls me, picks up a conversation, and checks how I am doing. As I have seen Pinki grow up, I have literally been 'adopted' by her. In addition to her biological mother, I became her 'Mummy'. Her natural mother titled me 'Didi' (Hindi for elder sister) and her maternal grandmother loved me as 'Bitiya' (Hindi for daughter). Beyond Pinki’s family, the entire community christened me 'Smile Didi'. A second family, a surrogate village, unique and layered perspectives, tremendous learnings; the enrichments to my life have been significant. As has been the lesson that life is an unpredictable, unforeseen sort of teacher. It dunks you into experiences curated by event, incident, and circumstance. I visited Pinki a few days ago and was welcomed into my second home – a village and a family I have gained. A unique, indescribable homecoming. The warmth and affection aside, it is extremely fulfilling to see a life transformed by Smile Train, in such an intense and close manner.
Pinki is no exception. As I travel, meet, interact with, revisit our staff, medical partners, and patients across the Asia region, I feel privileged and humbled by the transformative impact of our work and, in bigger, grander ways, the human spirit and the incredible power of purpose, hope, and teamwork. Pinki is just one magnification of countless lives Smile Train has changed for the better. And she is an inspiration for the ones waiting to be transformed.
Love, always - Mamta
Mamta Carroll is Smile Train’s Senior Vice President and Regional Director for Asia.