Suraj was born beside a lake full of toxic chemical waste. It was some time after Suraj’s birth that his mother Ramsiya learned that water from this lake had been mixing with the discoloured groundwater she had been drinking for years.
When Ramsiya brought Suraj to our doctors they noted the milestones he had already missed. At one year he hadn’t sat up or recognised his mother. By three, no response to speech. Suraj was four by the time he was belatedly weaned—the same year that chloroform, mercury, lead, pesticides, and dichloromethanes were found in the milk of mothers living by the factory. Suraj reached adulthood without ever having caught a ball, sung a song or climbed a tree. At 18, Suraj had not run or jumped, had never stood up unaided, hadn’t once walked a single step, or even uttered one word.
Then, against all odds, against every expectation, something miraculous happened. Suraj was referred to the Chingari Rehabilitation Centre. Three painstaking months of targeted therapy, five days per week, enabled Suraj to gain some neck control. Next came three months dedicated to strengthening his torso. A month after, Suraj sat without support for the first time. Now began motion therapy work on the lower limbs. After months of unflinching effort, Suraj was able to stand. Balance and coordination work came next.
At 19 years of age, Suraj took his first unaided footsteps. 116 other Chingari kids had walked before Suraj, but none so impossibly. Weeks later, and for the first time in his life, Suraj spoke his mother’s name.