the price of urban dreams

When little Prakash was born we were delighted as he was a bonny baby. His mom was part of our programme for pregnant and lactating women and all seemed to pint to the fact that our three month intervention programme worked. But we were in for a rude shock.

Months went by and instead of thriving, Prakash began to wither. His head was the only part of him that seemed to grow, the rest his body could not keep up. His milestones were delayed and it was as if the child was vanishing. He sat in a corer of the creche, his legs folded not able to stand in spite of being 14 months old. Hi social skills remained poor and all you got from his after a lot of prompting was a toothless smile. Local doctors felt he had hydrocephalus. A series of tests were done but with no clear results. His pitiable state was heart wrenching. Not able to stand helpless we sent him to the paediatric ward of leading hospital and we has diagnosed with rickets! We were aghast as rickets is a form of severe malnutrition.

I began reading about rickets and discovered that one of its main causes is vitamin D deficiency or in other words lack of sunshine. The penny dropped. In a city where housing is a huge problem, greedy landlords have brought down their old structures, one with courtyards and sunshine, and built airless and windowless rooms where night reigns all day. When we were looking for a room for 7 month pregnant Madhu, Prakash's mom, we found one across the street. It was dark and that is where the mother spent her last months of pregnancy and delivered Prakash. It was also there that he spent the first few months of his young life. NO matter how well we tried to feed the mother and then the child, we were unable to make up for the sun rays.

Many children are born and live in dark holes where the sun never shines. This is the price to pay for urban dreams a far cry from village life where the sun is abundant and where children spend time in the open, even as babies who are oiled and massaged and left out in the courtyard under the watchful eyes of the clan. I remember being shocked when many years back our cook brought his mother to the city for a medical check up. The woman looked very old, as all village women do, and was thin as a reed. But when her blood tests were done her haemoglobin was over 13, something rare in India. I knew the family was poor and wondered how that could be possible. he answer was simple: the family ate black millet instead of wheat flour, as the millet was what they grew in their fields, and black millet is know to be rich in iron. The family also ate lots of seasonal vegetables that grew in their yard something impossible in a city.

We will tend to little Prakash and hope he improves and makes up for lost sun. But I wonder how many little Prakashs live undiagnosed in the city.