“They all call me Pinki now”

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

It could be a big night for India at the Oscars ceremony in Hollywood on Sunday evening. While most eyes will be on Slumdog Millionaire’s bid for the Best Picture Award, a few hours earlier a less celebrated but perhaps more important film, also set in India, will have its own chance of glory.

I’m talking about Smile Pinki, which (as described in an earlier Blog) has been nominated for Best Short Documentary. It’s the true-life story of Pinki, a young Indian girl born with a cleft lip and palate into an impoverished family.

Thanks to the work of The Smile Train cleft charity (a cause that has attracted donations of well over US$1 million from the travel retail channel during the past two years) in India, Pinki was one of the lucky ones to have her ailment fixed.

She is now a vibrant eight-year old girl – and she will be in Hollywood tonight for the Oscars ceremony, along with her father.

Consider that for a moment. This young girl from a tiny rural village in India, ostracized and ridiculed by her peers until two years ago, will have the eyes of India and the world on her tonight. But whatever the result – and the competition is intense – the visibility for The Smile Train has already been priceless.

Pinki’s story has been the subject of a BBC documentary in recent days (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7886089.stm). In it, her mother reveals that people used to tease the young girl remorselessly, calling her hothkati – ‘the girl with the torn lip’.

Her father, Rajendar, recollects: “I used to think that she would be better off dead. I used to wonder who would marry her. Where would I find the money to pay for her dowry? At school everyone teased her. At home, family and friends talked about her as if she was a freak.”

Pinki recalls every moment of that anguish, that freak show. “Everyone called me hothkati. I would feel very bad. I would feel hurt and get very angry. Sometimes I would abuse them. Now no one calls me a hothkati. They all call me Pinki now.”

Yesterday she was featured on CNN.News together with video coverage of her story http://edition.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/Movies/02/20/smile.pinki/#cnnSTCVideo).

Brian Mullaney, Co-Founder of The Smile Train, told supporters this weekend: “Watch out Angelina and Kate Winslet – Pinki and her new smile may very well steal the show Sunday night. She was in our office yesterday in New York and  everybody on our staff fell in love with her.

“Pinki would not only be the youngest person to ever win an Oscar but also be a shining symbol of hope and inspiration for millions of children who are suffering with clefts. Desperately poor children who have been crying themselves to sleep at night for years as they wait and wonder if anyone is going to come along and give them a chance.

“If you get the chance, please try and watch what may be the most important moment in The Smile Train’s history – Sunday night on ABC at 8.00pm EST. They tell us this category is shown on TV early in the broadcast, which is good because Pinki has to be in bed by 9!”

“Pinki was a depressed, sad, lonely, shy, young little girl, growing up on the periphery of society in a little village,” said Satish Kalra, Director of The Smile Train’s South Asian region and one of the most selfless and dedicated charity workers you could hope to meet.  

Today she is anything but. And by the end of tonight’s ceremony, she might, just might, be the most famous child in India.

[How Pinki looks today, in her classroom in Uttar Pradesh]

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