|THE GLOBAL SCOURGE OF LAND MINES LEFT THOUSANDS LIMBLESS, AND THEN TWO GIFTED INDIANS DEVELOPED
The $28 Foot
BY TIM MCGIRK
eople who live inside the world’s many war zones, from Afghanistan to Rwanda, may never have heard of New York or Paris, but they are likely to know of a town in northern India called Jaipur. Jaipur is famous in strife-torn areas as the birthplace of an extraordinary prosthesis, or artificial limb, known as the Jaipur foot, that has revolutionized life for millions of land-mine amputees.
The beauty of the Jaipur foot is its lightness and mobility–those who wear it can run, climb trees and pedal bicycles–and its low price. While a prosthesis for a similar level of amputation can cost several thousand dollars in the U.S., the Jaipur foot costs only $28 in India. Sublimely low-tech, it is made of rubber (mostly), wood and aluminum and can be assembled with local materials. In Afghanistan craftsmen hammer the foot together out of spent artillery shells. In Cambodia, where roughly 1 out of every 380 people is a war amputee, part of the foot’s rubber components are scavenged from truck tires.
The inventors of the Jaipur foot seem a mismatched pair. Dr. Pramod Karan Sethi, 70, an orthopedic surgeon, is a fellow of Britain’s Royal College of Surgeons, while his collaborator, an artisan named Ram Chandra, reached only the fourth grade in Jaipur. Their paths first crossed more than 30 years ago at the Sawai Man Singh Hospital in Jaipur. There, Sethi was helping his orthopedic patients wobble down the corridor on their crutches, and Chandra was teaching lepers to make handicrafts.
Chandra is a kind of Pygmalion: he can turn whatever piece of stone or gold he touches into a lifelike creation. Born into a family that had been master artisans for four generations, he quickly established himself as one of Jaipur’s finest sculptors, and his talents were sought by temple priests and princes. “If all I saw was your nose, it would be enough for me to sculpt a likeness of your entire body,” says Chandra, 75, whose folded hands are like a box of old wooden tools. “It’s all to do with proportions. That is the way God has made men.”
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