Lucknow, Oct. 31: The favourite failed to deliver and a dark horse ran off with the crown. The race for seven billionth today proved as intense and pitiless as any battle for No. 1.
Pinky Pawar of Sunhaida near Meerut, marked out in advance as would-be mother of the world’s seven billionth baby, waited in a labour room from midnight but the pangs never arrived.
The world, and India, wouldn’t wait. As the clock ticked to 7.20am, a girl born to a farmer’s wife 400km away at Mall village, 42km from Lucknow, was declared the planet’s “seven billionth baby”.
Mother Vineeta Devi, 23, and father Ajay Kumar, 28, have named her Nargis.
“She weighs 3kg and cried like any healthy baby,” a doctor gushed as crackers burst and dancing broke out at the Mall community health centre.
Partying ended and a pall descended on Sunhaida. Doctors at the local primary health centre, basking in the media spotlight since anointing Pinky a few days ago, acknowledged they had probably miscalculated her delivery date.
Still, Nargis’s is far from an undisputed title. Of the about five lakh babies born around the world today, several were declared No. 7 Billion by their parents, governments or the local media.
The Philippines staked its claim early with Danica May Camacho, born just after midnight at Manila’s Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital. Soon, Peter Bashir Yansaneh of London, Cin of Colorado, Pyotr of Kaliningrad and many others joined the list of contenders.
In truth, as the United Nations says, it’s impossible to know the exact day, time and place the seven billionth baby would be born. Still, it was the UN that provoked the race, first by symbolically declaring a Bosnian baby as the six billionth 12 years ago and then, last month, saying the world population would turn seven billion on October 31.
Then someone decided the place would be Uttar Pradesh because of its high birth rate, prompting health workers and NGOs to rush to the state, choose this or that village, and start monitoring women expected to give birth today.
Nargis owes her good luck to Plan International, a UK-based child welfare group that had chosen Mall and built a massive campaign around the event.
A Mall community health centre physician, Dr Ved Prakash, said four male babies had been born between midnight and 7am today at the hospital “but were not considered to be in the reckoning”.
Plan had said it wanted the seven billionth baby to be a girl child, under attack in Uttar Pradesh from many fronts.
“Since it’s a matter of symbolic recognition, we are greeting Nargis as the seven billionth baby though we know this kind of celebration may be taking place elsewhere,” said Neelam Singh, member of Plan and its partner Vatsalya, an Indian group working for the girl child.
This afternoon, as Nargis smiled in her mother’s lap, her father Ajay seemed a little bewildered by the “seven billion” hype.
“How many crores make seven billion?” the school dropout asked the swarming media crowd, before adding: “I don’t know but I am happy to be the father of my daughter.”
Some of the doctors appeared more media savvy, even milking the “coincidence of two sevens” — seven billion and the delivery time of 7.20am.
Nargis was also lucky that Lucknow’s Queen Mary Hospital, which has one of the best-equipped maternity wards in the city, didn’t join the race although 14 children were born there today before 7am.
“We are not playing up any of the 14 children as the seven billionth baby because, for us, all children are blessed and need to be taken care of,” said Dr Anju Agarwal, a senior gynaecologist at the hospital.
Plan, however, was marking the day to draw global attention to India’s seven million “missing” girls, that is, victims of female foeticide. The sex ratio in the state is 898, compared with 933 in the country.
In a country set to overtake China as the world’s most populous in 15 to 20 years, Nargis will be facing many challenges, such as getting nutritious food, clean drinking water, medical care and education.
With the world’s population nearly quadrupling in the past 100 years, basics like food and water are under more strain than ever, say experts, and providing for an additional 2-3 billion people in the next 50 years is a serious worry.
On the other hand, in the richer nations, fertility rates have nose-dived, causing an imbalance between the working population and retirees who need expensive social safety nets.
“It is difficult to decide whether the birth of the seven billionth child is a moment of extreme joy or extreme worry, although we care for all children... we are physicians, after all,” Dr Agarwal of Queen Mary Hospital said.
Plan’s India chief, Bhagshree Dengle, has announced the group would support Nargis’s upbringing and education, and that of six other girls born in Lucknow today, for — you guessed it — seven years.