Saini, 25 miles east of New Delhi, India. The little girl, aged one month, is named Lali, meaning "red". The condition is called craniofacial duplication, or diprosopus, and is exceedingly rare, but well documented.
Such infants can have surprising functionality. Little Lali eats with both mouths, and all four eyes blink at the same time. Says the mother, Shushma Kumar Singh, "She's fed through one mouth and sucks her thumb with the other. We use whichever mouth is free to feed her."
Her parents have refused any special medical treatment for the baby.
Doctors in New Delhi wanted to take a CT scan to determine the state of the infant's internal organs. The father, Vinod Kumar Singh, declined the offer. "I don't feel the need of that at this stage as my daughter is behaving like a normal child, posing no problems," he says. "My baby is fine." Singh, 23, is a poor farm worker, married in February of 2007. The village doctor, Brigdal Nagar, has grown exasperated with reporters. "She is very normal," the doctor once shouted, wagging a finger and shoving the father aside. "We don't need the media here. She's not an abnormal baby. It's just that she has two faces. And she's living a very normal life. And if she dies in the future, it's as God wishes."
The parents view her as an incarnation of the Hindu goddess of power, Shakti, or alternatively as Durga, the fiery three-eyed deity of valor. They have installed loudspeakers outside their home, that blare religious hymns all day.
"Lali is God's gift to us," says Jaipal Singh of the local village council. "She has brought fame to our village." Head of the council is Daulat Ram, who hopes for a temple to Durga. "I am writing to the state government to provide money to build the temple and help the parents look after their daughter." The crowds of pilgrims have dwindled, however, and local curiosity seems to have been sated. Worshipers are rare.
On the other hand, consider Lakshmi, here aged 2, of the state of Bahir, India. Analogous situation. Born with four arms and four legs, remnants of a parasitic twin, anacephalic.
An Egyptian girl, Manar Maged, victim of carniopagus parasiticus. The identical twin, unnamed, although having no body of her own could still smile, blink, look around and sleep independently, with a reportedly fully functional brain. Manar died of a brain infection after the twin was removed. Likewise with Rebeca Martinez of the Dominican Republic,
who bled to death after a corrective operation.
As for Lakshmi, surgeons have removed the limbs, transplanted a functioning kidney, and reconstructed the child's pelvis.
After recovering from the 27 hour surgery, Lakshmi was able to stand for the first time in her life, "which is remarkable," said chief surgeon Sharan Patil.
She was taken back to her rural village in eastern Bihar, where, earlier, she had been worshipped by some Hindus as an incarnation of the eponymous four-armed goddess of grace and fortune. After two years, however, she started going to school. No ... she started walking to school.
What a pretty little girl.