EXCLUSIVE The Girl That Cannot Eat
The Girl That Cannot Eat
Manju Dharra longs to be able to sit down with her family and enjoy a humble meal of dal and rice or to savour the taste of the succulent flesh of a freshly picked mango. These are simple pleasures that the 25-year-old who lives in Sonipat, a town in India about 50km north east of the capital New Delhi, has been denied throughout her life: she cannot eat and lives off a liquid diet – largely made up of milk. She gets through a staggering four to five litres of milk each day and the family has even bought their own cow to be able to provide for her needs.
“Manju hasn't eaten solid food since she was born,” explains Bhagwati Dharra, Manju's mother. “She takes only fluids like milk tea water and sometimes juice. Mostly she takes milk, tea, buttermilk, water. If she eats solid food, she faces the problem of vomiting suddenly.”
Manju has been diagnosed as suffering from achalasia, a condition with which food is prevented from being allowed to pass from the gullet through to the stomach.
“It feels good to drink liquid,” Manju says. “If I eat something then I throw up and I feel very, very bad. Now I feel fear when I look at solid food.” At 5 foot 5, she is above average in terms of height of Indian women, and manages to do daily household chores. Although she suffers some stomach pains and household chores, she otherwise appears relatively healthy.
It took some time for the family to realise that Manju had a serious problem. She was on a diet of milk as a baby and her mother was not concerned at this stage.
“When she was two years old, like every child, we tried to give her some solids like rice, bread, biscuits but she cried again and again and threw up the food,” says Mrs Dharra.
At first Maju's parents believed that their child was a fussy eater or she was simply being mischievous by playing with her food and not wanting to eat it. But as time went on and Manju showed no signs of being able to hold her food down,