MUMBAI, INDIA — Manoj Singh grew up in the slums of Mumbai, first with an uncle and then on his own, supporting himself with hard labor jobs. The slums are a study in contrasts, from extreme wealth and opulence to extreme poverty and filth. Plain mud-walled homes are decorated in the brightest colors and women in bejeweled saris stroll the alleyways while filthy stray dogs and cows scrounge for food scraps. There is widespread poverty, poor public health infrastructure, high unemployment and low educational standards.
At age 12, Manoj mysteriously began losing his eyesight and developed pain in both eyes at night. Doctors prescribed eyeglasses, but over time, faces became blurry and unrecognizable and the harsh Indian sunlight became agonizing. When Manoj finally found a hospital that could perform a corneal transplant, he was desperate. However, the doctors were not convinced his eyesight could be restored. Crushed by the pessimistic report, he gave up on the idea of surgery, determined to find another way to tolerate his life.
In 2011, Manoj found a job doing menial labor and he hoped to work his way up to one day being an electrician’s apprentice. He was a hard worker and his boss liked him, but Manoj’s failing sight soon became too much of a liability. A year later, his boss issued an ultimatum: “Get the surgery or you’re fired!” Manoj was terrified, both of losing his job and of the idea of surgery, but after living on the edge for so long, he could not afford to lose the only means of support he had. So he opted for surgery.
When the bandages were removed from his left eye, a whole new world opened up for Manoj, a world of wonder where old things became new and the mundane became beautiful. After waiting the recommended two years between operations, he underwent surgery on his right eye, and this surgery was equally successful. The boss who forced Manoj to have the surgery was the first person he saw after the transplant.
Prior to his surgeries, Manoj worked as the man’s helper. But with his eyesight restored, he was able to complete more complex training and take on more responsibilities. Today, Manoj has taken over management of the business – Edge Electric – and works independently in his chosen profession. Manoj says that he thinks his boss saved his life twice: First by demanding he get the corneal transplant surgery, and second, by entrusting him with the business.