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People 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."

When the two met, the Sawai Man Singh Hospital was turning out only five or six artificial limbs a year, mostly for people injured in road and train accidents, and a few of the wealthier patients wore American-model limbs. Both were too expensive for the common man, and neither permitted very much mobility. Besides, as Sethi explains, the old artificial limb was a cultural misfit not just for Indians but for people in most developing countries. "We sit, eat, sleep and worship on the floor--all without shoes," he says. Also, the "shoe" attached to the old limb was made of heavy sponge, making it worthless for any farmer working in the rain or in irrigated paddies.

Watching Sethi's patients, Chandra became convinced that he could fashion a more lifelike--and useful--artificial limb. He took his proposals to Sethi, who explained to the barely literate craftsman about pressure points and the intricate movements of bones within the foot. For two years, the two men fashioned limbs out of willow, sponges and aluminum molds, but their experiments failed. Their choices proved to be either too fragile or too unwieldy. "We made all kinds of silly mistakes," says Sethi.

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