P. K. Sethi: Co-inventor of the 'Jaipur Foot'

Pramod Karan Sethi, surgeon and inventor: born Varanasi, India 28 November 1927; married 1951 Sulochana Patni (one son, three daughters); died Jaipur, India 6 January 2008
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The Independent Online

By his own admission, the invention for which P.K. Sethi will be known was not his idea alone. Rather, Ram Chandra, a craftsman and colleague at the hospital where Sethi was working in Jaipur, came to him with an idea for a prosthetic foot after watching a bicycle repair man fix a flat tire. Together the two men spent several years working on the design for a prosthetic limb for the poor, which became known as the "Jaipur Foot", named after the Rajasthani city in which they worked.

The breakthrough with their prosthetic was that, unlike Western-made models, the Jaipur Foot could be used without a shoe something hugely important in a culture where the majority often go barefoot or wear just sandals. Furthermore the wood and rubber device could be built for just 15, a fraction of the cost of other models.

Since that breakthrough in the late 1960s, the invention of the surgeon and the craftsman has been used to help millions of people in developing nations and countries afflicted by war, ranging from Cambodia to Nicaragua, and particularly in Afghanistan, where countless people have been maimed by landmines. It has even been worn by celebrities, including the actress and former classical dancer Sudha Chandran who used a Jaipur Foot to dance in the 1986 Bollywood movie Nache Mayuri.

Pramod Sethi once wrote of his invention: "Because I used traditional craftsmen to give shape to my ideas, I was accused of introducing quackery into our profession and every possible obstacle was put in my way."

In time, he and his colleague squabbled over who should have received the recognition for the prosthetic. While Sethi was fêted around the world and won the Padma Shri, a major honour from the Indian government, in 1981, Chandra received less fame. He still works for a clinic in Jaipur which distributes the limbs, rising at 4.30am every morning.

Such was the impact of the simple yet life-altering invention that India's President Pratibha Patil was moved to honour Sethi on his death. He and his invention, she said, "helped amputees to continue their lives without the feeling of inadequacy, for which he shall always be remembered".

Andrew Buncombe