By Taniya Dutta
An Indian villager has earned the nickname ‘Snake Man’ because of a rare skin condition that causes his skin to crack open and shed every ten days.
Om Prakash, 35, suffers from a severe form of inflammatory skin disease called Erythroderma or ‘red man syndrome’.
His condition is so severe that his skin has turned thick black and he has cracks all over his body.
To keep it soft and flaking off, Om needs to moisturise his dry skin with oil and water every two hours.
The condition also means he cannot walk as the movements create friction and cause his thick skin to crack open and bleed profusely.
However, despite his painful and pitiable ailment, the young man is loved by everyone in his village who see him as special and a kind man.
Hailing from a tribal community, Om is lovingly called Tirku-meaning flaky skin in local dialect, by villagers who donate him oil and soft cloth to rub his itchy skin.
Om says: “I have this disease since childhood. My whole body itches badly, at times my legs start bleeding. I have pain and inflammation all over my body.
“My skin is so dry that it is very thick and flaky.
“I shed skin like a snake every ten days. This is why people have named me Tirku.
“But I am fortunate as no one makes fun of me. Despite my skin resembling a snake skin, people behave with me nicely. They offer me tobacco and food. They treat me like a special person.”
Born into a tribal community to mother Gulabo, 50 and father Bhambhu, 55, from Sarjupura Bachedi village in Madhya Pradesh in central India, Om started showing the symptoms of the condition just five days after birth.
His four elder brothers, all daily wage labours, are not affected.
Ummed Prakash, 40, his eldest brother said: “Om developed the condition five days after his birth.
“It started with dryness in his skin that later turned thick and flaky and started peeling off itself.
“As he grew older, his itchy skin turned back and hard. It became a cycle- he would scratch the itchy skin, it will turn red and then thick black before peeling off.
“We have always seen him struggling in pain. But he is a very sweet person. He never complains and troubles us.”
While his family understands Om needs immediate medical attention, due to lack of money, the deprived family has never taken him to medical doctors, instead they have always relied on faith healers who told them he was cursed and would never heal completely.
Ummed said: “When he was a kid my mother took him to ojha (faith healers) but his medicines never helped heal his wounds. They told us he is cursed by God and he would always suffer like this.
“Later, we took him to various camps at different villages but we were told he is in need of proper medical treatment.
“But we had no money to take him to cities to pay for medicines and doctor’s fee. We took small loans from villagers for bus fare to visit these camps but the loan was not sufficient to go to cities.”
Because of his condition, Om cannot help his brothers at farms working as labours and helping the family earnings but he spends days making clay dolls for village kids.
He said: “I like to make toys for kids. I feel joy when they are happy.
“It reminds me of my childhood. I was also a happy child and would play whole day, running and playing hide and seek. But now I cannot do anything. I cannot earn for my parents so I make dolls. In return the villagers give me money, food and tobacco.
“I hope one day I could save enough to see doctors who can give me medicines to treat my condition.
“My skin is painful and irritating. I want to get rid of this condition so I can also live a normal life, get married and work with my brothers.”
Villagers feel pity on Om but hope his disease will get government attention so he could get free medical treatment.
Rajender Singh Tomar, the village head said: “He is a wonderful young man. Despite his painful condition, he always smiles. He never complains to anyone about his problems.
“I have seen him since childhood. He has always been like this but with age, his condition has deteriorated. We hope he can get medical attention soon so he can be treated and live a normal, happy life like his other brothers.”