Feral children is one of the most fascinating phenomenon (if you can call that) in the world. While by definition, feral children are people who grew up with little or no human contact, I’m being slightly more specific. I’m only talking about accidental cases, mostly getting lost in forests at a very young age, like Mowgli. There are also cases where children have been forced into isolation, like the famous Genie, and they make for extremely disturbing reads. You can Google them if interested.
You can check out this post on Huffington Post that showcases some stunning photographs of feral children by Julia Fullerton-Batten.
When we talk about feral children, it’s not just about them. Sure, they are astounding, intriguing, and often disturbing. But it’s also about what they bring along with them. They question a lot that we often take for granted, things we think are fundamental and sometimes universally accepted.
Victor of Aveyron
To understand what we’re talking about here, let’s look at Victor of Aveyron, from France, who some say is one of the most studied cases of feral children. Unlike many others, it is unknown whose child he actually was and how he found himself in the wild. After Victor came back to civilization (people say he was around twelve years old), he was eventually taken up by a physician called Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, who gave him the name Victor and worked with him for five years.
Like most feral children, he appeared and behaved like a wild animal. He had scars all over his body, he enjoyed rotten food, favoured his sense of touch far more than his eyesight, and sex practically didn’t exist to him. Also, interestingly, Victor was incapable of distinguishing hot from cold.
We see that the people around us have different tolerances to weather. Some need sweaters even in summers, while some don’t mind the cold of winters at all. Often, when we need the fan or air conditioning, but someone with us feels cold, we might be nice (or play nice) and oblige to their needs.
But Victor didn’t mind rolling on ice naked. And what he shows us is that our perception of hot and cold is learnt. How much does that change?
Amala and Kamala
Amala and Kamala were two feral girls from Bengal, India. While as famous as Victor, if not more, they weren’t as authentically studied. In many ways, they were typical feral children, allegedly raised by a pack of wolves. They refused to get dressed, scratched and bit people, and walked on all fours. They were insensitive to hot and cold too, and rejected cooked food. They didn’t enjoy sunlight, and were mostly nocturnal. Some stories even say that they howled like wolves at night to call out to their families.
There’s so much about love around us. Most poems are love poems, most songs are for sweethearts, and there’s practically no book or movie without romance. It is often spoken of as the most essential thing to humans, and that the need to be loved is fundamental. Sure, it does sound nice, and make the world seem beautiful. But how true is it?
Amala and Kamala showed no signs of any human emotions. The only emotion they showed: Fear. We do know that fear can be stronger than love. So many relationships are broken because of fear and insecurities. So what does it mean? Is Fear what is fundamental? Or is it like love is fundamental, but as a form of fear, say fear of dying alone?
But later, when Amala died due to kidney failure, Kamala showed signs of mourning, and her behaviour clearly showed that she was affected. Does that mean they showed Love?
Maybe Love and Fear are not very different. When you love something, it inevitably follows that you fear losing it. Maybe that is what all fears are, an expression of love. Even our fear of death can be seen as love for ourselves.
Feral children and us
For feral children, it is almost impossible to become a part of humanity again. Victor learnt only two terms throughout his life, both of them monosyllabic. He never learnt to speak, and so did Amala and Kamala. In fact no feral child has ever learnt to speak coherently, with the exception of “The Wild Girl of Champagne”, who is believed to have learnt to speak before her abandonment. Amala and Kamal were taught to walk upright, but only after many years, and that too not fully upright. And while some of them learn to follow instructions, almost all of them are incapable of independent thinking and decision making.
Stories of feral children are varied. Some of them are tragic, some disturbing, some intriguing, some curious, some all of the above. But one thing is that almost all feral children find greater comfort in the wild than in civilization, and often try to run away. Victor ran away as many as eight times. If all humans are equal, and have the freedom to do whatever they choose to as long as it offends no one, is what we’re doing right? If they choose the wild, how is it that we get to hold them back? Is it not wrong?
Hot and cold weren’t the only things Victor couldn’t distinguish between. He also couldn’t distinguish between right and wrong. And like Patrick Jane says in The Mentalist, maybe there is no right or wrong. There is light and dark, smart and stupid, funny and lame, but no right or wrong.
If that was true, bringing feral children to civilization is about as right as us moving to forests and becoming forest dwellers.
A lot of people say we should, and maybe we should. It would solve problems of pollution and Global Warming and what not (and it would also up the sales of skin-creams, itch-creams, sunscreens, and GPS devices.)
But I doubt such a life would be as fun as ours. Hunger Games was fun to read and watch, but I’m not sure it’ll be so fun to play, that too without Jennifer Lawrence in it.
I guess one thing feral children teach us is that nothing is truly entitled to us. We don’t have an actual right to even the most basic of things, not cooked food, not clothes, not even being a part of the society. Because what you take for granted here is something someone cannot even imagine, someplace.
The lesson is not very new, that we should stay grateful for things we often take for granted. But it is never going to be old either. This life we have is a gift, and everything we have in it is a luxury. So let’s stop demanding things, and be grateful for what we have.