Friday 27 February 2009

Special ain't so special?

In 1920, a few villagers caught 2 girls in remote countryside west of Calcutta. They had been spotted previously with adult wolves and were found in a wolf den with two wolf cubs. The den was dug up, the mother wolf killed and the girls taken away. J A L Singh, an Anglican missionary, who ran an orphanage, took them in and gave them their names - Kamala & Amala.

Kamala was thought to be five or six years of age and Amala around two years old. They were dishevelled, ate raw meat in the manner of dogs, and howled but could not talk. The were indifferent to temperature - a characteristic of people leading rugged lives - had sharp hearing, good vision in the dark and a strange gleaming look in their eyes.

Kamala and Amala stood and walked on all fours. Kamala was so adept as a quadruped that she could outstrip on four legs anyone on two legs and climb and jump easily. But like many other children of her feral background she never seriously mastered walking upright and resorted to hands and knees when needing to. Amala died the year after she was found. Kamala survived into her teens and managed to learn only some three dozen words.

It is interesting to note that Kamala & many other feral children successfully managed to blend very well into the lifestyles of animals they were raised by. If Kamala continued to live with the wolves, she would never realize that she had the ability to speak & master a language, or the ability to walk upright. To Kamala, these ordinary human abilities might have appeared as superpowers!

It makes me wonder if there are many such superpowers hidden inside all of us. Take the example of Kim Peek (The Rain Man). Kim remembers everything, literally everything. Ofcourse it comes with a price - social & developmental disabilities (especially motor skills). While the origin of Kim's abilities have been traced to congenital abnormalities in the brain, it becomes exciting once we remember that the human brain is extremely malleable in our early years. In other words, it is highly possible that a child can grow these abnormalities during it's early development purely because of the way it is raised. Kamala & other feral children have more than proved this to be true.

But why then is it so rare to find guys like Kim with extraordinary abilities? My bet is that the answer lies in the human tendency to outcast everything that is 'not like them'. Kim himself is still considered a disabled person - someone who needs to cured. No wonder that most people who display special abilities today are either raised by non-humans or picked up these abilities even before they were born amidst us. The rules & guidelines based on which our society is built, only promotes those behaviors & abilities that make it easy for new kids to blend with the adults - be like everyone else.

Maybe it is possible to develop abilities like that of Kim & many more like him, without having to compromise social skills or any other essential abilities of the human mind. If only we were more open to explore lifestyles that appear alien, in comparison with the majority that form our social order.

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