Illustration by Audrey Helen Weber

Illustration by Audrey Helen Weber

 
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Intertwining personal and postcolonial narratives

The story of the ‘Bengali wolf girls’, Kamala and Amala, has the primal, apocryphal ring of Romulus and Remus. According to the Reverend J.A.L. Singh, who was working in Bengal in the early 1920s, he discovered the girls in the forest and was astonished by their feral traits—eating raw meat, walking on all fours, howling at the moon—which he claimed were the result of their having been raised, quite literally, by wolves. He attempted to ‘recuperate’ the girls, with limited success; presumably because the girls had not, as Singh guessed, actually been reared by animals but instead suffered from congenital defects. The poet and novelist Bhanu Kapil, born in England to Indian immigrants, was inspired by this complex, troubling story to conjure a radical work of empathy, one that grapples with why certain tales have such a tenacious hold on our collective imagination. In Humanimal, a Project for Future Children, Kapil follows a film crew also intrigued by the story of the wolf girls, and together they travel to Midnapore to attempt to piece together what really happened. The film crew decides to hire actors from the local folkloric theatre to reenact the capture of a girl by a wolf, whereas Kapil is more interested in the girls’ introduction to colonial society and the awkwardness of domestication. She connects this to a more personal story—that of her father’s journey from India to England. In India, she writes, her father’s feet ‘resembled those of a goat.’

‘You must in commanding and winning / Or serving and losing / Suffering or triumphing / Be either hammer or anvil.’

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe