When Rudyard Kipling wrote the Jungle Book in 1894, few understood where his inspiration originated from. The story follows the journey of a wild boy called Mowgli, who grew up among wolves without any human contact.
While the friendship with Baloo, the Bear, and facing off against the tiger Shere Khan were fictionalised, the tale of a feral boy walking on all fours and under the care of wild beasts was not.
In Jungle Book, Mowgli eventually finds a human village and makes the decision to return to his own people. And while the real Mowgli did make his way back to civilisation, it was not quite the same happy ending.
This is the story of the real-life Mowgli. The story of Dina Sanichar.
In February 1867, a group of hunters were scouring the hills of Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh in search of prey. They came to a cave and what they found shocked them. It was not a small deer they saw, but a small boy, and he was surrounded by what looked like a pack of wolves.
He was only around six years old and was sleeping amongst the wolves as though he really were a man-cub. The hunters, concerned for the boy’s safety, decided to carry him out of the cave, but they soon discovered that he could not speak or understand what they were saying.
All he did was growl and look at them with sad eyes as though he was being taken away from his family.
The boy was taken to Sikandra Mission Orphanage, and it was assumed that his parents had been killed by the wolves he was sleeping with. Appearing malnourished and stunted, he was given some food, but he would not eat anything, not even a morsel.
He was given the name Sanichar but throughout his life, he could not even say his own name. That’s because the orphanage staff soon realised that this was not just any orphan; he was a feral child. A child that had grown up with no human contact and was incapable of speech. There comes a critical point in a child’s development where if language is not learned by a certain age, then the child can no longer learn to speak.
Unfortunately for Sanichar, he had gone past that point, and all he did was growl and occasionally bark like a dog. He didn’t make any human friends at the orphanage, and his only friend was a real dog with whom he’d share raw meat.
It was only when another feral child came in that Sanichar made any effort to know other humans. He walked on all fours, only ate raw meat and was most comfortable not with humans but with other wild animals. Despite their best efforts, the orphanage staff were unable to civilise him. Whatever food was presented, no matter how delicious it looked, Sanichar would first smell it, and if it wasn’t raw, refuse to eat.
And when he did eat meat, he’d keep the bones and gnaw at them for hours. Some weren’t sure why, but it’s likely that he did so to sharpen his teeth the same way a wolf would.
Sanichar did eventually go on to live with humans for over twenty years, but he never learned to speak and remained dependent on the goodwill of others. He was seriously impaired, and perhaps suffering from depression took on the habit of smoking.
He was a heavy smoker and perhaps the only thing that kept him going. But it was also the one thing that ended him. Sanichar died of tuberculosis in 1895, lonely and confused. No one could ever understand what he was thinking all those years. Did he yearn for his wolf family? Was he afraid of what people around him were thinking and saying?
We’ll never know as he never learned to communicate, not even in sign language.
Sanichar was a feral child, but he was not the only person to have been raised by wolves. There are countless stories of abandoned children being raised by wild animals. Some were unavoidable, but some were the result of parental negligence.
We’ll never know the true story of why Sanichar grew up among wolves. We don’t even know what his real name was. Whether he was abandoned as a baby or made an orphan, his story tells us the importance of providing love and care to children from an early age.
Sanichar never got that. Perhaps he received love from his wolf family, but perhaps he could never view humans in the same way. It’s a sad tale, but a true one.
We should always be grateful that no matter how difficult our lives are, at least we are able to communicate with each other. At least we grew up surrounded by human contact, and we had shelter. Because unlike us, not everyone is so privileged.