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'Stranger Things Have Happened in India' : Goose Chase Is Long and Wild in Search of the Wolf Boy

May 19, 1985|ELISABETH BUMILLER | The Washington Post

LUCKNOW, India — The wolf boy's name was Ramu, The Times of India said. He died at Prem Nivas, a home for destitutes run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.

In 1976, when he was a young boy, he was found on all fours in the company of wolf cubs. He had evidently been raised with them, and had matted hair and claw-like nails. Under the care of the sisters, he learned to bathe and dress but not to speak. At night, he would sneak out and raid the chicken coops.

Skeptical scholars said people just wanted to believe a preposterous Tarzan myth. The wolf boy was simply retarded, they said. But his obituary appeared on the front page, right under the story about Rajiv Gandhi's planned trip to Moscow.

The gray and somber Times of India sometimes carries stories like this one, stories that sophisticated Indians read over their morning tea and then discuss as matter-of-factly as the sweltering heat. It is not so much that they believe the stories--many don't--it is more that they calmly accept the unknown. In this country, with its vast numbers, high mortality rate and belief in reincarnation, the culture is unfettered by the tyranny of Western logic. "Stranger things have happened in India," people will often say.

'Hindi Heartland'

So the search for the wolf boy begins in Lucknow. It is the capital of Uttar Pradesh, one of this country's poorest states, part of the populous, rural "Hindi Heartland." The wolf boy died in February here, and it seems as good a place as any to explore another mystery of India. The sister at Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity says on the phone that Mr. Anand knows everything about Ramu. It is a 50-minute flight from New Delhi and a short drive to the home. A watchman opens the big iron gates, his hands in the prayer gesture of Indian greeting.

" Namaste ," he says.

Then the strangeness begins.

Mr. Anand, it turns out, is Anand Ralla Ram, a 63-year-old man who is not, as advertised, the director of Prem Nivas, but an intelligent, refined lawyer who once argued before the High Court in Allahabad to the south. He is terribly thin, with sunken eyes, bony fingers and frayed Western clothes that he must have worn in more prosperous days. He spends his time reading, writing and walking in the garden near the gravestones of an old English cemetery. He is the first key to the mystery.

Not a Unique Story

The story to be unraveled here is not unique to this time and place. Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome, were suckled and raised by a she-wolf. The central figure in "The Jungle Book," by Rudyard Kipling, is the boy Mowgli, who got lost in the forest and was sheltered and nursed by a mother wolf. But that was the stuff of fiction. This wolf boy was real.

Across an old wooden table Anand Ralla Ram listens politely to a question about Ramu and answers politely.

"Oh, it wasn't Ramu who died," he says.

The question is repeated in case he misunderstood.

"No, no," he says. "It was Bhaloo. Ramu died many years ago, not here, but at Balrampur Hospital." Who was Bhaloo then?

"He was a wolf boy too," says Anand Ralla Ram.

But The Times of India . . .

"They got it wrong," he says.

(An editor at the Times of India verifies his newspaper's account over the telephone. Back when Ramu was found, an "experienced reporter" from the Times went to see him, and was convinced that he had been raised by wolves. Ramu died in February, the editor says. Bhaloo, he says, is "a myth.")

Another Wolf Boy Tale

He begins his tale about his wolf boy, Bhaloo. Some 10 years ago, maybe more, a farmer named Narsingh Bahadur Singh who lived in the village of Narayanpur, in Sultanpur district, was coming home through a wooded area on his bike. Suddenly, he stopped, amazed. There among the trees was a human child, about 5 years old, romping on all fours with some wolf cubs. Singh parked his bike and captured the boy, who couldn't run as fast as the wolves. The boy gave him a tough fight, scratching, howling and biting, but Singh opened his turban and wrapped him up. He brought him home, and raised him as his own.

It was a nearly impossible task. It took months to wean him off raw meat. The boy went into a frenzy at the sight of blood, and took to stuffing himself with brown earth.

"This chap didn't show any interest in human company," says Anand Ralla Ram. "But in the night, he used to steal out of the house, get a hold of the fowl, and eat them raw." The neighbors complained bitterly, particularly those who owned chickens. After five years, Narsingh Bahadur Singh gave up. He took his wolf boy to a convent, and, a short time later, the sisters sent him to Prem Nivas.

How does Anand Ralla Ram knows the story of Bhaloo's discovery? "I talked to Narsingh Bahadur Singh," he says.

When was that?

"Oh, years ago, maybe nine, maybe 10."

Does Narsingh Bahadur Singh still live in his village?

"I don't know," he says.

How do you get there?

"It's far from here," he says.

No Word of Ramu

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