Mowgli of the Karakum

Mowgli of the Karakum

Many years ago, this was a sensation in Ashgabat: a boy of four or five years old who was brought up with wolves was taken to the Republican Psychiatric Hospital.

And geologists in the north of the Karakum desert near Tashauz found the boy – completely naked, with long disheveled hair. No one knows for sure. how the boy was found: either in a cave resembling a wolf’s den, or he was spotted running on all fours in a pack from a helicopter. The boy’s name was Juma. Juma’s first childhood memories of a seemingly large wolf whose hard hair was soothingly warm. And he was not even afraid of the tusks of an angered wolf which doesn’t not know clemency, when menaced.

Then the hospital walls and the kind hands that fed him with lukewarm milk, lingered in his mind. Either the boy forgot or was reluctant to tell how aggressive he was, how he sat in a cage at first, and how he had eaten only raw meat besides milk.

At the hospital where Juma was admitted, he was taught to walk slowly in an upright position. Gradually the corns on his hands and knees softened. He learned to read and write in Russian, and eventually – in Turkmen. He did not live in the rhythm we are used to, but as if in a slow motion: he would speak and respond very slowly. When in a hurry, he would move forward with a whole body. And, it seemed as if his unforgotten all fours would speed him up.

The hospital staff treated Juma with sympathy. He was not dressed in hospital clothes: pitiful women brought him their sons’ clothings, from which they had grown up, and pampered him with something delicious. Likewise, there was a steady control of Moscow doctors, who observed the gradual transformation of yesterday’s savage into a sweet boy.

However, it was only in the daytime that Juma was in the center of attention. Not just attracted attention, but important like a child to mother! It’s awful, but at nights he would howl. He would bite and make scary moves towards annoying visitors of the hospital who had come to see Mowgli.

A poor boy, Juma was always ashamed of the fit of his anger, and was convinced that these were marks of his “wolf” life. He would think whether his abusers never had to be as angry, as to gnash their teeth. It was his misfortune, not the guilt, that he was fed by a wolf, but not by woman’s breast that kept him alive.

Meanwhile, psychiatrists believe that the “wolf” children do not become such just because the wolves behave like humans, but vice-versa.

As a child, we all read “Mowgli” by Rudyard Kipling. Thousands of boys played Tarzan. That’s why, it must be sad to know that in those few cases when some child hit with a fate of Mowgli, everything turned out to be quite different, but much sadder.

By the age of sixteen, Juma did not yet have enough intelligence to live independent life. His adaptation to the social environment remained weak. And hospitalization had also its mark. There’s a such term in medicine. It happens when a long stay in a hospital does not improve, but only aggravates the patient’s condition. Juma was in an unusual hospital – psychiatric.

…He looked at me with an inquisitive face. Average height, brown-eyed, with a black straight hair on his head. In a checkered shirt, wearing roomy, ratty hospital pants. I was obviously worried and suddenly said:

– You’re scared of me. I can read it in your eye.

-No, not at all, -I tried to object, but…

To my shame, it was the truth and my complete revelation. So who he was: an experienced psychologist or still a super observant predator?

Without letting me recover from the confusion, Mowgli invited me into his house, if we may say so.

Then, after moving to boarding school, Juma would often remember with reverence this pathetic, incredibly tight shack made of plywood sheets. It’s just a nightstand and an old fashioned shelf. Next to several detective books and a stack of “Health” magazines there were locksmith tools and chess. True gentleman’s kit, ain’t it?

There wasn’t enough room for a bed. But there were two walls on which Juma placed pictures of his friends, mostly former or regular patients of the clinic. And a photo of Tatiana Ivanovna, who cared for him for many years. The rest of the world did not accept him, since he was a martyr of a hermit-like life.

This house, next to one of the medical buildings, where Juma had a bed, was built for him many years ago. He also had his own cozy little yard with a small fence and gate. Under the green tent of the vineyard, there was a table made by him, on which people would play the chess. There was also a roomy place where Juma slept in the warm Turkmen summer, from April through November.

An old hospital gardener would visit him to have a hearty conversation. Locksmiths from the water-heating unit used to come here for help when there was a need. They’d bring him home-made delicious cookies.

Juma could not recover for a good while after visiting the film makers, who would take him to the local zoo, with doctors’ permission. They intentionally pushed him into a wolf cage, as if Mowgli found his mother among wolves. They were impressed by their own originality and were just proud of the film.

Juma, who didn’t leave the hospital often, was so shocked that he felt sick. So called “filmmakers” demonstrated the film somewhere in Moscow, as the revelation of the man-wolf, but the boy suffered deeply and literally howled, either as human or as a wolf … But all this remained behind the scenes of the TV-show “Vzglyad”.

Oligophrenia – that was the diagnosis of teenage Juma. And so he remained in the VTEK’s files to award a pension. For almost thirty years, Juma was under delusion, having the right to it, living with the kindness of strangers, and poor hospital meals. It was a vicious circle: to get a pension one had to have a passport, and a registration in his passport, that were required for a pension. In mental hospitals, as you know, they do not provide a citizenship credentials.

He dreamed of home, his own home. Communicating with Juma more and more, in a psychiatric hospital, I realized that if he is put in a normal human conditions, they would make him more human.

In the meantime, he was willingly helping the locksmith in the water-heating unit. Perfectly playing chess, he beat the relatives of the sick patients. Occasionally he would read the magazines that he randomly found. But, the doctors stated that he could not retell what he had read. Well, are we all better storytellers than him?

All over the world, there are only a few ones like Mowgli of the Karakum, brought-up by the wolves. Moreover, they don’t live long life, they die by the age of 20-30. Our Juma survived! But only to live through his desperate fate?

Only at the age of thirty-five he was granted a human right as Juma Jumayev. He finally received a name and a passport, as if he had been left out of the human squad for three decades. But, as he himself admitted clearly and bitterly, he felt more protected in a pack of wolves.

..There are many philosophical and pedagogical thoughts on “wolf” children in the literature of the humanist era. In particular, they refer to an seven-year-old boy caught from a pack of wolves during the hunt in France. It’s terrible to know, that he was taken to the cities for a show with hitherto unseen profits. And there was one poor woman who “recognized” him as her son.

For Juma, such a woman was seventy-year-old Tatiana Ivanovna, aunt Tanya. She warmed him up with a motherly love that she had never felt before towards anyone. She asked for guardianship to care for him as long as she had strength and health to help a person to settle down among people, and then to make over to him all that she had gained – an apartment, property.

This middle-age woman didn’t ask for any benefits, didn’t set any conditions. She was denied because of her old age and… Juma’s diagnosis. What can you do about it? The law is the law. But I think she’s the one who would have protected him from all the blows of an unmerciful fate.


P.S. Many years have passed since then. It’s hard to tell how Juma ended up, what happened to him. But Ashgabat residents, people of the older generation, still remember this touching and tragic story of a boy found in the Karakum.