For thousands of years, we have contented ourselves with knowing that we are in possession of five senses. Anyone who claimed to have any additional senses was looked at askance and dismissed with a shrug or a toss of the head.
Now, however, scientists say that there may be many more senses that are used by life on our planet. One of these, they say, is the sense of balance. If you have ever wondered why some of us are so much better at standing on one leg than others, how The Great Blondin, Philippe Petit, Nik Wallenda, and all those tightrope walkers we see in the circus came to be so good at what they do, then you could be in for a reasonable answer soon.
(Don’t you think it is possible that it could also lead to the explanation for why some of us are better at the figurative balancing act than others, and therefore have a bit of an unfair advantage in our nuanced world?)
Maybe our sense of balance could be tested early in your life, like an eye test or a hearing test, and then we could be given the go-ahead to try all those life-threatening and death-defying balancing acts.
While some of us may actually be holding our breath, waiting to be certified with a super sense of balance so that we can aspire to these heights, perhaps others would feel vindicated when some more senses are identified.
Like those who generally feel one-up on everyone else when it comes to doomsday quotes: “Keep the child away from the glass/keep the glass away from the child”; or “Don’t leave kids unattended near a body of water”; “Never leave a box of matches near a curious kid” ... Maybe there are some who actually have a very real sense of foreboding — not just a vivid imagination, as we now tend to call it.
We always marvelled at how our mothers (and in due course of time, we too), knew exactly what the children were doing when they were in another room and a sudden quietness descended upon the house. It didn’t matter how many walls and how many closed doors separated them. They knew. Maybe motherhood ‘releases’ a special sense that enables us to do this.
Maybe the sense of impending danger also gets heightened with the arrival of young ones. That would surely explain how, when we were living in a house built over a snake pit and a scorpion burrow, Mother’s evening tour of every nook and cranny always unearthed the threats that were closest to being activated: The krait wound around the curtain rod above our bed, the scorpion getting comfortable inside our bedroom slippers, the centipede pretending it was a part of the design of the bathroom tiles.
None of us children, with our better eyesight, ever saw these threats, did we? (Ergo, it must have something to do with a special “sense” she had and we didn’t.) We always made it a part of our routine to accompany her on her evening tour of duty — not because we did not have full faith in her ability, but because we had a deep fear that if we didn’t see that krait or scorpion or centipede being smashed into pulp, it would re-form and visit us while we slept.
Looking around now, I think that perhaps, also, a sense of entitlement is a tangible thing, and it tells some of us that we are the inheritors of the earth, we know better than everyone else what is good for them and therefore we need to go out and impose our will on theirs, while others hold back modestly and cautiously.
Or could that be just “good sense”?
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.