Thursday, August 11th, 2022 11:05:50

Twin Troubles

Updated: July 13, 2013 11:55 am

Very few people in the country would have heard the name of a village called Kodinhi in Mallapuram District of Kerala. It is a small predominantly Muslim village with a population of 2000, but amongst its people there are 310 pairs of twins. This strange phenomenon makes it a record holder for the highest percentage of twins in the world. The latest official estimates by the Kodinhi’s Twins and Kins Association (TAKA), which conducted door-to-door surveys at the start of this year, found that there were around 290 sets of twins living in the village, the rest have been married outside or moved away. Strangely, women from Kodinhi married off to far-away places are also known to give birth to twins, and women who have been married to youths of the village too had have delivered duos.

Globally, twins comprise just 6 of every 1,000 live births, while in this village they comprise 42 of 1,000 live births. This is 700 per cent more than the average figure. Incidentally, India has one of the lowest twinning rates in the world, but Kodinhi is on the top of the global twinning league.

Going around this village, you are certain to see twins in almost every family. It is as if you had been struck with the affliction of double vision. As one walks around, they are seen everywhere: young, old and middle-aged, identical and non-identical twins, at schools, the marketplace, in the shops and offices. There are half dozen cases of triplets too.

In the year 2012 alone, 17 pairs were born. Most of the twins are non-identical, which means that the mothers are producing extra eggs that are fertilized at the same time. Identical twins develop from a single embryo that splits after fertilization. This is a strange phenomenon, which started some 60-70 years ago.

Baffled doctors, who have tried to unravel the mystery of Kodinhi, have been left scratching their heads. They have conducted studies in the genetic, biological, molecular, hereditary and climatic factors of the puzzling phenomena, even when the twins were conceived.

Scientists and non-scientists alike are fascinated by twins, the uniqueness of a human individual and the natural bond between siblings. In some societies twins are revered and in others they are looked upon with suspicion. The world over, the cause of twins are mainly because of fertility drugs. All the factors leading to the occurrence of twinning world wide, cannot be seen in Kodinhi. There is something unknown that is causing this phenomenon, they have no unique diet, nor are they not exposed to any chemicals or pollution. Adjacent villages and hamlets with similar population and geography have not seen a similar twin boom.

Researchers trying to unravel the mystery of the high number of twin births believe that there must be something in the environment that is causing this. The locals believe it is to do with the water as Kodinhi is surrounded by water in the fields and during the monsoon season it becomes inaccessible due to heavy rains Dr Lalji Singh, director of Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, says that the village is nothing short of a genetic goldmine. A team from the Centre had collected blood samples of the twins and their parents to understand this phenomenon. They haven’t found the reason yet, although it could be a mixture of environment, food and living conditions. Another factor could be the high degree of consanguineous or intermarriages in the village. If a family has a history of multiple births, this continues from generation to generation. Scientists have taken samples of the soil and water from the village but found nothing unique or different. Even the animals in village have been documented to give birth to twins.

In Kodinhi twins are regarded as special gifts from God and bearers of good luck, they are treated with affection, love and respect. Their birth is a good omen. It is also believed that twins have divine powers and the ability to harm those who cause them displeasure.

The world has begun to pay serious attention to the large concentration of twins in Kodinhi. A National Geographic team visited the village in 2010, studying and documenting the phenomenon. They shot an hour-long documentary with a working titled Twin Town.

With twins in almost every other house, there’s often been ample scope for a comedy of errors. There is rarely a dull day in the village, as someone always becomes a victim of a twin prank. Cases abound of mothers feeding the same child twice. There are numerous funny stories in the schools about the teachers finding it difficult to identify the twins. The locals too face similar piquant situation. There are also jokes that the newly-wed couples of Kodinhi often mistake their partners for the other twins of the pairs in the beginning of their conjugal life. Wives ask their husbands to dress in a particular manner so that they can differentiate them from their twin brother.

Teachers in rural schools are required to memorise the students one by one, because twenty pairs of twins have the same gender and are identical twins. The teachers are often wrong when calling their names. They make them have different hair styles to help in identifying them.

Pathummakutty and Kunhip-athutty, 68, are the oldest surviving twins in the village, with both only having a single name like many people in the village.

The town’s unofficial motto goes something like this: If you don’t have kids, if you are having fertility trouble, come to our village and stay a while because you will live with many kids. Nigeria has the world’s highest population of twins on average, but this Indian village is special because of its highly localized concentration.

Kodinhi can be said to have a twin in North India. Mohammedpur Umari near Allahabad too has 100 pairs of twins in its population of 3000. The common factor is that both the villages have predominantly Muslim inhabitants. Here too, the phenomenon is 60-70 years old. It is a mystery that has yet to be solved!

By Anil Dhir from Mallapuram

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