The South Asian Times

20 October 2017 01:27 AM

Inspiration for a new superhero or maybe not Nury Vittachi

If humanity teeters on the edge of annihilation, take comfort that some people are staying focused on the really important questions of life, such as: What Superhero Would You Be?

A discussion of that exact question in this column caused a massive flood of emails, which included a link to astonishing recent findings about the naked mole rat, a phrase I am not using as a metaphor for a certain type of politician, although I do understand how suitable it is for that purpose. No, I am referring to an actual rodent of that name with real "awe-inspiring super-powers", according to reader Janvi Shah.

This columnist was not totally convinced about its suitability to give its attributes to a superhero, but you decide.

First, naked mole rats don't feel most types of pain and so you cannot hurt them. Tell them they have a stupid haircut or you don't like their cooking and they go on smiling. Cool.

Second, naked mole rats are creepily age-proof, like Cher or Jennifer Lopez. After a year or so, the average mouse is using a Zimmer frame and dropping its dentures into its soup. But naked mole rats live for decades, equivalent to a human living for 20 or 30 generations. These critters are the immortals of the rodent world and must be mightily annoying at woodland dinner parties: "Seems like yesterday I was chatting with your great great great great great great great great..." (All guests exit.)

Third, naked mole rats have special cells that eat cancer cells, so save a fortune on health insurance. However, getting dread diseases is one of long list of human characteristics that superheroes don't share. Superfolk also don't go to toilets, get anxiety-induced bloating, or faint at the sight of a blackhead being popped (readers, don't pretend I'm the only one), etc.

Fourth, naked mole rats can alter their metabolisms in emergencies, surviving for up to 18 minutes without oxygen by "effectively becoming plants", researchers say. Not sure that's all that amazing, as every Friday night at the bar I find myself surrounded by humans who are effectively becoming vegetables, aided by the consumption of certain popular amber-colored beverages.

So all in all, naked mole rat abilities get a mixed review as the basis for super-powers. The longevity thing is nice but honestly not much use for a person in tights and a cape who fights bad guys: "You evil super-villains may have used your powers to destroy the city, but I have a longer life expectancy, so there." Lacks drama.

But the one thing that ultimately disqualifies it as part of a superhero origin story is that it looks horrible. Sorry, Janvi. Pictures show creatures with pale, flabby, unhealthy-looking bodies, horrible skin and bad teeth, reminding me of beach days spent with my middle-aged male friends.

A colleague raised another issue: "People might refuse to go to the eventual superhero movie, because you can read the name as (Naked Mole Rat) (Man) or as naked (Mole Rat Man)," she said.

I decided it was time to avoid that unpleasant thought by "effectively becoming a vegetable". Cheers!

Update: 20 Sep, 2017

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