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Issue No.: 564 | June 2014
 

The Boy with the Nose-ring: A short story

Ishita Marwah
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A sweltering hot May afternoon in Poona and a small woman lies on a metal cot, sweat soaking the sheets that line the harsh crisscross mesh underneath her. She sweats much too much even for the hot Indian summer and this has to do with the unseemly, quaking mound rising steeply off of her small-boned middle; her labour has begun and her womb is contracting at intervals that get shorter by the half-hour. The local midwife bustles around her officiously, swabbing her dripping forehead from time to time and regularly ducking under the chaste rough blanket that shields the site of action, the place between the petite woman’s spread-wide-open, bent-at-the-knees, delicate golden legs. 

Though this is not her first labour, the woman is afraid. Her large kohl-rimmed eyes, shaped like the bodies of the little silver fish that dart in the shallows of the Karha, are wide open and fixed on the mud-plastered ceiling. Swathed in her fear, she cares little for the midwife’s admonition that she is not pushing enough, not trying nearly hard enough. She wishes her husband Vinayak were with her, but it is inappropriate for men to witness sordid, bloodied affairs of women such as childbirth. He is off at work to take his mind off things instead, wearing his starched khakhi uniform and tramping down the streets of dusty Baramati, armed with a satchel full of letters. 

He is afraid too, she knows. She pictures him dropping off letter after letter, making small-talk with people whose names he cannot care to remember for his mind is focused on the magical things happening in a warm place nestled deep inside of her.

"Push, Laxmibai, you lazy woman, push!” The midwife says, patting her sweat-lathered tummy hard, thwack, thwack, thwack. Though her words are severe, the midwife is not unkind, and Laxmibai tries to please her by feebly contracting her perineal muscles in concert with the next insistent push of her womb.

In between the contractions, she finally confides in the midwife.

"I’m very scared Tai.”

"Of what, Laxmibai?” The midwife raises bushy brows, "You’ve done this enough times before; your thaili must now be as loose as that woman Kavitabai’s morals! Have you heard the latest on her?” She guffaws at her own witty word-play and waits expectantly to be asked what the latest is, but Laxmibai is lost in her own world.

The midwife sighs and philosophically accepts that her patient is in no mood for gossip. She hastens to comfort Laxmibai, so sure she knows exactly what the to-be mother is dreading that she does not care to ask again. After all, doesn’t every pregnant woman fear the same thing?

"Do not be afraid Laxmibai, I can tell by the size of your bump that it’s a boy!” She says reassuringly, running her hands lightly over the taut belly before her. "Why, he must be an elephant! And look at the patches on your face, a sure indication!” 

Laxmibai closes her eyes and moans softly, her toes curling as the pain spreads through her body like electricity. Wisps of downy black hair escape the neat bun she ties at the nape of her neck every morning and stick wetly to the side of her face and her nose-ring lies cold as ice against her parched, sighing lips.

She wants to tell the midwife that what she is afraid of is not that it won’t be a boy, but that it will. That it will be a perfect little boy, the spitting image of his father. A boy with a penis the size of her little finger and pale mauve grape-sized balls. 

But the contractions come faster now, leaving her gasping for breath and the midwife is doing a million things at once and does not want to listen anymore.

Laxmibai’s first little boy was born premature and his lungs could not hold out for long outside of her. She blamed herself for months after for pushing him out too early, for being so selfish as to try to end the ordeal of her pregnancy before her due time, for killing her child; she was a murderer, a wicked blot on womankind. She begged the Gods for a second chance for months after she lost the child; she wept and prayed and fasted and hoped.

They blessed her with a son the second time around and she was delirious with happiness. She carefully held this little one in her womb for as long as she was meant to and sang praises of the Gods to him as he gurgled sloppily while she worked around the house. 

She thought she had righted her wrongs and completed her penance and that she had been forgiven.

The child died in his sleep, not long before his first birthday. She woke one morning to find him lifeless by her side and her screams roused the entire neighbourhood.

Her next child was a girl, a lovely little thing with peach-tinted skin and exquisitely shaped fingers and feet, but a girl nonetheless. 

Laxmibai began to believe she was truly cursed when er next baby boy was taken by Mata, the Goddess, who entered his body slyly and burst through his soft skin in painful, oozing boils. Though Laxmi did everything they said you could to drive her away, from avoiding lighting the oil-lamps to spreading a dense bed of neem leaves around the ailing child, the Goddess carried him away when he wasn’t much older than the departing summer.

That was when she understood; the Gods had never really forgiven her callousness during her first pregnancy and now they would punish her, not by striking her barren, but by blessing her and cursing her with boys who would not survive.

And now here she is, pushing out what the midwife is sure will be yet another doomed boy. She too knows it in her bones that this is a boy, knows it in the way her breasts have filled and drooped sullenly, in the way the line of hairs that trickles south from her belly button has become shrubbery-dense over the duration of her pregnancy. 

The contractions are so close now she can hardly tell them apart and her hand and feet grip the metal sides of the bed as she pushes and screams and bleeds.

The midwife leans all her bulk on the supine woman’s swollen stomach and talks without stopping but her words are gibberish in Laxmibai’s breathless ears. 

A boy it will be, a little boy, and she will fool the Gods this time, trick them out of stealing her angel.

This time, she has a plan.

The pain is so fierce that she feels delirious, her mind floating through her previous pregnancies to when she was a girl in her father’s house and her mother lovingly oiled her hair into jet-black braids and called her Godavari, her name before Vinayak changed it to Laxmi when he married her. She is Godavari again now, a little girl in terrible pain, calling for her mother over and over, screaming for release.

And then he suddenly slides out of her in a self-satisfied way and the midwife smacks his purple back and he breathes for the first time and then he cries and the cord is cut and she is back to being Laxmi, her feet and back drenched in warm brown blood. She tries to sit up to see him better. The midwife is already wiping the slime off him and he is the most beautiful thing she has ever laid eyes on. 

There is no way she’ll let them take this one away from her.

The midwife lays him on her bare stomach and she smells the wisps of hair on his oblong head for the first time. He smells of life and blood and of her.

"My little Ramachandra”, she whispers, already deciding to name him after her favourite hero God, the ruler of people’s hearts, the set-righter of wrongs.

But the Gods must never know of him or they will snatch him away.

 "Ram…” She coos softly, kissing him, hugging him to her breast.

The midwife begins to wash the soiled bedclothes in a basin of water.

Laxmibai knows what she has to do. She pulls at the sari she wore just this morning and then unwrapped hastily when her water broke; she drapes one of its blue-edged corners around his head like a scarf.

She is satisfied with what she sees. He will pass as a pretty girl. 

She chuckles in delight.
 
Nathuram Godse.

Nathuram Vinayakrao Godse.

What she doesn’t know is that when he turns thirty nine, she will witness the day the Gods find her out, the day they punish her for her deceit by seizing her baby boy at last.

Nathuram Vinayakrao Godse will hang to his death. And a defeated Laxmibai will cry, cry and cry some more.

Nathuram (Ramachandra) Vinayakrao Godse (19th May 1910 – 15th November 1949) was the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian freedom struggle against the British and the Indian Father of the Nation. 

Nathuram Godse was born in Baramati, Pune (erstwhile Poona District in British India), to Vinayak Vamanrao Godse and his wife Lakshmi Godse, who named the child Ramachandra. Before his birth, Lakshmi had borne Vinayak three sons and a daughter, of which all the boys died in infancy. It is rumoured that this convinced little Ramachandra’s parents that their male children were cursed and they brought him up as a girl instead, which included his being made to wear a traditional nose-ring (‘nath’ in Marathi, the Godses’ native tongue). This is how the nickname ‘Nathuram’ (literally translated as ‘Ram with a nose-ring’) is said to have been adopted; a name that stuck with Ramachandra through life and for posterity. After his younger brother was born, Godse’s parents supposedly began treating him like a boy but the name Nathuram remained. 

As a child, Godse revered Gandhi, who was working at uniting the Indian masses against the British through non-violent protests. Vinayak was transferred to Ratnagiri and it was here that a young Nathuram first made the acquaintance of Veer Savarkar, the foremost champion of Hindutva. Godse chose to give up his formal education and joined the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) instead. He ran the Hindu Mahasabha’s Marathi newspaper, which was called Agrani and later re-christened Hindu Rashtra (The Hindu Nation). 

Godse pointedly renounced Gandhi in adulthood, believing that the Mahatma emotionally manipulated Hindus and was flagrantly partial to India's Muslims. Godse held Gandhi responsible for the partition of India on religious lines and the consequent two-way exodus which left a million people dead; this is understood to be one of the chief motives behind his resolution to kill Gandhi.

Nathuram plotted Gandhi’s assassination along with six others, including his younger brother Gopal Godse; he carried out the plan in New Delhi barely five months post-independence, on the 30th of January 1948. On the evening of the assassination, Godse pushed his way through the crowds thronging the grounds where Gandhi was to begin offering his evening prayers and bowed to Gandhi before shooting him in the chest three times. Gandhi died almost instantly; ironically, his last words are said to have been "Hey Ram”, translated as "Oh God”, Ram being the same Hindu deity that Godse was named after by his parents. Godse made no attempt to escape but instead courted arrest by shouting for the police to be called. He was captured by the crowd around him and was subsequently arrested.

After a year-and-a-half-long trial in which he defended himself, Godse was sentenced to death by hanging. Prime Minister Nehru and Gandhi's sons put forward pleas for the commutation of the death sentence, claiming that if carried out, it would tarnish the memory of the Mahatma, a man who had been a staunch proponent of non-violence and had strongly opposed capital punishment. However, the ruling was upheld and Nathuram Godse was hanged on the 15th of November 1949. His parents were alive at the time of his death.

 DR. ISHITA MARWAH M.B.B.S, Oxford University
 
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