So since it seems to be #NosePinTwitter day, so I thought I would share the story of why I decided to pierce my nose. I know a woman in my hometown who is considered by society to be unfortunate because of her personal circumstances – however I don’t know if she thinks of herself in those terms. She sports a medium-sized mookuthi, with a white stone that could be crystal or glass. The white of the mookuthi’s stone matches the pearl of her teeth. Once when I was in my teens, she told me that she loves wearing her mookuthi and she never goes anywhere without her mookuthi. Why, I asked. “I just have to narrow my eyes, and I enter into a whole new world! Do you know what it’s like when a bit of sunshine touches your nosepin?” I was gobsmacked. For the next few months and years, it captured my imagination like nothing else did. Imagine seeing all the colours of the universe sitting on your nose, like a butterfly, like a solemn bird that graces you by perching itself on your shoulder!
I wanted to experience that, and that was why I decided to pierce my nose. Now I know exactly what she means. There are multitudinous worlds in a nosepin, a woman’s private worlds. மூக்குத்தி உலகங்கள். I still discover them every day.
It does not escape me that the nosepin, like all jewelry and like everything that is associated with a woman’s body and femininity, has a political side to it. Traditionally, the women of the community I was born in can be identified by two prominent, usually diamond, nosepins that they wear on both sides of their nose. In a society where caste lives on in subtle markers such as these, choosing to wear a mookuthi, even if it was – no, especially because it was my grandmother’s diamond mookuthi, felt like playing into that system, compromising in yet another way. I pierced my nose a few years before I thought about marriage, but I still received ‘compliments’ during my wedding for being a traditional bride and piercing her nose before her wedding. I heard stories about how wearing a mookuthi would regulate my periods and make me extra-fertile, like some super-fertilizer. One friend commented – “Thank you for not being pseudo-Punjabi and attempting a left piercing.” Great, so now on top of being an ambassador of womanly virtues, Brahminical tradition and culture, my mookuthi was also a flagbearer of the Tamil nationalistic spirit. Periyavaa and Periyar in a single frame. ஒரு மூக்குத்திக்கு போயி இவ்வளவு அலப்பறையா?
But that was also the time when I became familiar with the legend of Kanyakumari. My husband’s family hails from that town and love the girl enshrined in that temple to bits. So right after my wedding, we went to that temple. It was my first time going there. Kanyakumari was herself like a nosepin, a bright jewel at the tip of our land. I realized that the tall, slender, young woman who stood like she was carved out of a sandalwood tree was very familiar to me. I had seen her face in the faces of my dear friends, all the women I love and admire and would freely trust the world with. She had two arms like a human woman. One hand clutched a string of beads, as if it was her commitment to herself. The other hand clutched her skirt, as if she was about to run out into the world. I could hear the patter of the feet as she ran on the sand, over the sound of the waves as the oceans crashed into each other.
One cannot help but notice the large, bright nosepin she wears on her left side. My husband repeated the legend of how the east door of the temple is closed off, because the brightness of the light from her nosepin sent false signals to the ships on the high sea, and they would be lured to the shore only to crash into the rocks. The pothi at the temple narrated another legend where the captain of a ship in distress was guided by the light of her nosepin into safe shores. All their stories were about what the brilliance of her nosepin would do for the world, for others, for her believers.
But only I knew what it was like to wear such a bright ornament at the tip of your nose, where you only have to cross your eyes to enter into a new world. How many sunrises and sunsets does she get to see everyday, I wondered. What upside-down world of beach, sand, rock, sky and sea does she wander about in, within the world of her nosepin?
I was pointed to the large plate of rice, made ready for the feast at her wedding, turned to stone because there would be no wedding, because she could wait for a lifetime for the god-husband who would never come.
I did not tell them that when she stood on the rocks in the middle of the sea, she would fix her eyes on the large white stone at the tip of her nose, where the worlds she would create were hers alone, where the abandonments of god-husbands did not matter at all. She simply doesn’t think of it. I did not tell them I knew about it too, that all women did, and her nosepin, like her string of beads and her clutched skirt were simply, hers.
The nosepin became a powerful symbol for me. It has somehow set the tone for everything else. I am only growing from that day, as a woman and as an individual. The paltry politics of the ornament have ceased to matter for me, because the worlds that it creates for me is beyond human boundaries and ideologies, beyond even notions of feminism and sisterhood or even individuality. These days, I find myself turning my head like a colt sometimes, only because I can catch all the rays of the sun on my nosepin, at the tip of my face.