2. Behold the Woman
Dear reader, how shall I write this passage? What praise could I give Namagiri that would be both fitting and acceptable? For I could describe her as she was, but you would not call it praise; or I could praise her to the sky in conventional fashion, but that would not be Namagiri.
Shall I expound on her beauty? Her precocious brilliance? Her bewitching personality? Her charismatic presence? Her air of command? The vivid impression she made on all those around her? Her wealth and power? Surely these are the usual symptoms of greatness; but also surely none of them apply to Namagiri.
* * *
Once Ramanujan said, “Shall I compare you to a summer's day?”
“You mean, like Miss July?” Namagiri retorted.
“If you insist...”
Namagiri said, “What nonsense! In fact, I am plain and worn. I am short, pudgy and round; my baggy dress is mousey brown; my thick hair is in plain braids; there are no rings on my fingers, nor is there kohl on my eyes.”
Ramanujan said, “But those eyes... they are dark, wide, clear, and piercing.”
“As piercing as your own, dear husband?” she replied.
Ramanujan said, “Have you even noticed that those above her in the palace never address you directly?”
“I have indeed,” Namagiri said, “and I know that it is for two reasons. They don’t have to see me, and seeing me would be beneath them.’
Ramanujan said, “But it is also because they cannot meet your eyes. Only I can look at you straight on.” Which was just what he was doing just then. They held each other in each other’s gaze. “Only I have fallen under the spell of your eyes. Only I find you brilliant, or beautiful - ”
“Or anything else,” Namagiri concluded.
* * *
The first words she ever spoke were at age 6, at the dinner table, asking for more curry. When asked why she never spoke before, she replied that everything was all right up until then.
This incident was a big relief for her father. It proved her an odd girl, but at least he needn't try to marry off a mute. With her marriage-market value thus partly redeemed, Namagiri’s father was able to wed her to the equally undervalued Ramanujan; a bargain for both families. Ramanujan's amazing computational knack emerged years after they were wed, when he reached puberty; too late for the lad's family to trade up.
All her life she remained exceedingly shy and withdrawn, opening up only in the presence of her husband. He in turn was utterly devoted. He knew himself as ignorant about people as people were about numbers; so he constantly consulted her for practical advice. A good move; for she was in fact far more clever than he, though too introverted for success at court ‑ in addition, of course, to the handicap of her being a woman.
* * *
Once Ramanujan confronted her. He said, “You know, you are a lioness.”
“I?” she asked, and continued sweeping.
“Despite appearances,” he conceded. “You see, I've watched you. Nobody else even sees you, so nobody else knows who you are; and that's what you want, isn't it?”
Namagiri paused in her sweeping. “Well, yes,” she admitted.
“You're a spy,” he accused, “a spy from Heaven! You're here to snoop around, set your trap, and get away! The great ones of the world will all be overthrown long before they suspect that you even existed! How could they defend against such an attack?”
“Ramanujan!” she cried, clutching her broom.
“Fear not, beloved; I will tell no one.”
Namagiri sighed. Then she smiled. She said, “Are you trying to flatter me?”
He said, “And if I am, dear heart?”
She said, “Then know this: flattery works on only three kinds of people.”
“And these three kinds are?”
“Men, women, and children.” And smiling, she resumed her sweeping.
* * *
Not beauty, nor brilliance, nor charisma, as the world counted it; nor wealth nor power. The serving-girl’s assessment of Namagiri as Nobody was as precise as it was cruel.
Evidently our heroine has an image problem! So shall we give her a make-over? Set beauticians upon her, so that she may be washed, rinsed, anointed, daubed, painted, brushed and coifed? Shall we give her jewels, earrings and a multi-colored sari? The idea has merit; her looks are sound, though plain; the drabness is mainly due to heavy labor and low status. I'm sure some sprucing up would have done wonders for her.
If we work hard enough, then we just might make her acceptable for a painting, or a statue, or a stained-glass window. By ingenious contrivance, we could make her resemble a movie star, or a model, or a billboard. Enough time and labor could make her look just like a magazine cover, or a beer ad, or one of Prince Rahni's devotional sculptures. But that would not be Namagiri.
Not this Namagiri, nor that Namagiri; all my words fall over or under the mark. Not that Namagiri, nor this Namagiri; alas, our Namagiri is a nullity, a nonentity, a nobody! Like me, like you... if such as she be heroic, then who is not?
Dear reader, I had hoped to define Namagiri for you. I wished to write her up, whole, consistent, believeable and documented; but I find that my account is none of those things. I imagine, I visualize, I project, but our heroine evades; she conceals herself in the void. The lioness of nothingness has given me the slip!
I dreamed that I would dream her for you, but I find that she is you; and how dare I dream of you? For aren’t you the dreamer, and I the dream?
And so I must ask you, dear reader;
Who is Namagiri?