Readers of Asterix will recall that the druid Getafix in Asterix and Cleopatra was fascinated by the Egyptian queen’s nose. The length and shape of the famous queen’s nostrils are not known but she could not keep her nose out of other people’s affairs. This is what prompted Blaise Pascal to quip that if Cleopatra’s nose had been a little shorter the history of the world would have been different. There has been no speculation about what would have happened to the flow of historical events if Cleopatra’s nose had been out of joint. Would Julius Caesar and Mark Antony have fallen for her? More earnest historians have commented that causality in history cannot be reduced to such trivial factors like the length of a queen’s nose. This, however, has not stopped the young chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, from suggesting half in jest that his prominent nose was the pointer to his success. Appositely, Mr Yadav made this observation while releasing a book of cartoon chronicles. Cartoonists love to exaggerate the length of a person’s nose for effect.
Do noses really reveal anything about an individual’s personality and background? Is a person with an aquiline nose really a patrician? And a person with a snub the exact opposite? Winston Churchill was often compared to a bulldog because of his nose and his face but his provenance was ducal. In background and attitudes, he was truly patrician. Indira Gandhi possessed a long and beak-like nose and was known for often looking down her nose at people. Both Churchill and Indira Gandhi had a nose for politics; they could sense the mood of the people perhaps through their god-given noses. A classical nose is often seen as an attribute to a woman’s beauty. But too perfect a nose may not always make a woman attractive. It was Audrey Hepburn’s pixie-like face and a nose that was far from being classical that made her a heart throb when she made her debut in Roman Holiday. There was no chance of her nose getting in the way when her hero in the film gave her a peck.
The subject of a human being’s nose has the habit of making an appearance in odd places. In liberal political theory, in the discussion of an individual’s rights, it is said that the right of a man to swing his arms ends where another man’s nose begins. This means that a man swinging his arms before a snub-nosed man has longer rights than what he would have if the man before him had a long and patrician nose. Sometimes nose becomes something ineffable, like the nose of a bottle of wine or of a single malt whisky. Is the nose of a wine something that only a nose can catch? It is possible that it is to be too nosey to ask such unanswerable questions. A nose is a nose for all that and it should be left at that. Whatever be the claims made for Cleopatra’s nose, the most famous nose is that of the Sphinx because it is broken. But it broke when Obelix tried to climb atop the Sphinx — which perhaps accounts for the latter’s inscrutable smile.