D Pothumallee pulled a table to the centre of her living room. Her husband, R Dharmaraj, lifted a neatly stacked pile of papers from a shelf and placed it on top of the table. The couple had spent the previous night rummaging through their cupboards, looking for these papers. Some had gathered dust and were slowly yellowing – after all, they had been put away for almost 11 years. The couple dug into the pile, pulled out a stapled bunch and handed it to me with pride. On it was written – “D Pothumallee vs the District Collector”.

It had taken a few phone calls to track down Pothumallee, who lives in Kattakudi village, in Tamil Nadu’s Thiruvarur district. With each call, the person on the other end expressed amusement over the name, which was unusual, and did not have a literal meaning in Tamil. “There is a whole story behind it,” Pothumallee said, laughing.

When Pothumallee was born on March 22, 1978, her family wasn’t particularly happy. After four daughters, her parents were sure that they would have a baby boy. In an effort to send a sign to the gods that they were done having daughters, her parents wanted to name…

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