On telling the tales of tattoos

You think it, I ink it
[An anonymous saying]
When we were growing up, in our preteen period and during our teenage days, we saw many tattoos all across the place, across the arms and shoulders that we came upon, and to put it bluntly, we were simply amazed — after finding how those guys had got them — how they can tolerate such pain to have a small flying lizard on their body parts. Show us a tattoo and we can tell the era it belongs to, if not the history of the person. In those days, tattoos were about the crosses and the bones and the skulls and the dragons and the scorpions and what not. The most distinctive features were the stains of dry cells and immaculate yet raw needle marks.

Unsurprisingly, our interest was directly proportional to the ire of the elder folks, who equated this kind of act as much macabre and inauspicious as inviting the unholy gods, or the devils in popular fancy, into our lives. Then I was annoyed by their authority that they could impose on us by virtue of their age alone, now I have some understanding of our recent history or maybe because of my slight maturity, that I can somehow understand their opposition. In the 80s when we were toddlers, it was a time when my native place was exposed to the art of tattoo, in a contemporary fashion sense; and it was a period when unlimited supply of heroin stormed the place, when especially the majority of youth were attracted to rock n’ roll and other such supposedly unholy things; and hence the wrath of the old folks and hence the proportional raise of their apathy towards our activity. But all we wanted was a tattoo.

T H E  L I T T L E  S T O R Y   Amidst the brouhaha, between us and the old timers, there was a news that was too hard to believe till now, but which was and has always been a kind of mores in our hometown. People were rushing to the nearest clinics to get their little lizards and small scorpions removed through laser techniques. The reason is as farcical as a chief minister of our state being able to speak properly when he/she comes to New Delhi. The reason, specifically, was that the police had been beating up anyone with a tattoo, for again, a ridiculous reason that they are suspected to be insurgents. Man, we are really fed up of this violence thing. We don’t want violence, and never will we endorse guns to whatever demands we have; no guns, no bullets but a real nice tattoo, and we will be too happy to flaunt it.
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A tattoo is a true poetic creation, and is always more than meets the eye. As a tattoo is grounded on living skin, so its essence emotes a poignancy unique to the mortal human condition. 
V. Vale and Andrea Juno, Modern Primitives 
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I sucked out many tattoos from marker pens, sketching the silly things on my arms and knuckles. Well it is silly only now, but then it was a cool thing, at least I presumed. Though I know very well the real ones were etched forever on the skins of slender arms that hold guitars with grace; unlike the big, fat arms — so clean and so obedient-type — which are fed with avarice that is so common in my native place, and unlike the big, fat arms that carry Kalashnikovs, which is also as common as glossy magazines out there. Gradually, new time transcends the old time, and do the artworks continue to whisper their spells.

T H E  F I R S T  C U T  I S  T H E  D E E P E S T   So one fine day, armed with dry cells and sack needles, when we were in high school I went to a cemetery with my friends. We called the place England for so many white men were buried there during the Second World War. Unfortunate it is but the war at home — which has been shattering our world albeit not a world war in the literal sense — never ends till now. Fuck war, fuck the war-mongers. Coming back to the cemetery, it is a haven for potheads and heroin fixers and lovebirds and wasted youth. The place is so heavenly indeed, with so many imported plants from the real England. Watching the colourful trees and the beautiful flowers, we made our first mark: "We are also in the lost generation." That day, I came back home smiling with a Superman sign on my wrist. It looks fading over the time; from the beginning, it was blurry anyway. Though I have carried it with love in the same way a mother loves her baby, in the same way India loves Nepal and China accentuated by our epicanthic features, and in the same way our leaders love smelling New Delhi's arse. The Superman’s been a steady company, so to say, in times of love and war, and in times of joy and sorrow.

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Black and green so sparse
Colourful dreams on cold nights 
Resist with tattoos
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Big is better; we thought when we wanted new tattoos. It’s a community kind of thing, you know, to get a tattoo. It will take a sociology professor to explain it better but we have some sort of a collectivist culture: when we ransack house in times of mob justice, we do it together; we leave the state together searching for green pastures; we live in ghetto together; in times of rites and rituals we work, for example, in building the ‘mantop’ together. So when it comes to artistic expression through body art, it is not unexpected that we do things together. On several occasions we killed the ennui that ever prevails in our hometown; otherwise the tediousness of life is only punctuated by mindless violence, street protests and their repercussions. But those times were markedly different from the previous years because we had graduated from dry cells and sack needles to fabric colours and 2ml syringes. The choicest music in the background, all the like-minded clowns, and we were drowned in our unaffected happiness and intolerable sadness while we painted, we scratched, and we pierced our absurd masterpieces on our arms and legs ourselves and on others’ bodies while we dreamt about Utopia. But sometimes it’s better to do away the dreams about the ideal thing, unless it’s just the principle that guides our lives. Take for instance, freedom – it’s quite an ideal thing but it comes with government and that is the most awful thing than the ugliest tattoo on a big, fat arm. Yet the best thing was that we had killed the ennui as well as got some good tattoos. Size does matter.

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Ink to paper is thoughtful
Ink to flesh, hard-core.
If Shakespeare were a tattooist
We'd appreciate body art more.
Carrie Latet 
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So we continued painting and tattooing and making some of my friends’ hands a rough book, a practicing place and bit by bit I also got my name in my native script bordered by a ribbon above the Superman and a funky cartoon further above the name. An amateur artist we were, with only the passion for design and no expertise in any tattoo thing, the cartoon now looks like an abstract art. So I had done some alteration and in no way it looks what I had intended to get. No worries it is perfectly fine now though it looks like a very bad painter had drawn it after waking up from an overdose.

G E T T I N G  A H E A D   Those were also the last time I used ‘raw’ devices to get the tattoos, you know, it’s no cool if there is no growth and development. Advancement in our life, and in our personal and professional pursuits is what we always aspire for. By the way, these names and abstract thing were done during my first year in college. Somehow the tattoos have also been a kind of my history partner, whatever it means. Finally I got the chance and the progress, after bidding farewell to the dry cells, needles and syringes and went to a professional tattoo artist, when I was home for a vacation in early 2010. Now and then people asked me why I had got the Buddha but I got no reason. I have the belief that we need no reason for everything. A thing should be just as it is, and to no degree we are very rational animals. Precisely things are only too relative, and I can recall Marx’s statement that reason exists for everything but all the reasons are not logical. But if I really had to argue, I got the Buddha’s visage because on that day, out of the hundreds of samples I checked, it looked the best. With  the power of some logic and sometimes in sheer absurdity, life moves on.

Now the fascination for tattoos in those early days have found a good company in sweet memories. Now I care about the sensibilities of the old folks because it’s been a long time I have not heard their complaints. Now I’m also glad that I carry some signs of our time. Everything will complete, even life will find its true essence, and perhaps we might find a way to take ourselves out of the chaos that we are in and cycles of defeated lives that we lead, if we can altogether change the signs of our time. Like mindless violence. Like black money galore that oils the engines of our society. This is also the reason why I ever want to tattoo a big ‘A’ across the land to evoke anarchism.



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