TO TATTOO OR NOT TO TATTOO

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Ruminations on blank skin.

Tattoos are beautiful.

Some people wear it well.

I have friends who are into tattooing; not just getting it but also giving it. More than once the blank skin on my body has been their target. Why don’t you get one?

I spent a few years wondering what tattoo I should get.

Since you can get a tattoo but not easily erase it, the image would have to be something you deeply identify with. My dilemma starts there. You see there is nothing I deeply identify with; nothing I cannot really live without. I used to hike, climb rock and go mountaineering. When my resources dried up after I turned freelance journalist, I found myself lacking the money to indulge in these pursuits. It hurt for a while. But when you live life like a voyage you wonder – should I go back to where I came from or should I see what lay beyond the bend? What’s the point in tattooing an ice axe or a coil of rope, if you are not anymore that frequent in the mountains?

Perhaps then I should be a collector of experiences. I could collect tattoos representing each. I may then run the risk of looking like one of those pirates from Hollywood’s popular franchise. But frankly I don’t think I am so adventurous in life or so prolific at gathering experiences that I may run out of skin. But do I wish to be known by any of my experiences? Yet again I don’t think I am defined by anything except the fact that I am sailing through, which raises a question – would you be traveler reaching town branded as something or traveler reaching town attracting no attention? Worse – as is typical in debate by degrees of belonging – what if you walked into some place sporting wrong tattoo or walked into a place full of tattoos with none on you?

Tattoos are invitation to dwell on identity. But who do you pick for pack? Religion, divinity, community, cult et al – I find them delusional comfort. Even music – I listen to what I feel like at given point in time and that means, curiosity for many genres, preference for some and not loving one to the expense of all else. The Earth is five billion years old. It will be there – in varying forms though – for another five billion years. I am 50 years old. What do I know of universe yet, to soak in and claim for identity? Now artists are creative and I am sure they have a design that captures above mentioned state of mind. But what if you thought yourself so and then proceeded to be something else? Like I said, nobody knows what lay beyond the bend and if you did, the question arises: is that universe or your imagination?

It’s better to stay seeker than pretend to have found or been found. And if you haven’t found or been found, what do you tattoo into your skin?

But that’s not how identity works.

Identity is not as insistent on timeless truth as it is of something you can identify with. It seeks to merely answer concerns that matter to the human hive. So you don’t work back from eternity, the age of the universe or planet. You work back from a human lifetime. Within that, tattoos are many to choose from. And as some critical of my escapist, ever-blank argument may say, the problem is perhaps mine; I am not adventurous enough to court powerful experience in the hive, the sort that impacts.

Still I keep asking myself: what about people whose minds exceed hive; people for whom the hive smacks of entrapment?

The universe as it is seems infinite.

I wonder what the universe sports for tattoo.

Who tattoos it?

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)      

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