Did it hurt? Collecting tattoos and regrets

  • Aarish Chhabra, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jan 18, 2015 10:43 IST

I have tattoos. You are judging me already. I have four of them. You now want to know where. Three on the arms and one on the back, I say. You are thinking dragons and butterflies and religious symbols. I am not going to tell more. You are rolling your eyes.

Let me help you. ‘Fukra’ is the word you are looking for; ‘show-off’ in plain English. Unless, of course, you have a tattoo, in which case you know what I am talking about.

Tattoos long ago graduated from tribal markings to a style statement, an outlet for emotions, a heartfelt piece of art, or a symptom of the needless need to be cool. But it is only over the past few years that the trend has gone big in this part of the world. Chandigarh and even towns like Zirakpur, Bathinda and Sonepat now have parlours that have made the tattooed tribe grow. So much so, that army recruitment rallies have seen dozens of aspirants being disqualified over tattoos, though I’ve heard rules have been relaxed. Journalism has no such rules. To stay safe anyway, I’ve never worn a half-sleeved shirt or bared my back at an interview or a big meeting.

A colleague recently saw some of the ink in my skin, and had a smart line to offer: “Tattoos are permanent proofs of temporary madness.” She doesn’t have any. And, judging by how she looked at my arms, she doesn’t plan on any temporary madness anytime soon. Even the smart line was borrowed, she laughed.

But she is correct, partly. Not only are tattoos a pointedly painful exercise (though much less excruciating than imagined), but they are also the manifestation of a self-image or a profound thought at a certain point in time, whose profundity reduces drastically over the years. It’s only the reactions and judgments that keep the amusement levels up. At the very least, tattoos are effective conversation starters.

“Did it hurt?”

“Are you a musician?”

“Look at her tramp stamp; she must be easy.”

“She will get skin cancer!”

“What would you do when you grow old?”

“You smoke weed. Don’t lie, OK! I can see your tattoos.”

“If my son ever gets a tattoo, I will throw him out of my house.”

All of these reveal a tendency to see tattooed human beings as some non-conformist species that needs to be revered or reviled, depending on which side of this religion you are on. Temporary tattoos that you get at the mall — or those ‘tattoo sleeves’ that make your arms appear covered in colourful ink — are simply blasphemous.

It’s not that tattooed people don’t have their stereotypical responses. Like most believers, they love talking about their belief. From elaborate explanations of why they got an odd-looking unicycle inked on their right arm, to discussing plans about which line of poetry to get drilled into their left shoulder next, their answers to simple queries can be piercingly painful. Really, how deep can the thought behind a butterfly on the ankle be?

But let me tell you this: If you haven’t had a vibrating needle make its way through your skin to deposit droplets of ink that form a lifelong bond between your body and an idea, don’t even bother judging our tribe. Certainly don’t blame me for trying to make the whole idea of tattooing sound extremely romantic. That it is.

Indeed, a big reason why tattooed people have to live with that romance is because the removal procedures cost a bomb; advisable only if you have an ex-girlfriend’s name across your chest. For smaller matters, there are artists who cover up old mistakes with new ones. But the results are seldom satisfactory unless the original bit was a tiny insect or Chinese sign.

The best idea in such a scenario is to live with the ink as a marker of your naïve thoughts, silly transgressions, a sudden rush of blood, or doomed love. It is much like the value of a scar; only that this one was intentional and meant something, in that moment, to a previous you. There is a solace in imperfection. As the great Florence Welch sings, “Regrets collect, like old friends.” aarish.chhabra @hindustantimes.com

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