Bumped into a friend the other day at Shoppers Stop, both of us rushing to bag the only vacant cash counter and almost collided, but collision averted at the nth minute as we recognised each other and converted the elbowing out of other from first spot at cash counter to cheerful hugging and air kissing.
And then I spotted them. Not one, not two, not three but what seemed like a rash of tattoos on her body. On her arm. On her wrist. On the nape of her neck. On her shoulder blade. All devilishly drawn and intricately cute. Some Sanskrit Shloka type. The names of her two children. Some crappy dove and rose peace type image which I wouldnt wish on a Hallmark card, leave alone live skin. I winced and withdrew from the hurried embrace. And she saw my eyes on all her tattoos. And me being me, and being someone who can always be counted on to say the right diplomatic thing at the right time and make anyone who has a conversation with me feel good and happy and warm, blurted out, “What the hell have you done to yourself?”
Of course the ground didnt open up and swallow me right now. But of course, I wish it had. But since it didnt I had to stand grinning like a fool and thinking hard of how I could squirm out of having said that.
The neurons fire delayed responses when one commits a conversational boo boo. And she did look rather hurt, so I quickly applied verbal balm. “Must have hurt like hell!”
She knew she was in the presence of an evolved soul who could by her sheer presence bring peace and calm to her surroundings and bring her to a higher plane of consciousness. And so she replied. “It did. But once you have had children, whats a little tattoo.”
It was my turn to rub it in, with a grinding stone level of diplomacy. “Thats not a little tattoo, thats a bloody Ajanta Ellora fresco all over you.”
But within me, to be honest, and this is a secret not to be revealed in public, I was strangely envious. Let me admit it, I am a coward. I have a pain threshold that begins at zilch. At the promise of a headache, I take three Disprins. At the hint of a niggling tooth, I demand to be taken to the hospital on a stretcher with glucose attached to a drip and a vein.
Therefore the unspoken admiration for anyone who can a) willingly take on pain, and b) pay for it, and c) choose something to have on their body which cannot be washed off or taken off and sent to the laundry. Or passed on to the servants if one bores of it.
She was, I think, the fifth friend I’d met in the past month sporting black and red and such like on her body. Some other online friends had also gone in for a tattoo. And all had their hotness quotient rise up a couple of notches with the tattoos in place. Add to it, the hint of the bad girl that comes through when there is a tattoo on your body is something, I am told, men find alluring. I’d stick to batting my eyelashes. Thats worked for me so far. And the deep look of interest and then looking away and never looking back. Easier than poking myself with needles.
Anyway, this brought me face to face with certain facets of myself that I had hitherto prefered ignored. Most notably, my fear of the needle. My hands tremble to thread one too. And secondly the fear of the permanent, the immutable. Who is to say what I like today I will like tomorrow and what if I hate it tomorrow? And how do I ever come to a conclusion about what I like, I need constant change, deciding on a particular design for a single tattoo is like a life sentence to me.
And yes, keep the Beckhams and the Jolies and the few odd souls who look good with tattoos aside, for me, most often faded tattoos make the owner and the skin look grubby. Unless the person is sensible enough to keep getting touch ups periodically.
I remember when I was a little girl, visiting Bandra fair, I would see the tattoo artists sitting on their benches, in those glorious pre historic days of no Hep A and B, and when AIDS was a word third world countries used in missives to beg of generous help from world bodies like the UN, and hop frantically from leg to leg demanding that the mother allow me to make at least a K on my hand. How would she recognise me if she lost me in the crowd? Obviously, my mother was made of sterner stuff than Hindi film mothers are made of because she would always flat out refuse and ask me if I wanted to look like a slumdweller.
It really did seem like a tempting prospect to me.
Then I chanced on a luckless relative who had in a bout of self inflicted piety gone and got a cross tattoed at the base of his thumb, which got gangrenous and infected and almost let to the thumb being knocked off, which persuaded me to reconsider my obsession with tattoos.
And of course, the idea that the needle gets poked into the skin one zillion times also played its part in forcing my decision.
I know I will never get a tattoo. I can never make any permanent commitment to any form of body art. And I cannot use my body as an easel. And I am morbidly afraid of a needle, any needle. Yup. Coward. Thats the word you were hunting for.
What about you? Do you have a tattoo? If yes, what is it of, and where is it, and why did you get it? And what when you tire of it? Something like a sugar daddy marrying his arm candy, I might think. Painful to get, painful to get rid of. And would you ever get a tattoo?
Any other lily livered types like me around, raise yer hands high!