An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 10th September 2012.
Needle and Skin
I have always wanted a tattoo. Nascent pictographs created from the controlled symbiosis of needle and ink on nothing but bare skin… yes, it has held a certain allure for me. But of course, it was off-limits. Read: strictly forbidden by my parents.
Mom: “You will get AIDS!”
Dad: “You want to be like those hippie kids?”
Me: Silent (You know the pose: Eyes down, serious face with occasional nodding. I am usually in my happy place in my head.)
But I have always wanted a tattoo. And, I usually get what I want. Eventually.
So, this was me in Bangalore in Jan. I have recently had an irreconcilable tiff with a boy I liked back then. I was also discovering new facets to my personality, being away from home for the first time. And not just away, mind you, but away in a different continent altogether.
It’s almost afternoon. I am alone in my friend’s apartment. Her friend, Swati Kejriwal, calls me up.
“Dude, it’s my day off. Let’s do something!”
“Yes, let’s. I want to get a tattoo. Can you take me to your guy?”
“Her guy” referred to her tattoo guy who she went to for the numerous tattoos she already had. I mean, if I was going to immortalize a part of my body with body ink, the least I could do was go to a place I could trust.
“Do you know what you want?”
It was a dragonfly. I liked what it signified. Maturity. Awareness. Independence. Renewal. Not to mention that Konkona Sen’s character of an aspiring writer (like me) in Wake Up Sid also had a dragonfly. Just where I wanted it.
We fix a time, she shows up in an auto, and we leave.
The parlour, Dark Arts Tattoo Studio, is a part of a comfortable little bungalow in Frazer Town.
The owner of the parlour, Pradeep Menon, is sitting in the front of the entrance, sipping beer. Swati and Pradeep greet each other like long-lost friends.
“This is my friend, Sanchari. She is the one who wants to get a tattoo,” I am introduced.
He glances at me, “What kind of tattoo?”
I hesitate, “A… a dragonfly?”
He asks one of his workers to take me inside to help me choose a design.
I am surprised to see the inside of his studio. It’s clean and brightly lit, cool with the air conditioner on. There is another woman inside, waiting to get a large tattoo on the inside of her arm. I am too nervous to ask her what she’s getting.
I choose my tattoo, and then am introduced to Anurag Pradhan, who’s to be my tattooist.
“Here, do her’s. It shouldn’t take much time,” Pradeep smiles, “it’s a puchki tattoo.”
This makes me giggle. It is indeed a tiny little thing I am getting.
So while Pradeep takes on the monster on the lady’s arm, I am ushered inside to prepare my nape.
I deliberately choose the nape. Think about it. You can hide it with a collared shirt at work, and then flaunt it in a swimming costume. Or, halter necks. Or, low-cut blouses. Or, to lovers. In moments of intimacy. Like your very own dirty secret.
The lady who helped me earlier, wipes my nape with an alcoholic solution, and then shaves the area. Then she sticks on a paper with my chosen design, pulling it off after making sure the design stays put on my skin.
Imprint of the design
“Ready?” Swati grins.
I am not, though. I am having sudden second thoughts. I remember my childhood visits to the doctor.
Doctor (holding the injection with the evil, glinting needle on it): Ready?
Me: Won’t hurt, will it?
Doctor: Not at all.
What lies! Inevitably, I screamed. Was this going to be a nostalgic reprise?
Here too, I surrender. I hand my camera to Swati and position myself as directed. Anurag is serious, his concentration elevating my nervousness quotient.
I hear the needle whirring. I wait for the pain.
Anurag at work
There is none.
“Well?” Swati asks, as she clicks away.
“It doesn’t hurt! I mean, I kind of like it…”
In fifteen minutes, tops, I am done.
I am given instructions on how to keep my wound clean for the next two weeks, and then, after throwing away the ink used on me, the lady offers me my needle.
“Do you want your first needle?”
“First needle?” I am confused.
“Yes. Everyone keeps their first needle.”
She sounds sure of my desire to come back for yet another tattoo. I don’t contradict her, even though I know I won’t.
I accept the needle as my due.
Later, I ponder breaking the news to my parents. Eventually.
I touch my dragonfly for reassurance, tracing the wound with the tips of my fingers. The permanence comforts.
As does Swati’s mantra:
It’s the only thing you can take with you to your grave.
Photo credits: Swati Kejriwal