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Being an outsider to the world of tattooing, I often find myself grappling with a few questions similar to those that I had, once, asked myself while being on the verge of getting a tattoo done. “What would look good on my arm? Or on my wrist? Or does the span of the back of my shoulders hold a better claim at whatever I would – a quote or an abstract design – get inked on my skin, ‘forever’.” These were precisely the questions then, but now I have settled on “why” as the more logical way around, and “forever” as the basis or the light of reason, whenever I experience a deep urge to get a tattoo.

Image Courtesy: Anirban Roy Choudhury
Image Courtesy: Anirban Roy Choudhury

The idea that the ink would settle into the epidermis, with no plans of leaving without giving you a nightmarish experience, both physically and emotionally, while also burning a hole in your pocket, really is off-putting. And that is the ‘forever’ for you, for even if the tattoo does not last on your skin as long as you live, the memory of it would certainly do. Then it is quite safe to assume that if you want a tattoo, you need to be completely sure of what you want tattooed. That means counting out the numerous people you have had crushes on, flings with or even serious relationships with; some fancy, rebellious idea contrary to your disposition; or whatever is trending, even a hashtag for that matter making it to your to-be-tattooed list. On the other hand, the names of parents, universal concepts, things that go with your nature, etc., are far safer bets. I was never really sure of what I really wanted and so a tattoo for me had always been a desire that I was afraid of having fulfilled.

Image credit: Tanya Agarwal
Image credit: Tanya Agarwal

So, do those who get their bodies covered in ink with the thoughts and symbols of their choice, do it in full control of their emotions and beliefs? Or, do they do it independent of the influence of the said factors? These questions pop into my head whenever I see someone sporting a tattoo, irrespective of whether I understand the concept behind it or not. From the little of what I have seen of tattoos, I have gathered that both concept and the lack of it are at work at the time of zeroing in on the content to be tattooed. I remember having been pointed once, that I would be reduced to the level of a commodity when I had expressed a desire to have a Hitman-like tattoo of a bar code. That was the nadir of my ignorance about the purpose of concepts for tattoos.

Hitman Agent 47 sporting the bar code tattoo in the video game

However, I must state – keeping in mind my desire to have a bar code tattooed as an example of precedence of lack of concept over meaningfulness – that the choice of a random piece of design for tattoo does not make it meaningless. In fact, I have come to believe, it is the choice that gives meaning to it.

Tattoo by Niloy Das
Tattoo by Niloy Das

Even as an outsider, I consider tattooing as a form of art that allows people to wear their opinion and thoughts on their skin, be it as a mark of solidarity or dissent, a piece of memory, an act of love or simply a way of distinguishing oneself from the rest. But this is only half the truth, since I know nothing about what goes into the making of tattoos, nor do I know what the tattoo artists have gone through to make this underground art (or art from the fringes where the tribal population still practice it) popular. So I think I would take this lack of knowledge as a prompt to explore more and familiarise myself with the world of tattoos. And, so should you.

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