I’ve had a companion for three months now. It is a dragon…a real fire-breathing, flying, sharp-clawed Chinese dragon. And it is painted on me.
I think I first got fascinated with tattoos when I was in college. At that time I brushed it off as a teenage fancy (Ah..the trials of being a precocious teenager include having to discipline yourself). Early this year, the idea came back to haunt me. Its funky and understandable to get tattooed as a teenager…just the sort of thing an impulsive adolescent would do, don’t you think? It is quite something else to get tattooed in your twenties.
I am not a sailor or a rock star or even a model. I am not in one of the visible professions that require showmanship. If anything I am in the middle of the stiff-with-dignity, serious-minded careerwoman world. Appearances do matter (as they do everywhere) and its ‘respectable’ that runs this show I’m a part of.
I stewed over the idea for a good six months before deciding and then I announced to my family that I was getting a tattoo. They asked me where and what I planned to do and hmmmm-ed when I told them. I think they were not quite sure what to make of it. After all, no one in my family has ever been tattooed before. I don’t know exactly when I thought of the design but when they asked me I just knew that is what I wanted my tattoo to be.
The artist’s assistant was his brother, dressed in a funky tee-shirt and shorts. He smiled and said,
“Okay, what can we do for you?”
“I want a tattoo” I said,
“Do you have any ideas about where you want it, what design you’d like?”
I told him.
His eyebrows shot up ever so imperceptibly and he stammered a bit before he said..
“A dragon? That’s unusual. Are you sure?”
“Positive” I said.
He coughed and said, “A dragon is a very masculine symbol you know. A female dragon won’t look too good.”
“Oh no,” I protested, “I don’t want a female dragon. My dragon has to be definitely male.”
I wondered why he was so startled till I realised he didn’t know me as a person and to any stranger, I would seem like the average 20-something urban woman, ladylike (at least as much as the local trains and crowds allow!) and dainty. Perhaps it would have been more convincing if I’d dug out my old frayed jeans and combat boots and teamed them up with the skull-n-dagger jewellery I patronized in college.
So we set the appointment for the next day. It took only about 10 minutes to render the local anasthesia but about two hours for it to take effect. I spent that time with the artist and his assistant, finalizing on the exact design, shape, colours that I wanted. And my dragon was ready to be born.
While I was waiting, I watched all the other people who walked in to experience body art. One plump girl plonked down next to me and asked me what I was there was. When I told her, she gave a visible shudder and said “My god, won’t that hurt? I’d never do something like that!” I smiled and told her it would be worth it. Then I asked her what she was there for. She said she was having her eyebrow pierced. EEEWW…AAARGGG…YEEEEOOOOOWWWWWW! My turn to shudder…
I admit to having doubts right upto the last minute. I am not one of those poeple who is scared of needles but the thought of being etched for the good part of an hour is not particularly pleasing. Then I saw the colours….red, yellow, blue, black. And I thought of how they would look against my skin. I thought of art that would live as long as I would. And I took a deep breath and said, “Okay, lets do it”
It was painful. But not unbearably so. The assistant told me, “Don’t try to avoid the pain. Think about where it hurts and why. Confront it.” It worked. I stopped squirming and the artist was able to go about his work. I think he got really wrapped up in the dragon too, since it turned out larger than we’d anticipated. The flip-side of it was that the anasthesia didn’t cover the remaining skin and I felt every single jab for its full worth. When I got up to examine the outline of the dragon, I thought I understood why mothers look at their newborns and forget the pain of labour. At least I wasn’t getting ripped apart, I thought and settled back to complete the tattoo.
Filling in the colours was excruciating. I paint and I can now appreciate, what a marvelous tool the brush is. I imagine if every single spot had to be painted individually, I’d lose my interest for good. The artist didn’t waver for a minute though and not one spot of colour landed where it wasn’t supposed to.
Three-quarters of an hour later my dragon was ready. A neat piece of cling-wrap over it to keep the dust from getting into the wounds and I was ready to face the world with my dragon.
It has been three months since then. I could write about the immediate aftermath of the tattoo. The reddening of the entire area, the maddening itching, the peeling and the drying. I couldn’t sleep on the tattoo for a month since the skin was so sensitive. But that was a long time ago. It has healed since then and integrated into my skin.
I have wondered briefly if I’ll stop liking the dragon after some time. But I think it just has become a part of me now. I originally pictured a very angry dragon. Mine doesn’t look too fierce but I guess I can relate to this one much better than my original idea. Rather cute looking but watch out for the flames….
Each day there are moments when I wonder why I live the life I do. Then I look at my tattoo and I feel good because it reminds me of the slightly wild, off-the-track girl I used to be and who I know is never too far away. This tattoo is something I did, not because it was fashionable or important. I did it because I wanted to. And I’m proud of it.