I have a tattoo on my lower back. It was given to me by the grandson of a tribal village chief. I grimaced for hours on the floor as he used the primitive tools and ingredients that had tattooed his Iban people for centuries, on me, a girl from a big city.
I’d always wanted a tattoo, but didn’t know what; this one crept up on me. Like the girl I was there with (we had a crazy idea: we would visit and live with an Iban community in a longhouse and celebrate Hari Gawai with them), I wasn’t expecting any of this. The girl, the tattoo, or that I would have such a story to tell many years after the fact. I chose a bunch of tribal motifs from an album and told him to make it up. I got lucky: I like my tattoo very much, even if it is what some people would call a tramp stamp. I’m proud of it. There’s a story to tell each time anyone asks about it.
The girl is no more in my life but the tattoo remains, defiantly representing all of the new beginnings I will embrace in life. Tomorrow, I start a new life and more and more I feel as though the year of grieving and floating, which so profoundly altered my path and direction in life as well as my livelihood and future plans, is finally about to draw to a conclusive close.
I am finally ready for another tattoo. This time, I know exactly where it should be, what it should say and what it should look like. I would not have known this without the pain of my first tattoo. It will be a beautiful Sanskrit verse from the Bhagavad Gita and I intend to have it inscribed on my upper left shoulder. This time, I will harbour no plans or illusions about the permanence of anything other than that of the Sanskrit verse on my shoulder; this time, I will learn to love without needing to know the world.