Monday, January 16, 2012
What I learned about my tattoo on my cruise ship
In addition to not getting any email, I also received some education on my cruise ship (a surprise!) When I got my PhD, I also got a tattoo, to commemorate the occasion. It was a struggle to decide what I was going to get permanently inked on to my body, but eventually I decided I would keep it simple and get a single word tattooed on my upper spine: samadhi. This word was half of the name of an album of one of my favorite bands (Live: secret samadhi) and I had looked it up several years prior to getting my PhD and learned that it had a hard-to-translate meaning in sanskrit which could somewhat be summed up as "perfect concentration." I wanted to have it written in devanagari, which is the writing system currently commonly used to write in sanksrit.
Because devanagari is also commonly used to write several Modern Indian languages, I asked my Tamil-speaking friend to assure me that the modern usage of this particular word was not going to make every Indian person I walked by in my swim suit shake their head at my ignorance and then giggle (another graduate student in our department at the time had a Chinese character tattoo which, hopefully unbeknownst to her, read "fart." This made even my sweetest-officemate-in-the-world Taiwanese officemate perform the aforementioned head shake and giggle whenever it was brought up.) She looked at the word and informed me that in Tamil, it means "grave," and is commonly used in the idiom "I'm going to dig your grave," which is comparable to the English "I'm going to bury you." I thought that this made the tattoo even more awesome (I definitely have an "I'm going to bury you" aspect to my personality). In fact when I told this story to the tattoo artist who inked me she said that she was going to save the printout of the design I had brought in and suggest it to slightly less well-researched people coming in for non-Roman character tattoos in the future.
Cut to the line to disembark my cruise ship last Thursday for Norwegian Cruise Lines' private island. Norwegian has a proudly multi-cultural staff, and it turned out that one of the facilitators managing the crazy "we're going to a private caribbean island" line was Nepali. Because I was in my swimsuit, he read my tattoo right off my back while I was waiting, since apparently the word 'samadhi" has a meaning in Nepali as well! I told him my little story about the sanskrit and Tamil (when people ask me about my tattoo I go into a very professorish spiel about its ancient origins, in part because I am paranoid that people think that I moronically got "fart" tattooed on me in some foreign language out of ignorance), and he in turn told me the Nepali translation of the word: the end of life. He had to think about it for a second, so I got the sense that it was another somewhat difficult translation.
I loved this additional data point about my tattoo, not only because of its serendipitous mode of acquisition (i.e., an Nepali cruise line facilitator standing behind me while I waited in my swimsuit to disembark for a private caribbean island), but also because it fits with my own private fantasy about the word's etymology. Essentially, the idea that one can only reach "perfect concentration" in death. This just so story ties in with a little speech some TV yogi gave about the corpse pose on a cable yoga show I was watching once at 3AM (...after I had just watched 28 days later and was in a month long stretch of not being able to sleep for fear of zombies). Basically, as the class was practicing corpse pose, he said that the thought corpse pose was the hardest pose in all of yoga. "Anyone can bend and contort themselves into crazy shapes, with enough practice," he said, "but corpse pose requires us to think like a corpse, which is much more difficult."