Cultural Appropriation Part Two: A Tori story about bad tattoo choices
Cultural appropriation is a serious issue. My objective with this somewhat amusing story is not to take away from or negate it's very real implications for people and cultures. This is one example of cultural appropriation from my own life and one of the many learning opportunities that has led me to my current approach to yoga and western yoga culture. And because it's me, of course it's slightly ridiculous.
Hello, my name is Tori, and I have a really idiotic tattoo on my head.
Back in my early 20's when, like all people at this age, I was certainly wise beyond my years, I went on my first big trip abroad to Thailand and India. Thailand for partying, India for penance. I had recently downed the born-again yoga koolaid and planned volunteering with an Indian NGO as seva, or selfless service. Not that the NGO (Parikrma, you do amazing work) really needed me or my 24-year-old expertise but going made me feel like an awesome person and honestly that mattered more to me at the time. Obviously, I hadn't really grasped the selfless concept. The Thailand part of the trip was as part of a large group. I can't remember how exactly the idea for a group tattoo session came about, but given that we were a bunch of twenty-somethings in Kho Phi Phi, alcohol and Redbull were definitely involved.
Now, getting a tattoo when you're hungover/possibly still kinda drunk is never a good idea. Getting the Sanskrit word for 'Ultimate Truth' which a friend printed off Google tattooed on your head in a shop on a Thai beach while hungover/possibly still kinda drunk is just the worst idea ever. I own that.
The tattoo artist, who to his credit did a lovely job on the design behind my right ear, decided that the way 'Sat' (if that's even what it said) looked in Sanskrit wasn't the right shape for my left ear. So, in our wisdom we decided break up the letters and place them vertically. I did briefly wonder if it would still have the same meaning. But figured why wouldn't it? If you break up the English letters in 'truth' you still get the same meaning. Why would Sanskrit be any different??? How about because it's a different freakin' language with a totally different letter system! Sigh. This might be a good time to mention that I grew up in small town rural Alberta.
My tattoo would likely be considered offensive if anyone who spoke Hindi could actually read it. When I got to India and proudly showed it off no one had any idea what it said. One guy asked if it was French. I asked five different people to translate it before I finally conceded that it wasn't Sanskrit. When I got back to Canada I told people is was Sanskrit anyway.
You could say my tattoo is the Indian equivalent of that George Carlin joke about the wannabe with a Chinese caricature tattoo that says 'beef with broccoli.' Though my now faded and blurry blobs would probably translate into something like, 'Don't ask a Thai dude to write on your head in googled Sanskrit.' or 'If ever you get too high on your horse, remember you have this.' Mostly it just looks like a dyslectic bird crapped on my head.