Why Batman?

A few weeks back I was sipping on some whisky in a cabin when a friend asked me about my obsession with Batman. While I wouldn’t necessarily say I am ‘obsessed’ as such (fascination is the word I’ll use), it would be untrue and insincere of me to dismiss the fact that for me Batman is more than just a simple superhero. For me, he is The Superhero.

When I was asked that question I happened to be wearing a Hulk tee-shirt (I happen to have an unhealthy collection of superhero t-shirts) and I remarked that my current body type- fat- and temperament were more aligned to the green-hued gamma ray-accident victim with a short fuse than the calm madness of the Caped Crusader. Not having the inclination for a long winding answer, I went for the short route that most Batman fans are familiar with and expected to give- because everyone can become Batman.

Anyone remotely familiar with the lore of the Batman knows that underneath that angry cowl and suit is Bruce Wayne- bored millionaire whose life has been forever scarred after witnessing the death of his parents as a child outside of a theatre at the hands of a petty thief in Gotham city. That singular event is what filled the young Master Wayne’s heart with the rage that would eventually motivate him to train his mind, body and soul to punish bad guys and bring to book those who flout the law with unabashed audacity.

But this single event only serves as a trigger for him to become a vigilante. This is not what makes him Batman (apart from the cool gadgets, a killer car and the gravelling voice that is supposed to instil fear in the hearts of criminals).

You see, unlike the other superheroes that we are all so familiar with, Batman does not have any special powers as such other than being born into a wealthy family. He is also not a victim/beneficiary of a freak accident that gives him super strength, super speed or super anything. No. Batman is the manifestation of a well-oiled machine resulting from years of dedication to mastering his craft of martial arts and mental training. But in my opinion, that is still not what makes Bruce Wayne, Batman.

A few years back when it was announced that Ben Affleck would don the cowl of the Batman for the next set of live-action DC films, I wasn’t too convinced. In fact, I really hated it. But watching ‘Batman vs Superman’ convinced me that Batfleck was suited for this vision of an older more experienced Batman. Christian Bale and Kevin Conrad will undoubtedly remain the benchmark for all future Batmans but Affleck’s take is different and I didn’t mind it too much. Mind you, I am yet to have watched the new Justice League movie.

Now, why in heaven’s name did I spend a paragraph giving my opinion on Ben Affleck’s Batman? The reason being, that every fan has her two cents to offer as to how Batman should be portrayed. And the reason for that is that for true fans, Batman isn’t really about the man portraying him but rather about whether he can capture the essence of being Batman.

And what does being Batman mean?

In the fight scene in ‘Batman vs Superman’, Batman tells Superman that he isn’t brave and that men are brave. Why is this line important enough for me to bring it up? Because that captures the essence of who Batman is and who Superman can never be.

Now, as a kid I idolised Superman. An honest man who always did the right thing because that is what must be done- which ten-year-old awkward kid won’t like that. But as I grew older, I realised that being Superman was difficult. Superman always does the right thing. Batman does what must be done. Being Batman is an even more difficult task.

Imagine you are Superman- strong of body and character, able to stop bullets with your bare hands, fly (fucking fly!!!), have x-ray vision, shoot laser beams out of your eyes- would you ever enter a fight fearing for your life? When your only weakness is a rare green rock which few people in the known universe have, are you brave or arrogant with self-belief? And that is why I want to be Batman.

I realise that I am fallible. I know that I can make mistakes. I know that underneath the Batsuit, I am just a man. And that is why when a man with no stereotypical superpowers to boast of takes on the responsibility to protect others, becomes a superhero.

Anyone with Superman’s powers can become a protector because really, who or what can harm him. But a bullet to his chin can kill Batman. Yet, he is out there standing on gargoyles looking over his city to protect the innocent, the weak, and the meek.

Think of a single mother who fights battles constantly for her children. Think of the manual labourer who works two jobs a day to put together two square meals a day for his family. Think of children born with disabilities but still smile through the day and build a better hand for themselves than what life had handed them. Those are the real superheroes.

Anyone born with special powers under the right circumstances can become Superman. Very few of us have the determination but if we tried hard enough, we can all be Batman.

 

Advertisements

Tattooed Tales: Behind the Apatani tattoo

In the kitchen of the home-stay that she and her husband run, Narang Yamyang said that the woman who tattooed her face refused to continue if she showed any signs of experiencing pain. Left with no choice, she remained motionless through the entire process.

Until the early 1970s, it was common practice for Apatani girls of Ziro Valley to get their faces tattooed and sport nose-plugs. The process was conducted in the winter to quicken the drying process, was often long and always painful.

The tattoos, called tiipe in the Apatani language, on a woman usually run from the top of the forehead to the tip of the nose, complemented by five strips starting from the edge of the bottom lip to the end of the chin. Some also pierced their noses and over the course of time larger nose-plugs made of cane called yaping huto would be placed. The ink that was used is basically soot (called chinyu) collected from the bottom of heavily-used cooking utensils. And no fancy tattoo needles here; what was used as a ‘needle’ was made by tying together a bunch of three-headed thorns called iimo-tre. A small stick hammer called empiia yakho helped produce the necessary pressure to pierce the skin and hammer in the ink.

Once a defining character of the Apatani people, the practice was banned by a tribal youth organisation in 1972; the penalty for which was almost equivalent to the price of an adult mithun at that time.

Yamyang said she got herself tattooed sometime after that but was not fined because her father had passed away and the implementing organisation spared her the penalty.

Narang Yamyang with her husband Tam at their paddy field.

Having been socially abolished over four decades back, getting a glimpse of the tattooed women of Ziro is becoming a rare sight. Everyone who sports them is at least over 50 years old. It has completely disappeared among young Apatani women.

Tattooing has existed in different cultures throughout the world. From the Polynesians to the yantra tattoos of the Tai people, tattoos have been always part of human civilisation and have survived till the 21st century with varying degrees of prevalence. Closer home, tattooing was common among the Baiga people of Chota Nagpur Plateau. In the Northeast, among the Naga tribes, it was a matter of pride for men to sport certain tattoos as it was an indicator of their martial skills. Unlike most modern-day tattoos, in the lives of indigenous communities, tattoos usually signified a rite of passage and a coming age for young men and women. So why did the Apatani women get them done?

At the very outset, it is important to note that it is not just the women but also the men who once got facial tattoos made, although the men only drew one thick line down the middle of their chin. Regardless, both men and women only got tattooed after they had reached puberty. It is when trying to unearth the reason why the practice started is where things get interesting.

Images of smiling women with blue-hued tattoos and nose-plugs abound the internet. The most repeated (and most believed) story of why the women had them made was because the Apatani women were so beautiful that the men of the ‘neighbouring tribe’ would repeatedly raid their villages and kidnap them. While this does not explain why the men got tattoos, many people, including those of the aforementioned ‘neighbouring tribe’, still believe there is credence to the story.

Yamyang’s husband, Tam, said that the story probably began once young Apatani people began to move out of the Valley and felt “awkward” when people, especially the plainsmen of Assam, would stare at them.

In the absence of any documented evidence of mass kidnappings of Apatani women ever having had taken place, the story is apocryphal at best and what anthropologist may describe as a type of cultural cringe where people are made to feel that certain aspects of their cultural practices are inferior and must be discarded.

Tam said that earlier it was essential for an Apatani to have a tattoo as it was a mark of their identity. “People would not even get married if their faces were not tattooed in the old days,” he said.

There are other explanations offered by the older Apatanis and the women who have the tattoos.

Tilling Rilung, an agriculturalist and wife of a gaon bura (village headman), said that the tattoos were made to distinguish between the Apatani people and the neighbouring Nyishis, indicating that it acted as a marker of tribal identity.

Like most other women who spoke of their experiences, Rilung too had to be held down on the floor when she was getting her tattoo made.

IMG_20171008_194905

Duyu Dinsung got her tattoo at her father’s behest who told her that it was an important marker of the Apatani identity.

Duyu Dinsung is another woman who said it was a painful experience and resonated Rilung’s explanation that they were made so as to distinguish between the Apatani and Nyishi people.

Hage Tado Nanya, a progressive farmer and a pioneering face of women’s engagement in Apatani society who also happens to be the reigning Mrs Arunachal, said that she was among one of the last batches of girls who got tattooed after the ban was imposed.

As with those who actually had had their faces tattooed, she too dismissed the kidnapping story and even claimed that the practice existed among the Apatani before they migrated to present-day Ziro centuries ago. In fact, she claims that the seeds of the iimo-tre plant were brought during the migration period.

The story behind the Apatani tattoo may have gotten lost in recent years and replaced with another. While there is no consensus over the origins of the practice, what everyone- tattooed or not- does agree on is that it is good that the practice has stopped.