The Tablet of Bliss
By Rajeev Balasubramanyam
Location: College Road, Whalley Range
Our hero has fifteen tattoos:
On his back: his sons’ names, a winged cross, and the words ‘Guardian Angel’.
On his left arm: a picture of his wife, her name in Hindi, the words ‘Forever by Your Side’ and ‘Ut Amen Et Foveam’ − So That I Love and Cherish. On his right arm: the Roman numeral ‘VII,’ two angels, a classical design, the motto ‘In the Face of Adversity,’ and ‘Perfectio In Spiritu’ − Spiritual Perfection. Running from his nipple to his groin, a Chinese proverb: ‘Death and life have determined appointments. Riches and honour depend on heaven.’
His body was his work, his body was a work of art, and we have ruined it, Malini and I.
But no, my wife is not to blame.
I am a proud proud man. I have a scar running from my eye to my chin. I made the mark myself after I painted my last wedding portrait: Mr and Mrs Sanjeev Shah from North Harrow who requested that their Audi Q7 − ‘Keeps you and your family safe’ − gleam grey in the silence between them.
But this was how I paid my bills.
My name is K− and I am a political miniaturist. My works are vast, spacious, sweeping, panoramic − oh yes! − but with detail so tiny I can fit all humanity on a shrinking white canvas. The closer you look, the finer a story you hear:
Hiroshima: August 6, 1945: twenty seconds before impact.
Banks, restaurants, offices, cafes, brothels, railways, dentists, hospitals, schools. Children, parents, invalids, lawyers, thieves and priests. Above them all, three aircraft, cross-sectioned: the Enola Gay, the Necessary Evil, and the Great Artiste. Colonel Paul Tibbet, smiling, crying, erect. It has been my habit to strip away surfaces as I please. X-ray upon x-ray. Skin sheared. Walls removed. Life in all its allness. You can even see his semen.
New York: 9/11.
Similar to Hiroshima, but we cannot see inside the plane.
Sex, everywhere sex. London’s whores in basements and castles. Royals piercing bleeding mouths. Parliament and palace laid bare. In a Liverpool Street hotel, Netanyahu is on the phone. In Downing Street, Blair is too. In Russell Square, a bus spews arms and legs.
They didn’t like this one, and I was punished. ‘A propagandist.’ ‘An inciter.’ ‘Crudity of style.’ ‘A heavy hand.’ And then. Nothing. They simply left me alone.
We lived off one salary after that. I became aloof. In anger I cut tiny drawings all over my body, the pain loudspeaking to my brain in protest. I cut a whip into the sole of my left foot, a flame into my right; I was going to remove my toe when Malini intervened−
‘I’ve been to the doctor−’
And soon we had no income at all. Like these folk.