As a kid, one of my few (read only) duties was to ferry milk from the milkmaid to the kitchen, preferably before spilling most of the liquid. It was something I invariably failed at, for I just couldn’t get the inky green ‘Ghanshyam’ (her husband’s name) writ deeply on the milkmaid’s inner forearm, out of my head.
‘That must hurt!’ ‘How can someone allow someone else’s name to be pierced on their arm?’ ‘Wait, is that permanent?’ were only some of the questions that tormented my young brain about her ‘godna’, a practice still popular in Rajasthan.
But a few years later, when Saif Ali Khan decided to get ‘Kareena’ tattooed on the exact same spot, close on the heels of David Beckham’s wrongly spelt ‘Victoria’ tattoo, my predicament had long been replaced by a celebrity-infused ennui. From a primitive practice to the hipster symbol of rebellion, tattoos were tracing the same trail inked by many popular trends of the past. First, a tiny, fashionable clique discovers/adapts a new trend, then it quickly grows as a symbol of the latest ‘it-thing’. Soon, percolating into the mainstream, it’s seen in street markets and on your friendly neighbourhood electrician; by now it’s heading straight for the red-flagged ‘out’ zone. And tattoos, buzzing in no less than 195 parlours in Delhi alone, and probably as many in other cities, have had ‘mainstream’ street-cred for a while.
Tat Smear Test
Lokesh Verma, owner of Devilz Tattoos in Delhi, ranked the Best Tattoo Studio Chain in India by a lifestyle magazine recently, agrees. "When I started from a studio in Vasant Vihar more than eight years ago, I inked about 15-20 clients a month. Now that figure is between 250-300." And those lining up for the needle are far from the usual suspects. No testosterone-fuelled, tribal-motif-toting burly boys or cupid-cavorting-cohort of giggly girls here. "It’s more of a fashion statement now and a lot of Delhi aunties come to get tattoos from us," says Lokesh, barely hiding his glee over the telephone line.
To Decor or not to Decor
A design that eloquently reveals spiritual altitude with sartorial savvy on an off-shoulder dress or a body-fit tee, a tattoo is the certain, albeit slightly dated, lingua franca for many.
“It’s no more a question of whether, but where,” admits Abhinav Tripathi, senior creative director at McCann Erickson, who proudly sports no less than five different tattoos. “And that’s made tattoos something barely noticeable.”
Harmeet Bajaj, a former professor at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, and a fashion and lifestyle consultant, supports that. “It’s now like an accessory, something like jewellry that people can decorate their bodies with. And over the years, it’s become an accepted social norm, rather than a sign of ‘rebellion’. Tattoos hardly raise the same eyebrows as they did a couple of years ago.”
“It’s a must-have, like the new phone or the latest car. Most of my colleagues have tattoos and even more are getting them. It’s almost like the piercing fad a few years ago,” says Tripathi, who got inked for the first time in Goa in 2006, and considers his tattoos similar to Aamir Khan’s amnesiac character’s in Ghajini. “For me they are reminders, kind of milestones of personal achievements. Not many people were getting tattooed when I first did, and I remember it achieving instant cooler-talk fame in office. People would come and ask me to show it to them. And even though I want more, the only reason I haven’t gone under the machine in the last two-three years is because I have nothing new to add.”
Buzz is All Around Us
Needless to say, the party capital of the country, Goa, was the first to get access to safe and hygienic tattoo artists, attracting enthusiasts like Tripathi from around the country. Professor A K Kapoor from the department of anthropology, Delhi University, who did extensive research on the tattoo patterns among tribes in various states, says that tattoos have long been the symbols of identifications for tribes in rural India and urban tattoos also developed as a emblem of belonging to an elite outfit, thriving initially in tourist-inhabited areas like Goa.
Juhi Pande, a popular VJ for Channel V, who has gone under the machine nine different times and is planning a repeat soon, says that higher accessibility is another reason for tattoos going mainstream.
“In the early 2000s, the popularity of tattoos suddenly hit India but good artists weren’t easily available, unlike today. You had to wait to travel abroad to get a tattoo if you really wanted one,” she says.
And it was that really badly wanting of the tattoos that made one search one’s soul for the apt symbol of self-expression, something that today’s there-by-the-dozen tattoo parlours with their competitively lower prices, seem to have obliterated.
“It shouldn’t be like a trend, or buying a pair of shoes, which can easily wear off. I get tattoos because I am really fond of body art and view it as a personal, even if permanent choice. It’s a decision that’s going to stay with you for the rest of your life and a putting a little thought into it helps,” says Juhi.
And the absence of that thought infuriates Rohit Kant, proud flaunter of 13 tattoos, and a practitioner of hand-painted product art. “You wake up, select your favourite band on the iPod, have a coffee and decide to get a tattoo! The process has become more famous than the product; it’s not about getting a tattoo now, but tattooing,” he says.
Directing his ire at those who want tattoos so that others can see them rather than themselves, Rohit adds, “Somehow, a lot of people want tattoos where they can’t see them, but that defeats the whole purpose of getting one. You should want to see it every day and be inspired. And that can happen only if it means something to you and isn’t a random design from the Net.”
As a sure-fire guide on whether your tattoo could be a mistake, Rohit offers, “If you have already thought about getting it clicked and figured the details of the post on Facebook, then think hard about your reasons for getting a tattoo. And never get one when intoxicated, it hardly ends happily.” So what do Rohit’s 13 tattoos display? Portraits of his entire family and his adopted dog, along with designs of paint brushes.
Wrong Turn of Hand
When Johnny Depp converted his ‘Winona’ tattoo (for his then girlfriend Winona Ryder) to ‘Wino’ and Pamela Anderson changed her ‘Tommy’ of ex-hubby Tommy Lee Jones to ‘Mommy’, they brought the aftermath of the hasty tattoo into public consciousness. And if you wonder why Deepika Padukone grins and bears with her ‘R’ tattoo, a symbol for ex-boyfriend Ranbir, the reason could well be the effort behind the process.
Dr Chiranjiv Chhabra, dermatologist at Skin Alive Clinic, Delhi, explains: “Depending on the kind of ink used, the process of tattoo removal could take anywhere between three and eight months. Even though a world-class laser technique is involved, which ensures minimal pain, you have to wait for one or two months between each session for the removal to be effective.”
When e-detoxes are becoming all the rage, friend lists are getting trimmer than waists, and a no-Facebook status the new-status symbol, it’s clear that the age of anti-establishment is well upon us. No one wants to be doing as their neighbour does, and tattooing ranks high on that list.
Fashion trend analyst and blogger Harilein Sabarwal declares the trend officially over. “India is a country of herd mentality and follows fads. Once it reaches the masses, it’s as quickly discarded. You can see a tattoo guy along with a local maalish walla on the beaches of Bandra. So, it’s no more a niche thing to do.”
That’s not to say that it won’t follow the complete cycle of a fashion trend and make a comeback after it’s completely out. We only hope that if it does, it does so as a classic.
Worst Celeb Tattoos
Rihanna’s chart-topping numbers might have crowned her the First Lady of Hip-Hop, but her recent tattoo of ‘Thug Life’ in pink ink on her knuckles gets her the top spot on this list.
Rapper Gucci Mane tattooed a three-scooped ice-cream cone right on his cheek (the face!) to tell the world he is ‘ice cold’.
Couple tattoos seldom see a happy ending, but when tattoo artist Kat Von D got serial-cheater and Sandra Bullock’s ex Jesse James’ portrait as a 10-year-old child tattooed on her torso, it took them to a new level altogether.
Famous for being famous, Katie Price obviously didn’t think her tattoo through when she got ex-hubby’s name ‘Pete’ inked on her wrist. When they broke up, she simply had it crossed out!
Britney Spears not only messed up her Chinese symbol which now reads ‘strange’ instead of ‘mysterious’ but also the Kabbalah symbols she tattooed on her neck. They are now a garbled mess instead of reading ‘healing’ as they were meant to.
From HT Brunch, March 4
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