She’s got a gun!
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She’s got a gun!

What’s hotter than a tattoo? A woman holding the drill. Meet the women making their mark on Indian skin, writes Kasturi Gandhi.

brunch Updated: Oct 06, 2012 16:12 IST
Kasturi Gandhi
Kasturi Gandhi
Hindustan Times

As kids, while most of us were busy saving every penny in our piggybanks for a doll or a remote-controlled car, Samiyah Saud was toying with a different idea. She wanted to jam needles into other people’s skins, and for that she needed a tattoo drill. But she could never save enough cash. “I remember when I took my savings to the women selling tattoo drills at the Bandra Fair, they turned me away,” recalls Saud. “They wanted a thousand bucks! Dejected, I returned home and forgot about it.”

But, fate had other plans for her. Working as a journalist in 2007, she met someone who changed her life forever. “I met Rick Strickland, a California-based tattoo artist, on the Internet. I told him that I always wanted to learn the art, and he promised to send me a tattoo drill,” she says. Obviously, Saud didn’t expect to get a freebie from across the seas, but one evening, she received her gift. “I was so stoked! I knew, at that moment, that tattooing is my true calling.”

Today, Saud (aka Sam) is a professional tattoo artist at Mumbai’s TattooStar Collective. She’s one of a growing number of women who’ve begun drilling their way into the male-dominated universe of Indian tattoo art. Anita Alva, a tattoo artist with Mumbai’s Al’s Tattoo Parlour, believes that very soon, female tattoo artists are going to give men a run for their money. “Many young girls enquire about our training programmes,” she reveals.


Ink spell
It’s clear. Women want to learn how to drill and most professional tattoo artists feel that the best way to go about it is to learn the art under someone. Had Saud not trained under Swapnil Gawde, owner and tattoo artist at Mumbai’s TattooStar Collective, she says she wouldn’t have made it as a professional artist. “The training period is crucial because that way we can assess your experience in tattooing and also get to know you,” says Gawde.


Tattoo drill

Samir Patange, owner and mentor at Kraayonz, stresses how learning tattooing is tougher than painting. “There’s no erasing or using a new page,” he says. Anita Alva seeks inspiration from her brothers, Al and Arun of Al’s. She would spend time with her brothers at the parlour when she was not at her “boring” corporate job at Stream International. Within months, she made Al’s her full-time office and became a tattoo artist. “Watching my brothers express themselves through tattoos was what drove me to try it.”

Eye of the needle
The idea of an armed woman doesn’t unsettle male clients. In fact, it’s helpful. For Denver D’Abreo, a bartender with a luxury liner, getting his tattoo from a woman was a treat! “It was so distracting that I felt no pain!” he says.

For female clients, the idea of having a woman tattoo them is a more comfortable experience. Wanda Quadros, a Mumbai student who recently got a tattoo on her back, says, “I’m glad I knew the guy tattooing me. If it were a complete stranger and a man at that, it would’ve been awkward.” Tanushka Kitt, a fashion designer, has had men and women tattoo her. “A girl’s hand is lighter and that reduces the pain, I think,” she says.

Sadly, the picture isn’t so cheery for the artists themselves. “I’m pretty sure my first client let me practise tattooing on him so he could ask me out eventually,” says Shyamli Panda, tattoo artist at Devilz Tattooz in Delhi. “Barring that, I feel fortunate to work with such amazing artists,” she says.


Breaking stereotypes

People still think of tattoo parlours as hippie-infested, drug peddling haunts. But things have changed. For 29-year-old Ranjita Sharma, it was her husband who suggested that she should try her hand at tattooing. “We had gone to Goa where we got our first tattoos. After that, I enrolled for training at KDz Tattoo in Delhi,” she says.

And if you walked into TattooStar Collective, Bandra, you would find a little girl immersed in her world of colours. Saud’s three-year-old daughter Sitarah loves visiting the parlour to watch her mother. “I was tattooing when I was pregnant and even after. Now, Sitarah makes tattoos for friends with a pen, making the drilling sound for effect.” Saud also plans to take the tattoo industry further, inking clients in the comfort of their home. “Like tattoos delivered at your doorstep,” she says. Sharma has big plans too. “Work is already underway for the studio I’m going to run with my husband in Assam!”

From HT Brunch, October 7

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First Published: Oct 06, 2012 16:06 IST