Interview by Kshitiz Roy (Online Journalist, Itattooz) on 10th June 2012
On a warm, sweaty, typical Delhi evening, I finalize my appointment with Tennyson, the tattoo artists at WIND STAR TATTOOS- a tattoo shop near the bustling Kamla Nagar market. With the North Campus of Delhi University at just a stone’s throw from the place, the market place is buzzing with juvenile young faces. I trod along the by lanes of the market, incidentally brushing past some ‘tattooed’ youngsters and I realize, tattooing is in the process of establishing its foothold in this part of the city.
I am in the ‘WIND STAR TATTOOS’. The ambiance is not what I had assumed to find; cramped spaces filled with two stools, a stretcher, few tables a booming sound system which is playing a hip-hop Punjabi music, a rack filled with numerous tattoo ink bottles and pale white walls with some pencil sketches, refuse to give the shop an Avant-grade look which is generally associated with Tattoo shops all over the world. It is then I realize I am in India.
Tennyson, the tattoo artist, is tattooing a young girl who seems to be in her early teens. Her entire family is here to be the testimony of her first tattooing experience. Her sister is chirping by her side hailing the tattoo design every now and then, her mother, sitting on a stool nearby looks unsure and lost as if she is finding it hard to digest this blunt manifestation of the ever widening generation gap and her father appears dumbstruck and frustrated at having lost this cultural battle with her daughter. This is their gift to her on her 16th birthday. It’s the Indian youth waging a cultural battle with the age old set of established trends. Tattooing is the way to go, it is shining India’s latest fashion trend.
As I wait for Tennyson to finish the tattoo and start the conversation, my fluttering eyes catch a cute little mice who sits coyly near a table just inches away from the little girl. I wonder what a mice is doing at a place like tattoo shop where extreme hygiene care ought to be maintained! The shop has got a lot more surprises to throw in front of my amazed eyes. A few burnt cigarettes in an ash tray catch my sight making mockery of the hygiene issues. It is then I realize, Indian tattoo industry is yet to wriggle its way out of infancy.
Finally, after ten minutes of sheer vocal cacophony of laughter, occasional cries of the young girl and the irritating crooning of the tattooing machine, Tennyson is done with the tattoo. The young girl is brimming with joy unbound as his exasperated father pays Tennyson.
Finally we settle down for a talk. Tennyson lends me a smile and I reciprocate!
- So? I begin, trying to give it sound as informal as I can.
- TENNYSON – Hi, Kshitiz. Sorry For the Delay. I was stuck with the girl, you see.
- Me- It’s OK. It was a pleasure witnessing change!
Tennyson, I realize is a serious guy who loves what he does. Yet, deep down inside him, I smell something smoldering.
- ME – Tennyson, in a country like India where hygiene is always given a secondary priority, what’s the scene with Tattoo Hygiene?
- TENNYSON – Yeh, It has to do with awareness. You see, people who visit tattoo shops are motivated by the desire to look stylish. When style is on top of their mind, hygiene takes the back seat. That is to say that the general crowd does not question us about the hygiene standards being maintained. Tattooing, in India is yet to be institutionalized, hence there is no interaction between the tattoo artist and tattoo lovers.
- ME– Hmmmm……go on!
- TENNYSON – That said, things are not as bleak as they appear. We, as tattoo artist, do care to maintain adequate tattoo hygiene standards in our shops. With various agencies like EPA coming into play, the hygiene issues are getting our top priority. We do use sterilized machinery, autoclave bags and maintain proper sanitation standards.
- ME – I see! And what about the tastes of the crowd which show up in your shop? Are they aware with the intricacies of tattooing?
- TENNYSON – Tattoos symbolize uniqueness, they address the individualistic tendencies. In a way, tattoos stands for liberation! Statistically speaking, more than 70% of the crowd that pours in our shop is aware about the hygiene issues related with tattooing. We strictly advise them to follow the tattoo after care rules.
- ME – In a country obsessed with Engineers and Doctors, how challenging it is to become a tattoo artist?
- TENNYSON – It is! Definitely. The problem with taking up tattoo art as a career is that we do not have any institution that promotes this art form. Most importantly, there is no financial stability associated with tattoo art. We lag behind the western world in tattooing not because we do not have artistic caliber but because there is no structure backing us up. It’s all in the mindset of people. Plus we do lack proper funding. One can just hope things can change for better.
- ME – Do you, as a tattoo artist feel the need for a organized platform for tattoo artists which is dedicated to promote their interests?
- TENNYSON – Yeh…Definitely! This is what most of the tattoo artist pine for – a portal where one gels in with the best of the business, a platform which addresses the marketing and promotional needs of the artists, a set up which can help us launch ourselves into the mainstream.
- ME – Did you at any point of your career feel the need for a proper Tattoo Apprenticeship so that you could hone your skills?
- TENNYSON – Oh Yes! I did. I chose this career because I was passionate about tattoos. But now I feel that had I get a chance to work under some skilled hands, things could have been different. Apprenticeship is a must for every tattoo artist. I just hope that with the passage of time, Indian tattoo industry comes up with more and more tattoo apprenticeship opportunities.
- ME – What about tattoo designs? From where do you get inspiration for tattoo designs?
- TENNYSON – Look, basically there are two types of tattoo designs which we use; STOCK DESIGNS AND CUSTOMIZED DESIGNS. For stock designs, we usually go online and borrow designs from over there. We do change the tattoo designs keeping in mind the socio-cultural set up of India. Religious symbols like ‘OM’ and Sikh symbols are a few designs which people demand. We customize designs for them.
- ME – Do they ask for bold symbols related with sexuality?
- TENNYSON – No not usually. Tattoo is still considered as a taboo in this part of the globe. The conservative section of the society is yet to accept tattooing as an artistic manifestation of human thoughts.
- ME – How do you go about advertising your tattoo shop?
- TENNYSON – As for now, it is just mouth-to-mouth advertising. People come here to get tattooed, they go out, tell their friends and they come here. That’s the way!
- ME– OK.
I do have many questions invading my mind but a young guy is in the shop. Perhaps, he is getting a tattoo to woo his girlfriend. I do not want to spoil his moment and Tennyson’s business. I wish him Best of Luck and come out of the shop wishing for things to change. Tennyson is waving me goodbye!
In case you can suggest me any other tattoo artist whom you want me to interview, call me at 9953236758 or write at email@example.com