*The following words belong to Hendry Lama, one of the first tattoo artists of India, and one of the last ones to remain true to the craft and life of tattooing. Hendry has seen it all in Indian tattooing, and this is what he feels is the state of the Indian tattoo scene.*
Growing up in 80’s with Led Zep and Andy Warhol wasn’t easy. Somehow, I realised that ‘smells like teen spirit’ got me into thinking I’m gonna do something different in life. Though I had a degree in science, but it wasn’t helping me out in a small hamlet of Darjeeling. Life was funny then. Mistakes, and no lessons. Then I met one crazy guy from Sweden doing his own thang – Marking people with his art. The smirk in his face enticed me to dissemble my mom’s hair dryer into a make shift tattoo machine… thanks to her that she found out only a month later. And thanks to all the brave heart friends back home who are still carrying my basicano tattoos made out of ball pen stencil, Chinese painting ink and sewing needles, and lots of hours. TBH, hygiene was a far-fetched idea back then.
Finally, I had a break to come to the capital in 2001, and was confused with real tattoo machines, needles and ink. It took me days to figure out about power supply and magnum needles… no pun intended, as I wasn’t familiar with flat magnum needles jumbled together and all that jazz. It was like a Christmas party without carol. My real journey started in Delhi. Only three studios were here at that time. Funky Monkey (now in Gurgaon) was the first one to enlighten people about the tattoo art in India, and another was this artist, ‘Mr. Michael’ and there was Yours Truly, who was confused with yellow ink and magnum needles.
I remember the time when I was also a newbie. Amir khan had a temporary tattoo of khanda (religious symbol of my Sikh friends) in some movie. I made nearly 23 khandas in a month and was dreaming a colourful one with the lion, all night long. But I saw the khanda with lion which I designed, in cars and bikes, and then I thought… seriously?? I remember how to draw the exact symmetry. The khanda is the symbol of Sikh faith that attained its current form around the first decade of the 20th century. It’s an amalgam of three symbols. A double edged khanda in the center, a chakkar, two single-edged swords or kirpan, crossed at the bottom which sit on either side of the khanda and chakkar.
Overall, it depicts ‘Deg Teg Fateh’.
And now when I see India is growing with tattoo Art, conventions, tattoo workshops, artists making factories, seminars and who’s who. I don’t regret seeing the rat race at the core of losing the very essence of why we started tattooing in the first place. Henceforth, show must go on.
Sometimes, I see things in a philosophical way. I feel tattooing is like a pure form of meditation. We share the pain together with the client. That deepest moment. The real emotion, because pain is the real emotion. We share the energy together to create something cosmic, either its a ‘maa paa’ tattoo or something else. At that particular moment, you are so much engrossed with lines, shapes and the final result that hunger pangs will not have a place in our day. We just flow, and by the end of the day, it feels like waking up from a sweet tiring zombie workout. Of course, beer heals and other significant ones!!!
And thanks to the picture we post online with a little help from a fiend more powerful than god called Photoshop, saturation, contrast, highlights and shadows… There are many pictures in our mobile who couldn’t make it up to Instagram and Facebook. Lost cause. Martyrs. It’s like the lost cause of Kashmir in winter. Henceforth, we let it rest in peace. Sorry pieces in our phone storage.
I feel really bad for those photos, they are just hanging out in our phone like a politician waiting for an election. And not one but bunch of them, smearing forever, dying with storage jam. Someday, we will have the courage to look beyond the perfection and emerge beyond our own criticism to self inventory. After all, saffron is the apron to caper on India.
And in this glorious decade, I have seen artists rising to blaze of glory without having a single tattoo on their body. Isn’t it ironic? I hope not. And, I have seen hard working real artists just creating mesmerizing tattoos in India, without the claps and saps… we are growing for sure. Sincere respect to them for not being a Rat, but a wolf who doesn’t perform in circus.
Indeed, we are growing beyond our own setbacks for being Indian artists, and we have to deal with 6 flying birds or infinity symbols everyday, whether we like it or not. Choice is optional, but that’s the bread, peanut butter and jam.
And, we Indian artists have that thing in us to create enormous varieties of ‘maa paa’. Infinity with birds, names, or realistic ones.
In my 18 years of experience, lord Shiva is the highest bidding God tattoo so far in India. And Infinity symbol is the most sought after symbol so far, beside ‘maa’ tattoo. Till date, I have made 145 Infinities just for the record, and nowadays I don’t do it because I have transformed into the Infinity itself.
In the process of finding our place on earth, I started doing dotwork. I was not trying to prove, but was trying to find the space between dots and I failed miserably.
Still, we can’t define art. We all are that small dot in the whole wide universe trying to make it like the bubbles…
Ink be with you foreva!!! (above said paraphernalia is the artist’s moods swings)