Tattoos are everywhere. They’re on the people around us; whether visible at all times or not and most importantly they are on the people we look at most, the ones on our screens. Over the years, tattoos have become an increasingly important part of everyday culture and serve as an integral outlet for self-expression.
In India however, tattoos are still seen as taboo, although very much mainstream as well. They are seen to be a part of a ‘meta’ culture represented by bikers, bartenders and other ‘alternate professions’. They are seen as a means to hinder the access to opportunity in work environments and a roadblock to promotions. Today there is a direct correlation made between bad-ass people and tattoos that can be seen. While being bad-ass is not a bad thing, there now seems to be a connection between that and being bad at your work. Nevertheless, this is untrue. Quality of work is what matters most.
While there have been studies published in the Harvard Business Review about the correlation, not causation between men with tattoos having better business prospects than ones without. Unfortunately, this study was only in the United States. We stay in a completely different market, and since there are no hard facts for India, over the next month, we’d like to prove our point. We aim to break down these barriers by proving that there are so many people out there who are performing exceptionally in the workplace, whilst showing off their tattoos. Self-expression is never a bad thing, and here is some proof.
Case 1: Mumbai
First and foremost we’re starting off with India’s biggest, baddest, busiest city: Mumbai. Here, things are always moving and the people never stop dreaming of a bubble outside this inescapable reality. Mumbai is not only the heartbeat for millions of Indians but also for all of India, housing India’s pop-culture masterpiece ‘Bollywood’. Today, tattoos seem to thrive in this city. While there is still immense amounts of room left for tattoo education, people love this form of art.
Mumbai seems to attract people from all over the world, each with their own story. Here are two stories from some people who already live in this city of dreams. We spoke to Devina Medda, a dentist and Tushar Nagar, a lawyer, who shared their experience of ‘living with tattoos’.
Starting off with Devina, an upbeat live and let live kind of person. She has three tattoos as of today and has a super clear outlook towards life. She sees tattoos as a good mix of needing one and wanting one. For her, it’s like a set of clothes that let her express how she feels when she feels strongly. “I wanted an angel (for my first tattoo), but my cousin (tattooer Pinku Bijoy Ghosh) made me some custom designs and eventually I got one that represented Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. It was fun and I always knew I wanted a tattoo, but I understood why I got the tattoo and what it really meant to me, only recently.” While her first tattoo was long before her other two, she is looking forward to getting a sleeve. “Now, lots of people around me have a tattoo. Pretty much everyone around me was inspired by a doctor getting a tattoo; some of them have even based theirs off of the ones I’ve got.” “My ex-boyfriend broke up with me when I got a tattoo, but a decade later I feel like good riddance.”
Devina further added that “I preach to my assistants and encourage them to wear whatever they are comfortable with. I tell them that just because you are a doctor doesn’t mean you can’t wear hot pants or a crop top. You can wear whatever you want to as long as your attitude is right” The tattoos make her more relatable, and since she doesn’t scold her patients, she has never had a complaint, especially related to her tattoos. “I empathize with patients as soon as they enter my clinic, and they stay forever. They tell me that you look more normal, like normal people, you have a tattoo and you wear normal clothes, unlike most doctors.” While there have been some odd and unsolicited requests for her to undress to show off the tattoo she has covering her back and shoulders, she’s always been able to make sure that her skills and personality come before anything that’s on her skin.
Tushar has a similar outlook towards tattoos, but not entirely the same motto. He is a lawyer at a big law firm and strongly believes in being able to work hard to relax even harder. He is not only an advocate of the law but is also an advocate for putting good money into good art. While he got his first tattoo with his girlfriend on impulse almost 10 years ago, the faded stick and poke tattoo from back in the day has now made way for a massive leg piece. This piece spans the outer halves of his calf and shin, and while he doesn’t have the opportunity to show off this piece (which is still a two-year work in progress) at work every day he does not see tattoos as a hindrance whatsoever. He believes that “with a tattoo, you are ultimately investing in art. With art you can’t just pay and get it done with, if you are treating your body like a canvas, you need to spend time on what you want.”
Tushar went on to explain the tattoo scene in the legal firms in Mumbai, “I think that in the law firm sector the barriers have started coming down with respect to if getting a tattoo is professional or not. My seniors, peers and even clients were very intrigued by the tattoo I got. Lots of lawyers including my friends have tattoos; there are quite a few people.” Moving on, he also spoke about placement and the need to understand a particular set of surroundings, “Placement, however, is still important. Getting a sleeve will mean there are some moments where I will not want to roll my sleeves up, in places such as conferences or court matters. People tend to flash tattoos more as a part of their personal lives, but this trend is slowly changing. I have seen people with tattoos on their necks, just positions that are not in your face.” For Tushar, professional merit was a process separate from his discovery and indulgence in tattoo culture.
At the end of the day according to these two stories, it all seemed to boil down to a few simple things. One, to live and let live, people will mind their own business if you mind yours. Having a tattoo shows people that you are sure of what you’re doing, and let them know that fact. Two, in a professional setting the only thing that matters is the quality of work you produce and the attitude you approach it with. Finally, three, remember to be yourself, a taste in tattoos grows over time just as the taste for any other form of art or music.