Tattoo business booms as India shows off body art
Kamaldeep Sethi used to be a corporate trainer with a flair for drawing on office walls. Then a colleague talked him into learning the art of tattoos.
Sethi, who goes by the name KD, set up a tattoo parlour in New Delhi in 2005. He now owns three shops, including one in Canada. The 32-year-old is part of a new generation of tattoo artists who left high-paying corporate jobs to follow their passion.
Though exact numbers are hard to come by, tattoo art is a flourishing business in cities like New Delhi, which is estimated to have between 60 and 100 tattoo studios and more than 300 home-based artists.
More young people are visiting such parlours as tattoos — once perceived as the domain of bikers, rock bands and drug addicts — are being increasingly accepted in mainstream Indian society.
“I think it (clientele) has more than doubled,” said KD, who sports seven tattoos including one on his right temple. “Earlier, we were taking care of maybe one or two clients in three-four days. Now we probably take care of three to five tattoos in a day.”
The influence of Bollywood has helped. Actors Ajay Devgn, Sanjay Dutt and Saif Ali Khan have displayed their body art in public, and tattooists say customers often request the same designs.
The act of putting a piece of art on one’s skin can include names, initials or portraits of loved ones. Tattoo artists say some customers even get inked as part of astrological remedies suggested by priests.
Naina Gureja, who runs a bakery business from her Gurgaon home on the outskirts of New Delhi, said her tattoo, a blade cutting into a star with birds emerging from droplets of blood, helped her get over a breakup.
“I thought that it will make me stronger, because I could relate to the tattoo, the design,” said Gureja, 23. “Somewhere or the other I got this strength from the tattoo.”
Men mostly get tattoos on their biceps, wrist, forearms and neck. Women tend to prefer ankles, shoulder blades, nape of the neck and the lower back — although tattooing breasts isn’t rare even in conservative India.
Some employers frown on tattoos. Former Wipro employee Abhishaik Madur, who runs tattoo parlours in Delhi and neighbouring Faridabad, recalls a human resources executive telling him that candidates with visible tattoos at interviews were at a disadvantage. Still, tattoo enthusiasts meticulously plan their body art.
“That’s a permanent mark on your body. You would not want to rush into it,” said Ajish Baby, 30, who works with IBM Technologies.
Baby spent around 80,000 rupees ($1,290) on his eight tattoos and is saving up for another one in the next six months.
Parlours charge anywhere between 650 rupees ($10.5) to 2,000 rupees ($32) for the first square inch and up to 800 rupees ($13) for every additional square inch.
Tattoos, like human relationships, may not last forever. Delhi-based tattoo artist Manjeet Singh said he advises clients not to get names inked, as most people return for sessions to remove or cover them up.
Real estate costs aside, tattoo-making equipment is not too expensive, ranging from 40,000 rupees ($645) to 100,000 rupees ($1,613). Singh, a painter who switched to the tattoo business, said he makes at least 100,000 rupees in a slow month.
Madur, 32, said his family “almost disowned” him for leaving a stable job, but he is now earning three times as much money and loves to go to work.
The demand for training has risen in recent years. Most professional studios charge 60,000-125,000 rupees ($968-$2016) for a course, but accept less than 10 students, forcing many to wait for their turn.
But tattooists also sound a note of caution, noting that a love for the art, the inclination to learn and patience are key to a successful career.
“Ask, counsel, find out why a person wants to get a tattoo done. Give time. Don’t think that it’s a quick buck career,” said Sethi.
“If they do it they will be successful, they will be in the market, in the business forever,” he said. “If they don’t, then it’s just a bubble which is going to burst.”
(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Robert MacMillan; Follow Sankalp on Twitter @sankalp_sp, Tony @TonyTharakan, Robert @bobbymacReports | Disclaimer: This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission)