The man with the dragon tattoo

Naveen at work. Photo: R. Ragu

Naveen at work. Photo: R. Ragu  

Over the years tattoo artistes have noticed a sea change in the kind of body art people want to get, writes SUSANNA MYRTLE LAZARUS

When Naveen Nandakumar wanted to open a tattoo studio in Chennai a decade ago, all he got was discouragement. “People told me it was a ridiculous idea. That the city was conservative and the business would never pick up. But I was very clear about what I wanted to do: bring in a hygienic and safe place where anyone could get tattooed,” he says.

It wasn’t like the city had no other space to get tattoos at the time. Tattoo artistes were around, but there were no dedicated studios. And more often than not, they led to infections.

So when Irezumi opened doors on College Road, Nungambakkam, in July 2006, those who wanted to get inked had a legitimate place to go. From college kids — you have to be 18 to get tattooed — to 70-year-olds, there’s something about the perceived rebellious nature of the body art that has everyone intrigued. “For some people, that’s the one wild thing they do in their lives. So, we have women in their 40s coming in, sometimes, after having fought over this with their spouses for years,” laughs Naveen.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the studio, they have launched a new tattoo studio and academy at Injambakkam on ECR. They offer three course structures: a two-week beginner course, three-week intermediate course and a four-week professional course. Naveen personally teaches the courses. What if they turn into competition for him? “There’s plenty of business to go around. And here in Chennai, we’re kind of a close-knit community of tattoo artistes. We share knowledge, ink and if we are ever too busy for clients, we even send them to other studios,” he says.

George of Geo Tattoos on Medavakkam High Road concurs, saying, “Every day, around five to 15 people come in to get inked. So, we don’t have to worry about getting customers. And if you get a tattoo once, you will definitely want to get another one. It can be addictive!” As someone who is a naturally talented artiste, George found his medium in tattoo ink and skin. “People trust us to do a good job, because they will carry it around on themselves permanently. Well, sort of. Now that there is the option of removal, people aren’t too bothered.”

When it comes to how trends have changed over the years, Naveen says that his customers are more particular about what they want and why. “Earlier, all they would say is ‘I want a tattoo, but I don’t know where, what or why.’ Now, they read up. They want something that has significance in their life. Many of them come up with their own unique ideas and sometimes even bring sketches. It’s fun to work on these kinds of projects,” he says. The ones who make him apprehensive are those who are undecided about the design. “In that case, we work on it till they are completely sure,” he says. Currently, minimalist and watercolour tattoos are in vogue.

Over the past few years, couple tattoos have been all the rage: king and queen crowns, jigsaw puzzles, and of course, getting your partner’s name inked. Both George and Naveen gauge the couple and give them a bit of advice before agreeing to ink them. George says, “It’s a tricky situation, but we do talk to them and ask them if they are really sure. If I don’t do it, someone else will.” Naveen too asks them to think it over. “Around 80 per cent of the time, they leave. Some of them come back to get the tattoos anyway. Others stop by to thank me for stopping them from making a mistake,” he says.

For those who are sure about getting a couple tattoo, the best bet is to go for something that will stand alone and has good memories. Preferably without a name on it. Sachin S., who just last month got a tattoo with his wife, says, “We wanted to get one for our wedding anniversary, but we still hadn’t figured out what kind we wanted. So, we took some time, and came across the design of a jigsaw puzzle, with the picture of an engraved lock on one and a key on the other. It wasn’t my first time getting a tattoo, but it was her first. While it was scary, and a bit painful, we are very happy with the result and the experience is one we will cherish.”

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 9:36:44 AM |

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