Nestled between the mighty Ganges and the majestic Yamuna, Dehradun captivates. The bounteous beauty of the place evokes pleasant feelings inside a tired me as I step down from the bus. The cool morning breeze ruffles my hair,it’s all so fresh out here. I am loving this place. The sprawling Himalayas looks imposing, swaying Sal and Pine trees are enticing me to venture into the woods. I am itching to get the scintillating Doon valley stored in the memory card of my camera, but I am here for another purpose. I am here to explore the tattoo world of this popular tourist spot. I try calling SUMU- the tattoo artist whom I am going to interview. It’s 10′o clock in the morning and I am not sure whether he will pick the phone or not. He does. His words ooze warmth and I know that talking to him is going to be fun. He keeps on telling me the direction to his tattoo shop. ‘It’s near the Buddhist Temple’, he says. India’s tattoo shops couldn’t have got a better custodian than Lord Buddha – it all is happening right under his supervision, I chuckle.
The auto driver appears dazed when I tell him to take me to the Tibetan Colony. ‘But there is nothing amazing out there to see, just a few Momo joints and clusters of Tibetan population living’, he protests. ‘ I am here to visit them only’, I silence him. He drives ahead. I come across scores of college going youths, yawning uncles and pretty girls on their way to college on my way. It doesn’t take me long to reach near the temple. The ambiance embalms me like anything. It’s so calm and pious out here. I find the artistic sign for Sumu’s tattoo shop – SUMU TATTOO INN. Within a minute I am inside the neat and cozy tattoo shop where a smiling Sumu has been waiting for me. He offers me a heartening smile and a warm hand shake. I am not looking at him, my eyes are fluttering across the tattoo parlor. It’s small but attractive. Everything is glistening, the walls are decorated with exciting tattoo designs. Sumu, himself appears to be a jovial guy. He asks me for a soft drink and I say yes.
We begin sipping the soft drink. There is nothing formal about the interview.
ME – Sumu, I must say that if ever I would make up my mind about getting a tattoo done, i would go nowhere else but here.
SUMU – Oh! You are always welcome. It would be my pleasure.
ME – So! Tell me how did it all begin?
SUMU – It all started when I was in Nepal. I had this taste for drawing since my childhood but it was only after I came to know about tattoos that I started thinking seriously about taking up tattoo art as a career.
ME – But Tattoo Art is not just another art form, it requires proper training. Doesn’t it?
SUMU – Exactly! I went to many tattoo artists for getting a professional training. All of them refused to teach me. They said, it’s all so complicated. It was only after I went to Mohan’s tattoo shop, which is the now the most reputed tattoo parlor in Nepal, that I got a chance to hone my skills.
ME- How hard it was for you to set up your own shop in a place like Dehradun?
SUMU – The thing that bothers almost every single tattoo artist in India is the cultural taboo which is associated with tattoos. A tattooed person walking on the streets is considered as ‘ROWDY’. Tattoos are still considered to be a hooligan’s trait. On a lighter note, i keep on telling the people who come in my tattoo shop to get tattooed not to worry about getting a tattoo and going to hell as the heaven is so cramped up with all these moralists! Hell is fine, at least you would find a lot of tattoo lovers there!
ME – That is mockingly humorous, I must say. How aware is the general public regarding issues associated with tattoo hygiene?
SUMU – Some of them are but most of them do not know anything about it. People just see one of their tattooed friend garnering attention among their friend group and they run to get themselves a tattoo. They do not care who is doing the tattoo or how clean is the surrounding. This is the reason why one finds this disturbing trend of road side scratchiest making hefty bucks.
ME – What do you tell them as a tattoo artist when they come to your place?
SUMU – I am very particular about maintaining strict hygiene standards here. I never entertain kids below sixteen years of age. I advise the professionals not to go for a neck tattoo or any visible spot. I believe that hygiene is the hallmark of an artist’s caliber. We use sterilized needles and autoclave bags. Though, it burns a little hole in my pocket but I am happy as long it serves this human cause.
ME – Are there any regulatory authorities who monitor all this?
SUMU – Not yet! There is no such formal regulatory body. For us, Army plays the role of the big brother. Recently the government has banned army men from getting a tattoo done.
ME- And what do you feel about it?
SUMU – Look, i had many clients from the army background. Financially speaking, it is a big loss but one can not do anything about it. It’s all a policy issue.
ME – Don’t you think it’s like curtailing the basic human rights?
SUMU – People must have the choice to choose their own fashion sense but that said, our tattoo industry too, has serious flaws within it. We are not coming together, there is no organized platform dedicated to ventilate the feelings of tattoo artists. We don’t gel together, there is no pan Indian tattoo artist forum where everyone can come together. Unless, tattoo artists as a community do not come together, things will be here to haunt us.
ME – How do you go about promoting your tattoo shop?
SUMU – People come here, they like the tattoos done on them, go out, tell their acquaintances. It’s all word -to -mouth.
ME- What kind of cultural challenges this place poses?
SUMU – Tibetans do not permit tattooing as tattoos are seen as a symbol of death in their culture. The youngsters,although, come here to get tattooed but we still have to face a lot of opposition. However, Dehradun enjoys the pouring in of so many tourists all over the year and many of those tourists do visit at our tattoo shop to get a tattoo done.
ME – Has money ever come in the way of your passion for tattooing?
SUMU – Never! And I am blessed enough to tell you that I never feel that tattooing is not my cup of tea. I earn good and can proudly say that I am at par with many engineering graduates!!
ME – That definitely sounds good.
I keep looking here and there. Sumu exudes conviction and passion. Vishal drops in. He is an army guy yet he is working as an intern with Sumu. I feel humbled to notice this poignant marriage of gun and tattoo machine happening right in front of my eyes. Vishal is keen. Together, they make a good pair. Life is so simple in this part of the world. Tattooing breathes free in Dehradun. I bid them adieu with a promise to come back. I can not wait to plunge into woods for clicking some memorable photographs of this place, but first I have to click the pics of this place – Sumu’s world!
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