The media has been awash with Euro 2016 news lately, and along with them are images of jubilant footballers and their blazingly eye-catching tattoos. These include Mesut Ozil’s rampant lion, Antoine Griezmann’s Jesus Christ and Martin Skrtel’s angel. Quotes abound too: Olivier Giroud’s arm features the Latin script ‘The Lord is my Shepherd,’ and Zlatan Ibrahimovic sports ‘Only God can judge me.’ I found Ricardo Quaresma’s facial teardrops tattoo particularly arresting. None of this body art was missable on the pitch or off it.
Seeing these reminded me of Bengaluru’s big daddy of tattoos Pradeep Menon, now in his 15th year of professional tattooing. I dropped by for a catch up on the latest on inking at his Dark Arts Tattoo Studio (bangaloretattoos.com) in Koramangala.
At a time when sporting a tattoo seems almost de rigueur and studios are mushrooming across the city, Menon has scaled down to 50 tattoos a month to focus on quality rather than numbers. He’s also formed the Karnataka State Tattoo Studios and Artists Association for implementing international rules and safety standards for the trade. “A tattoo artist must first undergo stringent tests to be certified by the Association: a blood test for HIV and hepatitis, plus practical and theoretical tests by the association panel and doctors, too.” These are part of a pioneering effort to get Indian tattoo standards up to international norms, he adds, pointing to a poster on his wall listing dos and don’ts of tattooing. “First, one needs to respect the art form.”
I ask Menon, a walking encyclopaedia on inking, about Bengaluru’s tattoo trends. People are now thinking before inking, he acknowledges. “It’s not just picking images off the Internet. People are open to new ideas, some clichéd but many original; themes woven around significant happenings in their lives.” Tattoos still feature predominantly on arms (full or half sleeves), backs, legs, shoulders and napes of necks. Nothing too wacky yet in deference to our fairly conventional job markets.
We chat about sportspeople’s yen for flashy tats. “Earlier, tattoos were for rock stars. Today, sportspeople mark achievements with tattoos on their body, inspired by David Beckham, the first footballer to flaunt his ink. It’s also a sign they have arrived – tattoos abroad are very expensive.” Since the start of his career (and his is a fascinating story; of meeting a stranger on a train who offered immediately to set him up professionally, no questions asked) Menon has inked hundreds of people, including doctors, IT mavens and celebrities. His own body is a Ghajini-style testament to his profession. The main tattoo on his back is an elaborate ongoing project incorporating a line from Dante’s Divine Comedy: ‘In thy will is my peace.’
So tats are here to stay and make their presence felt. “Yeah,” he chuckles. “I was dining at a mall recently and realised so many people sitting around me sported tattoos. Earlier, I was the odd one out. Now I’m part of a larger community.”