“After joining VAST as a teenager, things could’ve gone well for me but I ended up falling victim to drugs. For almost 14 years, drugs ruled my life. I was an extremely heavy user. But despite how stories go, my life went on even with the drugs. At 14, I got a tattoo which got infected. I’d always been interested in art and tattoos so this incident got me thinking about making them myself. I made them for friends and people who came to me. But I was inconsistent because I only did it when I needed money for the pills. And because I was mostly high, I didn’t do a good job. I got complaints from people sometimes. I guess I should’ve felt responsible, but when I was on drugs, nothing mattered to me. In my 2nd year of college, I almost dropped out. Even in the dazed states, I knew I wanted to become a tattoo artist, and there I was majoring in political science. I desperately wanted to give up on college. But my friend’s mother convinced me that having a degree would help. She even sponsored me to buy a tattoo kit, to make things bearable. I continued with college, mostly high and not caring about it much. I tattooed once in a while, torn between people’s criticism and my friends’ support.

I graduated 2 years later than I should have. After that, I was jobless for a whole year. I remember this one time my sister had gotten me an interview for a very good job. When I got there, the line of interviewees was long, and I was short on patience. So I simply skipped it and went to my friend’s place. When my sister called me later that evening to ask why, I was so high I couldn’t even remember what she was talking about. The only thing that I wanted to do now was tattoo artistry, and my family wouldn’t let me go for that training. They had their suspicions about my habits and couldn’t risk sending me far from home. Then one day, after I got in a fight that left half of my face numb, my brother told me that if I stopped using drugs, he’d convince my family to let me go.”

“It seemed far-fetched but somehow, he convinced them. They allowed me to go to India for the training and I was thrilled to finally get what I wanted. But I wasn’t true to my end of the deal. Giving up drugs was not easy. Even in that new place, I spent days looking for pills. I couldn’t communicate with the people around me, and I couldn’t make friends. I was downright miserable. In desperation, I moved three cities before I finally got to a place I had friends in. They could get me my pills and I felt like I could finally take a breath of relief. Only after that was settled, did I join an institute for the training. They said it would take a total of 9 months. I told them I had practice in tattooing but for the first 3 months, they didn’t even let me touch the equipment. There were so many concepts that I was new to. I learned a lot there. Somehow, eventually, I also gave up on drugs. Once I finished my training, I was excited to set up my studio back home. But things didn’t go as planned. I was laughed at when I said I wanted to open a tattoo business. I wasn’t allowed to open a separate studio so now I run a home-based one. Because it isn’t a full business, I can’t earn enough from it so I trained to become a cultural and trekking guide on the side.

There’s an image for tattoo artists – long haired drug addicts from broken families who simply roam around town. Although, it may be true to a certain extent for me, we can’t impose that standard on everyone. It’s important to remember that tattooing is a form of art, and we don’t force people to get tattoos. When people come to me, I actually start by asking them their age and whether they really want it. I advise them to not do it unless they’re absolutely sure. I don’t do this just for money. Tattooing is one thing that has saved me. It has also helped me develop patience, which I greatly lacked. I’m not very successful yet but I hope one day people will appreciate the progress I’ve made and I’ll have an actual shot at opening a full business. I also hope that one day, we stop judging people by the tattoos on their skin because not everyone with a tattoo has a story like mine.”


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