The Tattoo Artist: Ripon BasakSeptember 15, 2010
Ever wondered why, inspite of being almost thousands of years old, tattooing is still shrouded in enigma and is still awe-inspiring? And why a tattoo is like THE symbol of being hip and cool? Or why a tattoo is always considered to be distinctive in an attractive way, ergo a celebrity getting a tattoo done, or removed for that matter (yes, I am talking about Deepika Padukone and her famous “RK” tattoo) is even considered news? Well I’ll tell you why. Because the most people know about tattooing is that it is painful, and it is permanent. And most people are scared of both.
The history of tattooing goes way back than you and I can even fathom. And what makes it interesting is how inspite of it, there is still a taboo associated with it. What made it interesting for me was these lines from Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” : “The goal of tattooing was never beauty. The goal was change“. Well, the book is not about tattooing, and tattoos are mentioned just in the passing because in the story the villain is this creepy guy who has tattoos all over his body, even his face. Nonetheless, after reading about how “the act of tattooing one’s skin was a transformative declaration of power, an announcement to the world: I am in control of my own flesh“, I simply knew I had to get one. Even though the book very minutely describes the supposedly pleasurable pain one gets from tattooing. Or maybe because it does.
Enter Ripon Basak (or Ripz, as he calls himself), the only professional tattoo artist in the whole of Assam, into my until then tattoo-less life, and before I knew it, I was talking designs and appointments with him. The first thing I got to know about him from the friend of mine who gave me his number in the first place, was that he is an extremely busy person, and that getting an appointment from him could turn out to be somewhat difficult. I first got in touch with him through the phone, and it was only two months later that I met him to finally get my tattoo done. That I had lost the will and turned chicken sometime between those two months, and that I got it back only after talking to him again, is something I am not very proud of when it comes to my tattoo history though.
So, after weeks of speculating and agonizing over the forthcoming pain, I surrendered myself to Ripon’s tattoo machine one lucky day in January at his place. One hour of constant pricking was all it took, and voila! I was the proud owner of a permanent tattoo. Alright, I must add that the way Ripon had put up his place together (awesome interiors!) was a major distraction whenever I needed one from the shrill buzzing of the tattoo machine (the bark is definitely worse than the bite). And when he told me he’d spent three sleepless nights just painting the walls I was even more awestruck, impossible though it may sound, since he had a fan in me right from the moment he turned the tattoo machine on. I fell in love with my red and blue piano clef tattoo immediately, and even though I had read a lot about how a new tattoo can get all weird the first few days, and that it might itch and shed skin like it had a mind of its own, I didn’t experience any of it. And I believe all credit would have to go to Ripon for making it so painless for me.
I still find it amazing that people don’t believe me when I say I got my tattoo done in Guwahati itself. And that’s what made me realize that Ripon is indeed a pioneer when it comes to tattooing in Asom. But like all other stories with happy endings, Ripon’s story has a rather interesting beginning. Cut to 2003 when Ripon was still a student pursuing his graduation in Bangalore, and desired to get a tattoo done. On enquiring about the prices of tattooing out there, he got to know that a square inch would cost him Rs. 3500, which meant getting a 3X3 tattoo (the size of the tattoo he had wanted) done would cut a deep hole of more than fifteen grand in his pocket! Being a student meant he had just about enough pocket money those days, and in his words, “If I would have asked my Dad for fifteen grand to get a tattoo done, he’d have simply asked me to come back home.” And so with his desire remaining a desire, Ripon waited around, until one day he saw an advertisement for a six months tattooing course in Bangkok. Recognizing this once in a lifetime opportunity, he convinced his father to let him go take that course, and to Bangkok he went, and completed the course.
After coming back to Bangalore, he joined Turning Heads – a unisex parlour, situated just opposite to Brahma Tattoo Parlour in Tibetan Market in MG Road, and then along with another partner, Mr. Vishwanathan, came up with a parlour named “UK And US Style Of Tattoo And Piercing” in Commercial Street in Bangalore itself. However, on finishing his degree, his father insisted he take up a more “conventional” vocation. So complying to his father’s wishes, Ripon joined the HSBC bank as an Assistant Sales Manager. But well, you can take a man away from tattooing, but you can’t take tattooing away from the man. Even while working in the bank, Ripon used to have his tattooing kit and a change of informal clothes with him all the time, just in case. Any time a call would come to him asking him to get a tattoo done, he would not even think twice before sneaking out from his office to attend to the appointment. Ripon would promptly change into informal clothes in the car, and turn off his cell phone just so no one from office could “disturb” him during his tattooing. And this was how things went on for two years, until his father realized just where Ripon’s heart and his passion belonged to. Resigning to the fact that Ripon will always be a tattoo artist first, and everything else later, his father finally agreed to let him pursue tattooing as a full time profession, and at his father’s suggestion Ripon shifted base to Asom from Bangalore in the year 2007.
The initial times were difficult, Ripon admits. People out here didn’t appreciate the value of getting a tattoo done the proper way, and would forever question him as to why the whole tattoo affair was so costly, even though Ripon’s charges are extremely reasonable (Rs. 800 only per square inch for a black tattoo, and Rs. 1000 for a colored one). In fact Ripon also had people commenting that they could get tattoos done cheaper in one of those innumerous fairs, or even by themselves provided they had the needles and the fabric paint. Tattoo enthusiasts were few, and genuine ones even fewer. But very slowly, word spread around, and the fortunes started turning. At present, even though it is still mostly word of mouth, Ripon is doing extremely well for himself and is quite in demand, considering the fact that he is based in Guwahati. I guess seven long years of tattooing, and the use of nothing but the best inks and best equipments does give Ripon the edge.
Ripon has also attended quite a number of tattoo fests, both national and international. In 2003 itself, Ripon joined the international “Cuervo Gold Open Tattoo Festival” held in Bangkok and was awarded the first prize, while in 2008 Ripon joined yet another national tattoo fest in Bangalore, “Jose Tattoo Fest”, and won third place. Just two months back he happened to attend one in Delhi by chance, although not as a participant. And from that fest Ripon flaunts a brand new tattoo on his forearm featuring his tattoo machine, because there the tattoo artists had to make a tattoo on any part of their own body.
Talking to Ripon has always been interesting, because I think of him as the permanent resident of a world that many people just fantasize about. They say each tattoo says a story, and in my eyes Ripon is the guy who writes those stories. And being a tattoo artist sure means he comes across interesting people too. Like this one time when a man came to Ripon with a photo of his new born baby, and asked Ripon to make a tattoo of the portrait of that baby, with the date of birth inked along with the tattoo. Ripon noted from the date of birth that the baby was in fact just a day old. Curious, Ripon enquired the man as to how his wife was and where she was. And to his utter surprise, the man revealed that his wife was still in the hospital with his new born baby, while he hurriedly came along to get his tattoo made by Ripon! The latest fad in the tattoo world, Ripon mentioned, is the invisible tattoo, which is made by a special “invisible” ink. In fact, even while making the tattoo, a special UV light has to be used. And what’s so great about such a tattoo? That it reveals itself only under neon lights in discos. “Great news for those who are still struggling hard to convince their parents to get one done… well just kidding”, Ripon says. Convenient too, for young people who want to get their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s names inked in, for you never know when you might want to NOT flaunt it anymore!
I always thought it took a lot of guts to go away from all the conventional and the predictable, and take up something unusual for your living. And when that unusual living involves pushing colored ink inside people’s skin by constant “drilling”, I’m sure it would take a multifold amount of courage. Anyone who’s ever got a tattoo done, or even seen someone get one done, would appreciate the thrill that comes with tattooing, and hats off to Ripon for making a living out of that thrill. So here’s to the enigmatic, the unusual, and the courageous, and here’s hoping Ripon keeps coloring, rather, “inking” more and more people’s lives in the days to come.
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