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India is home to some of the finest tattoo artists of the world, and they have represented the country and won many international awards too. But, there is one feat which very few tattoo artists have achieved, globally. And in India, there’s only one.

Meet Hendry Lama. The only artist from India, whose hand-made machine today rests in the Stockholm Tattoo Museum. And that isn’t even his biggest feat. Hailing from Darjeeling, Hendry is the brightest tattoo star of the region, and one of the most senior artists of the entire country. Hendry is everything that is good about the traditional idea of a tattoo artist. Last week, Hardy Mitra from Tattoo Cultr met up with the man, and here’s what we got to know more about the man from Darjeeling.

How did you get into tattooing?

It was an accident. I was studying science, and one day I woke up with a rising fear in my heart that is not me.  Being born and brought up in Darjeeling, I was always surrounded by art and music around me. Right from childhood, I have always been drawing. So, after completing my graduation, I started off with fine arts.

Then, I saw a friend of mine tattooing, hand poking with local machines. So, while this guy was tattooing everyone else, there was no one to tattoo him. He told me, “Hendry, you tattoo me!” He trusted me. So, I did a small one, and it came out nice. It is then that I thought this is what I want to do in life.

And, which year are we talking about here?

Around 2000.

So, there wasn’t any formal training for you in this art form. So, how did you procure your first tattoo machine?

My first machine was a hair dryer. I seperated all the parts of a hair dryer, and this is where my science background came to use, finally. I used the motor of the hair dryer to build my first machine. In a hair dryer, you have 2-3 speed variations. I used high speed of the motor for lining my tattoos, and slow speed for shading. And that’s how it all started for me.

When did you move to Delhi?

No, I started off from Darjeeling. I was more of a practicing artist there, tattooing my friends and their friends. In 2003, a friend of mine shifted to Delhi, and called me too. He asked me if I would be interested in trying out the business here. An that’s how I moved from east to north.

You had your own studio in Delhi, but then you joined Devil’z Tattooz. Why would you shut down your own studio?

I was working alone for around 8-9 years. Working alone, I was going nowhere. I realised that. See, when you work in a team, you learn a lot of new things – different artists, different minds, different ideas. So, when Lokesh called me, I was really happy because I had known these guys for 8-9 years, and to work with them is an awesome feeling.

So, what’s your preferred style of tattooing?

Aaah… I do everything. You have to do it all because it’s bread and butter. But if given to choose, I would love to do anything bio-mechanical in tattooing. I simply love that genre of art. I had done this bio-mechanical sleeve on a friend of mine. We started in 2003, and worked on the project for 5-6 years.

What’s the scene in Darjeeling now?

When I started, there were only a handful of guys tattooing. Now, with tattoos finding more acceptance with the younger generation, lots of studios have opened up over there. And the best thing is that they are doing it in a very clean, and hygenic way. That’s the biggest concern, right?

That is… absolutely!

You have tattooed thousands of people till date. But can you pick out one client who was the best you ever had?

I have been lucky to have clients… let’s not call them clients, but friends. Friends who have trusted me to the level where we have started off with a small piece, but as our bond of a tattoo artist and a client grew to much more, they have explored other concepts and have let me use my artistic freedom to do what I want.

So, what are your furture plans now?

For now, I am happy with what I am doing, but after 5-6 years, I probably want to shift back to Darjeeling and start something like a small art cafe. When we grew up, there was no one to help us or guide us with our art. So, I want to go back and start a small art cafe where you get art, music, everything under one roof.

You still paint?

I do, but it takes a year to finish off a piece. I am a lazy bone, you see…

Not really, when you are tattooing, playing the guitar and painting as well… Thank you, Hendry.

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