“I think tattoos are always considered badass, so, I don’t think it’s a negative connotation, I think it’s just badass. You know when you see someone with a tattoo, you think that’s just badass. Yes, you can take it slightly bent towards negative, but that has to be. You think tattoos, Harleys, skulls, bikers, cross bones, it’s all that. Today it’s become more flow, more design, more beautiful. But tattoos will always remain badass.”
Brave, beautiful, and a badass to boot. Meet B-Town’s hippest stylist, Niharika Bhasin. From dealing with stars to being a loving mom, this tattoo lover is keeping it real.
‘Rock on’, ‘Bombay Velvet’, ‘Fan’ and numerous other illustrious Bollywood titles under her belt, Niharika is one of B-Town’s biggest stylists of modern times. But that is not all that is there to this green-haired, bold and beautiful woman. Niharika is one of us, a tattoo addict, and an ol’ school hardcore at that. With surreal ink and tasteful piercings all over her body, Niharika is not a run-of-the-mill tattoo collector who just fills up her body with ink.
Niharika has been getting tattooed for longer than the ‘tattoo scene’ has existed in India. Her tattoos have a Kafka-esque fascination with wings, and each of them tell a story worth the big screen. We recently caught up with her to know the person more, but ended up ODing her ink…
My tongue piercing was my “Fuck You” to corporate life, because it would just be weird to be sitting in a corporate room and people would be looking at my mouth.
“My first tattoo was about 25 years ago. I was in Florida, and all the girls decided to go to a tattoo parlour. I hadn’t even planned on getting a tattoo at that time. I was young, designed it myself. It was a scorpion, with the peace symbol. All the crazy things you do when you are in college. When you are young, you are full of optimism. But with time, as sense and maturity prevailed, I moved to wings. And since then, with my tattoos, wings have always been a big thing for me. Not birds, I don’t like feathers, thus insects.”
But what do wings mean for her? “Wings symbolize freedom for me. The ability to fly. I love dragonflies, but not butterflies. I feel butterflies are too cute a subject for tattoos.”
But the even more fascinating story is when she told us how the idea for all her tattoos actually came about. “I was talking to my tattoo artist while she was doing my first tattoo… So I asked her that how come you don’t have a tattoo when you’re a tattoo artist, that’s rare; is that even normal? So she laughed and said I’ll show you something when we get off and she literally pulled off her dress and there’s an entire tropical rain forest. I think that’s where all my tattoos suddenly came to life.”
“When I was growing up in India, in Jamshedpur, and even during the time when I got my first tattoo, the only tattoos you would come across were on the adivasis, or the tribals.”
And that’s very true. The reason why you respect badass, ol’ school tattoo collectors like her even more is because she grew up at a time when tattoos were completely taboo in our country. But, that is the magic of ink. Every collector inspires a hundred more. “I think I always tell people, if you get one tattoo, you can’t stop at that. There are very few of such people. My brother has only one because the pain was too intense for him and I call him a weirdo. But I guess, there’s that one percent. For me, the endorphin do it. I think the scare is the only first sound of the machine.”
“You start small and build up. Then, I had this guardian angel done on my back. I think my big alien dragonfly was my third tattoo. The outlines were done here, at Funky Monkey Tattoo Studio. My friend, Sailem was staying with his girlfriend at my house and after almost a week, he comes to me and says dude, ‘You’re the only one who didn’t ask me for a tattoo’ and I was like, ‘You know it’s really rude. You’re staying here with me, I can’t just go on to say c’mon, because you’re living here, just give me a tattoo.’ So he was like ‘No, it’s my pleasure’ and I sat there for 10 hours to get the outline done and we finished the tattoo.”
“I think it was seven years later that I flew to Portland, America where he was tattooing and I said finish it. We sat another 10 hours, and finished it. Literally, for seven years, I just had a beautiful outline of this because I wanted to enjoy it.”
For a person who has been collecting tattoos for almost three decades now, the meaning of ink and tattoos are also bound to change and mature over time. And, every individual reacts and adapts to that change in their own way. “It’s like, you’re the canvas and your tattoos are additions to what you do and you continue. Like these are the people in my life, so, they chose to be my tattoos. All the insects on my arm represent people in my life. People, who are very close to me.”
For us, who have grown up from being teenagers to adults in the 21st century, tattoos are honestly no big deal, even in India. But back in the 80s and 90s, it was a huge motherfuckin’ deal. And, Niharika validated that.
“See, you’re talking to a person of a different generation. Today, all is acceptable. I remember when I got back from USA, I hid my tattoo from my parents for a year, because it’s where my bikini line is, how are they going to see it. Anyway, they saw it and I remember the whole discussion. My mother is a Parsi, normally quiet, my dad’s Punjabi, quite orthodox and my mother is not. And it was my mother who said, ‘How dare she get this tattoo? What did she think? Is she that junglee that she’s getting a tattoo done?’ And I remember my dad turning around and saying ‘Is she a thief? Does she steal, does she kill, does she do anything bad… she has just had a tattoo.’
“Even now, when I tell people that I have gone through two pregnancies and still have my belly piercing and it stayed right through, they just go WHAT! My tongue piercing was my “Fuck You” to corporate life, because it would just be weird to be sitting in a corporate room and people would be looking at my mouth. I think they grow, they change, but I have never gotten bored of my tattoos.”
Talking about the stigma for body art in India’s film industry, Niharika says, “In Bollywood, I have been working for 10 years now. I feel piercings are a little more of a shocker here but otherwise, tattoos aren’t.”
Why don’t you get tattoos in India…?
“You know, my concerns are primarily hygiene. Back in ’91, I wanted to open up a studio of mine, but I got caught up in the hygiene and cleanliness, all of it. Back in the day, of course you knew about AIDS and everything, but people didn’t know about Hepatitis B. People didn’t know dried blood can carry Hepatitis B. So, when you say why I don’t get tattooed in India, these are my concerns.”
I just don’t think we regard our bodies. My only biggest concern is the health issue. Everybody thinks they can do whatever, however they want. Like, years back, Al of Al’s Tattoo Studio had come up to me when he got his piercing, and I asked him how did he get it done? He said, ‘I did them myself, I went and I got the hollow needles and I did it myself’ and I was like, ‘Dude, I told you about the hollow needles, how did you go get them and pierced yourself.’ He was like, ‘I tattoo, I can pierce also’ and I was like Woah! No chance. That’s the attitude of an Al who since last 18 years has become a spoken word in the tattoo market. So, if he doesn’t have regard, then what happens? Then I don’t trust anyone, I don’t trust the business of tattooing in India and piercing too. It’s just the culture we have, we don’t think life is that important… The other day there was this guy petting his stray dog and then tattooing someone.”
While these are very strong words, at the same time, you would understand the concern, and agree that truer words haven’t been spoken, when it comes to tattooing in India. Same goes for our unexplained love for name tattoos. Why the fuck do we get them? Don’t they guarantee a cover up?
Niharika agrees. “Yeah… I’ve told my kids that. Guarantee! And this whole thing about I don’t understand, who says it’s okay to put your girlfriend or boyfriend’s name on you. I don’t get that whole thing. Like one of my friends got that done and all I could tell him was dude! You decided to mother fuck all us with that because it’s on your back and you don’t see it, but we do! I don’t even think it’s cool to have your parents’ name on you. If its children, I’d still understand. It’s not about not putting a symbol of your love, but do it intelligently.”
Wish we had more collectors like you, Niharika – badass, original, standing out from the crowd, and not giving a single damn fuck. Power to you, and all inkoholics reading this post…