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Snehal Sakpal never had a doubt that he wanted a tattoo; after all, his father was his rock star who had gotten inked when he was in college. What more, not just Snehal, his parents too got their tattoos from…wait for it…Dr. J A Kohiyar. So, in a nutshell we found a family that has been tattooed by the Godfather of Indian tattooing! While the parents were a little busy to comment on their experience with Kohiyar, we got the son bragging about his Kohiyar collective pieces (yes…there’s more than one!), his father being his ultimate ink inspiration and more…

Snehal (right) with his pop
Snehal (right) with his pop

“I was dying to get my first tattoo done because my father was inked. It wasn’t that a rock star or a bollywood artist’s tattoo inspired me; I had grown up with my father’s tattoo.” The needles, the pain, nothing bothered him; he just wanted to get a tattoo done, period. Even as a kid in the ninth grade, when Snehal visited Kohiyar’s studio with his dad, Kohiyar, looking at his enthusiasm for tattoos and just asked him to come back when he turned 18; and boy did he turn up! “I wanted to pursue medicine and I remember I went to him as soon as I finished 12th and got my admission sorted.”

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His first tattoo back in 2003 was a mix of childhood memories and values. “When I went to Kohiyar for my first tattoo I didn’t know what I wanted. Impulsively, I decided to get the design that my dad’s lighter had on it.” The lighter was his father’s that Snehal used to play with as a child. An American eagle adorned the front of the lighter with the three values that Snehal was raised on – loyalty, honesty and respect. “It was a typical American tattoo design and I still try to live by those values that my father said should be guiding me through my life.”

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The pain of Snehal’s first tattoo instantly made him want to get another done; to him it was meditative and when you have access to Kohiyar, why would you want to go to another artist. “Kohiyar was all I knew about tattoo artists…and frankly when you know Kohiyar, you don’t need to go to anyone else. Even when I got my first one done in 2003, his hands were a bit shaky, vision a bit blurry because of his health but I didn’t want to go to another artist.”

You would think why anyone would want to go back to an artist with shaky hands and blurred vision. Well, we did ask him that question, to which he said simply, Kohiyar was his family tattoo artist. His father had gotten inked by him; after which it was his mother who got a tattoo from Kohiyar. “He was like my family tattoo artist! Besides, there were some things peculiar about him. For instance, he would never tattoo anyone sitting up. My tattoos were on my arms and that didn’t require me lying down but I never questioned him because he had a sense of authority that I never questioned. Another thing was that he loved to talk while tattooing. I know so many stories about him as a kid, him back in the days when Mumbai was called Bombay, you know during the British era, he was a Colaba boy. One story that I remember distinctly is him running shit scared of sailors as a kid. They would take him to those small tattoo shops in Colaba and scare him with their tattoo machines, tugging on to his shirt just to scare him a bit. So, despite everything I went back to him and got my koi fish done.”

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Unlike the Eagle, Snehal had thought much about getting a koi fish for his second tattoo. He identified with the sea creature because of the Japanese myth attached to it. As the legend goes, a huge school of golden coloured koi fish swam upstream the river of Yellow River in China. While many turned back, tired, some did not give up and attempted to reach the top of the waterfall. Their futile efforts caught the attention of demons; demons as they were, they increased the height of the waterfall. Just one golden koi tried for a 100 years and finally reached the top of the water. For this feat, the Gods blessed it to be a golden dragon – the symbol of power and strength. Interestingly, Snehal was born three months premature as a result of which, he had to encounter a bout of ailments as a child. “I identify with the koi because nobody would say it today that I was born in the seventh month of my mother’s pregnancy. Koi represents power, strength, perseverance and destiny fulfilled; and I believe that my survival against all odds at birth was truly my destiny fulfilled.”

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