Fitter to tattoo artist

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It is rags to riches story for Vinod Gupta from Bihar who began his career as a fitter but mints money now with 12 tattoo shops in the north Goa beach belt, discovers Premila Krishnan

 

It was a perchance encounter with footpath artists at a railway station which transformed his life and destiny from a fitter to a successful entrepreneur who mesmerized the crowd at NIT, with his extempore speech. His casual banter defies his mega achievement in a profession considered despicable whose success is discernible as a owner of 12 shops in Goa. `Gupta’ has become a name to reckon with as it reverberate the streets of Goa.

“I am still a learner and whatever you learn is not enough. Every day is a learning experience. I am bewildered that I was beckoned to deliver a speech when I do not know English. I am not a politician who can deliver instantly. I simply narrated my real life experiences,’’ says Vinod Gupta of `Gupta Tattoo Studio’ fame since 1988.

Hailing from Bihar he discontinued his education due to financial constraints. “My mother used to work in the fields. I left my education after my board exams in Class X. My brother got me a job as a fitter in Amona Steel plant at Vasco. Perchance I saw a few tattoo artists at work at the railway station footpath and watched them for four hours. I was enamored as my grandmother used to have tattoos on her hand. I became pensive in my thought process to take it up as a career and approached them. They told me to stay with them to learn the art of tattoos. So I moved bag and baggage with the group of four tattoo artists from Tamil Nadu and there was no looking back. I consider them as my gurus.’’ In my pursuit to learn the art I had to overcome some hiccups being a pure vegetarian and teetotaller.

Within a brief stint of four months he learnt the tricks of the trade. “I then joined a team from Maharashtra and worked on the footpath for four years. In those days there were no machines and one had to design and color with one’s bare hands. I waited for opportunities to work independently and mastered the art to design, draw, practice on the body and use ink.’’ Initially his brother had apprehensions about tattoos being a taboo in his village but he confronted his villagers with pride as a tattoo artist. “I am not doing anything wrong and so did not hide it.’’ Meanwhile he travelled extensively to different states such as Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, TN, Bihar, Jharkhand, Kolkata which became a game changer.

“I realized that the crowd in Goa had a different set of people and began to sit on the footpath in beaches and Saturday Night Market to create tattoos.’’  He narrated an instance when cops took away his stuff to the police station and he befriended them by doing tattoos on their hands.

“I saved some money and with an initial investment of Rs 10, 000, I rented my own shop at the Calangute beach in 2002. The rent was based on percentage and within seven to eight months people identified me with my name `Gupta’. In those days the tattoo of a deity cost Rs 10. I got a profit of one and a half lakh from the first shop and opened another one with two staff members. Then I bought my own shop at Calangute with a loan of Rs 18 lakh from Syndicate Bank in 2007.”’

With the passage of time he realized the demand was for colors, machine work, foreign style and international trends.  “I updated myself on the latest trends through the net and trained 25 to 30 staff members. Many ventured out on their own at Benares, Delhi, Bangalore and I have no qualms about it. I am enamored that I trained them. Some even compete with me but I try to work harder and give job satisfaction to my customers. I have been able to build relationship with customers over the years. Tattoo was unknown in Goa but today it has become synonymous with good and cheap tattoos.’’

His inspiration could be a design on a wall which he religiously notes down.  “I try and emulate that design besides the designs I download to show to the customer. Time is not a constraint for tattoos and can range from half an hour to six hours. Beyond that the staff and customer may not be able to sustain being tired of needles.’’ He recalled a tattoo being done from the neck to the hip of a foreigner which cost Rs 40, 000 those days. “One should ensure that one colour does not touch another. I take special precautions to ensure needles are new. Small protrusions for a day or two are normal.’’

Initially apprehensions were galore when AIDS became an issue. “I thought it was the end of my career but things changed. Another problem was when tattoos were looked at with disdain and considered not a good profession. Licence was not given for tattoos in Goa earlier. But now tattoo has become a profession and is part of education. But this will end the Guru Shishya Parampara.’’

He feels that he has a major disadvantage when he cannot speak English. “I am not able to communicate with foreigners and exactly understand their request. But I have senior staff to handle such customers. I am content that I have evolved from manual work to machines, computers, air-conditioner, artists at my studios. “I now ride a motor bike instead of a cycle but don’t think I deserve a car. I am content that I own my shop and home.’’ He has shops at Calangute, Vagator, Candolim road & beach, Baga road & beach, Titos lane, Anjuna, Arambol to name a few. “Customers abound over the weekends. I have ten walk-ins daily and two to six tattoos done in my shops but none at times. I believe in the Gita which says do your job and don’t expect fruits.’’