From flipping burgers at McDonald's to make ends meet to being featured in the country's top ten tattoo artists, the journey of braving the odds and attaining this coveted title has not been easy.
At 14, I was crammed into a single room space with my parents and sister in an unauthorized colony in Delhi. The colony witnessed frequent power cuts which meant that we often had to study under the candlelight and lamps. Water was fetched using a handpump.
I was an average student, but extremely passionate for art. My bench-partner still reminds me of the designs that I sketched on the school desk and on my bag and then when I was done utilising the available space, I would start sketching on his bag as well.
My father, an ex-army man, after retiring was taking up odd jobs to earn a living for the family. He worked in the security department and I still remember not seeing him home for an extended period of time because he was doing double or triple shifts.
My mother, on the other hand, used to work as a teacher and taught as many as 20 children for an hour every day. She charged a mere ₹100 each to earn that extra ₹2000. I don't think we ever went to a restaurant till the time I started attending college.
The first time I sketched was when I was probably six-years-old. I used to draw the 7-Up brand mascot, Fido-Dido, in different postures everywhere. I had won the first prize in the Inter-Asia painting competition, which was held in Japan but still, I never took art and drawing seriously.
After school, I took admission in Aurobindo College affiliated to the Delhi University in 2000 but could attend only three classes in three years as I was juggling alternative jobs to provide for myself. I did not have financial support from my parents amid limited means.
I had started working from the very next day after I finished my board exams and my first job was to distribute pamphlets and internet CDs on the road and to engage in door to door sales in the national capital.
Luckily, I ended up selling the highest number of CDs in the group and was promoted to lead a team. Later, I joined McDonald's to earn some extra cash and did everything from mopping floors to cleaning toilets to flipping burgers. I did that for some time but soon realised that the job became monotonous, so I started learning how to play on a console, and eventually landed up being the DJ in the night.
By this time, I was done with my graduation and had joined an MBA course due to which I used to go to the classes from 8 am till 12, and then go to my job from 12 till 7 pm and then play music from 9 pm till 12 am. I was juggling three jobs and had started tattooing around the same time on weekends.
I was always fascinated with tattoos and had finally collected and borrowed a sum to buy a tattoo machine and as far as I can remember this was the only thing I did not do for money.
I bought the machine but was having a hard time figuring out how to use the device. What pushed me not to give up was the thought that somebody had created amazing artworks on human skin with the same machine, as was needed was to get started.
Moved by my passion for body art, my father volunteered to be the first person on whom I could etch a design.
Eventually, I started getting involved in the process that time was a blur. I began designing tattoos on my friends for free, at times was ready to pay them for letting me design, but then I started running out of supplies and so I started charging people to replenish the supplies.
In 2005, my passion started turning into a profession. It could lose the sense of time when I was engrossed in designing tattoos on someone's body, it was an expression of their personality and was going to stay with them till death. It was art.
I opened my own studio, GK1 in 2008, and in Gurgaon in 2013. I taught many aspiring artists the art of tattooing and more importantly to look after the hygiene aspect. I have worked in 15 countries and have made sure that we enforce European standards across our studios.
From one passionate person to a team of 13 artists working as a team, learning from each other, and more importantly, growing happily has been the focus of our brand.
I was invited to work with a studio in the USA in 2010. My travel to the States and then to Europe gave me an opportunity to perfect my art in some of the best studios in the industry such as Paul Booth's tattoo gallery, Nikko Hurtsdo's studio, Tommy Lee's studio and many more.
Another popular trend in tattooing — Nate Siggard's soundwave tattoos — which are basically encrypted with coded messages has fascinated me and I am working towards connecting the tattoo enthusiasts with this next 'interesting thing' in the industry. These are more like a coded message which no one else can know but whenever you feel like hearing the messages or voice of your special one, you can just scan the tattoo and playback. Audio can be converted to a soundwave which is then stencilled and pasted on the skin and inked. The sound is uploaded and once the tattoo is scanned on your phone it will play the sound.
From 5 tattoos a month to 15 tattoos every day, invited across the world to lecture, teach and perform tattooing, doing what I love and getting paid for it, I couldn't ask for anything else!
While being a singer or dancer is still considered a hobby more than a profession in India, confronting your family about a career as a tattoo artist for the rest of your life is nothing less than a final nail in the coffin of your dreams. But my ex-army father & ex-teacher mother never held me back from experimenting. They always supported me and boosted my morale in whatever I chose to do. Allow your passion to become your purpose, and it will one day become your profession.