Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Melvyn Shimray from Ukhrul

A Tattoo for the Soul: How a Self-Taught Tattoo Maker From Ukhrul Built an Enterprise in Delhi

Self taught tattoo entrepreneur Melvyn Shimray from Ukhrul, Manipur might not be trained in tattoo making but his expertise and confidence in the craft is so strong that clients pour in from across the country and world.


Be it a poisonous stinging scorpion or a growling tiger on the hand, a gun on your chest, or a serene Buddha reflecting peace and divinity on your arm, tattoo artist Melvyn Shimray from Chingjaroi village, of Ukhrul, Manipur has been making it all from his tattoo shop, called ‘Long Tattoos’ in Delhi, an enterprise he started around seven years back.

Melvyn at work

Having come to Delhi to learn animation from Picasso Animation College of Delhi, this boy from Tangkhul community, switched to tattooing after his animation work did not take off as he per his dreams. Tattooing proved luckier for him, though he has no training or mentor in this line. This self taught tattoo artist is self- confessedly earning  ranging between Rs 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh per month, and happily running his family of four including his homemaker wife, also from Ukhrul and two children aged seven and eight years.

“I did not learn tattoo making from anyone. True, my tribe, which is Tangkhul Naga has a tradition of tattooing spanning over centuries, but it wasn’t from my roots that I got interested in this art. I had actually come to Delhi to learn animation and I did a course from Picasso Animation College, but somehow I could not earn according to my needs, and so slowly I drifted into tattooing. I learnt from youtube, from different websites, friends and cousins. I do not have a training in tattooing. I do not have any teacher or mentor, but now I have over seven years of experience”, says the man candidly.

Melvyn’s superiority in his craft is evident from the fact that clients come to him from all over India as also abroad. “I have regular clients from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, and even from foreign countries like Dubai, Ukraine, South Africa, Nigeria, France, Cape Town and so on”, he says.

Melvyn charges anything between Rs 5000/- to Rs 10,000/-or more for each tattoo he can make in a single sitting. “Price depends on the size of the tattoo and the intricacy demanded by the chosen design, the number of hours needed to make it etc. I guide my clients on designs but finally it is their choice”, he says adding that “on an average I make Rs 5000/- to Rs 10,000/- a day. In a month my general earnings range between Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh, but that’s also because I take one work at a time, and I do not go to people’s houses nor do I call people to my house. I prefer working in my studio which is my work place”, Melvyn lays down his rules.

Melvyn with family

Melvyn says that his business suffered a lot due to pandemic and lockdown, but his Delhite landlords helped a lot by waiving off rent for two whole months.  “During lockdown I faced lots of hardships as I do not have any other source of making money and I had to shut shop. I did earn some money by making wall papers, sketches, paintings and putting them up on the social media, but the earnings were absolute minimal”, he says, adding that “my landlords both at my shop and my rented apartment are very nice. They never pressurise me for rent. They even waived off two month rent realising that I was going through hardship”, he tells us.

Help also came from the Manipur state government. “Though the Manipur government does not yet recognise tattooing as an art and has no special scheme for us, but during Corona, they extended help to all. They have a special cell where we can air our grievances and officials then solve the same. The Delhi Police SPUNER unit also helps us whenever in need”, he says. He himself never required help as he was “never discriminated against in Delhi.”

He however goes to relate the case of a village friend of his who had come to work with him and who had “deep Mongoloid features.” Melvyn says one client asked whether this friend has come from Nepal or China. However, when Melvyn explained that he had come from Manipur which is very much a part of India, the client apologized profusely for his ignorance, and since then he has become a regular client of Melvyn’s studio.

In his studio, Melvyn is particular in following all government protocols including cleaning, sanitizing , taking temperature of anyone coming in etc. “ Our clients trust us with their bodies. Their skin is our canvas. How can we compromise their safety and trust?”, Melvyn asks as an answer to our question on safety quotient followed.

A tattoo made by Mevyn

Melvyn has a wide repertoire of designs, but Indian clients, he says prefer Gods and Goddesses, with Lord Shiva and the Buddha being  favourites.

Despite making it big in Delhi, Melvyn’s future plans include opening a tattoo shop in his hometown in Manipur. “Maybe after five to ten years from now, I will go back and start a tattoo studio in Manipur. There is a lot of potential there. People love tattoos. So many youth are into art, into tattooing, but they have no sponsorship, no one to guide them. I can maybe open shop, hire some more tattoo artists and even give training”, he says adding that he is incredibly thankful to the present NDA government for heralding peace in Manipur.

“In Manipur there are almost no blockades, no bandhs now, which used to be a regular feature earlier. Militancy has gone down and the atmosphere to run business is slowly coming. I will wait for the total peace and maybe relocate to my state”, Melvyn says.

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