COVID-19 tattoos: Here's to the weirdest year!

Updated: 22 November, 2020 08:01 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

The new tattoo designs filling the books of ink artistes are a tribute to the weird, if not tragic, 2020. Millennials explain why they want to remember a year they'd rather forget

Trushna Kachhadiya gets a Coronavirus Negative tattoo inked on her arm at artist Vikas Malani's Bodycanvas Tattoos and Piercings in Malad. A post-graduate student of media and marketing, Kachhadiya says the tattoo is to honour COVID-19 warriors. Pic/Satej Shinde
Trushna Kachhadiya gets a Coronavirus Negative tattoo inked on her arm at artist Vikas Malani's Bodycanvas Tattoos and Piercings in Malad. A post-graduate student of media and marketing, Kachhadiya says the tattoo is to honour COVID-19 warriors. Pic/Satej Shinde

Gayatri Kashyap, a sociology student at Delhi's Hindu College, admittedly has a penchant for "random" tattoos. When she lost her cellphone a couple of years ago, she got the device tattooed on her forearm. "It looks more like a cake of soap, though," she laughs. It's the first of many tattoos that the 20-year-old has got since. Her latest, inked right below the phone-that-looks-like-soap, reads, 'Wash your damn hands'. The design is presumably an honour to the advice given in order to avoid contracting the Coronavirus. "It might seem like dark humour playing out, but my grandfather recently caught the virus and is recovering." For Kashyap, the tattoo is an indelible reminder of a strange year that was marred by a pandemic, forcing us to work from home and take measures that were once unfathomable. 'You might look at the tattoo and say, WTF!' But that's 2020 for you."

Trushna Kachhadiya, a post-graduate student of media and marketing, gets a Coronavirus negative tattoo inked on her arm at artist Vikas Malani's Bodycanvas Tattoos and Piercings in Malad. Pic/Satej Shinde
Trushna Kachhadiya, a post-graduate student of media and marketing, gets a Coronavirus negative tattoo inked on her arm at artist Vikas Malani's Bodycanvas Tattoos and Piercings in Malad. Pic/Satej Shinde

As people struggle to settle into life under this 'new normal', COVID-19-related imagery is soaring in popularity. From the caricature of the virus depicted with its signature spikes, and bottles of Corona to toilet rolls on legs, the themes are as varied as the nature of the virus itself. Instagram's #coronavirustattoo throws up dozens of pictures of people proudly displaying their designs, including a masked nurse's face, poised over a rose, or surrounded by flowers. The humour hasn't gone down well in some quarters with some commenting that the tattoos were in bad taste. That hasn't deterred people from signing up for it. Vikas Malani, founder of Bodycanvas Tattoos and Piercings, has been seeing a steady stream of enquiries for COVID-19 tattoos over the past two months. Every week, he has at least one person coming in with a request. He says tattoos have historically been a medium of self-expression, the display of a private narrative and reminder of struggle. "What I'm seeing now is that people are sure about what they want, even if it may seem bizarre to some of us. It gives them some kind of control over what they've been through. Some have lost a loved one and others have been laid off from their jobs. We have even had COVID-19 survivors walking in [for a tattoo]. They are thinking, 'I've dealt with this, I've overcome it.'" Almost all the clients who have got COVID-19 tattoos belong to the 20 to 30 age group.

Mechanical engineer Varun Saklani got COVID-19: Made in China inked on his right calf in September
Mechanical engineer Varun Saklani got COVID-19: Made in China inked on his right calf in September

Mumbai-based Siddharth Mannan is an entrepreneur and founder of Easing Leasing, a firm specialising in retailing of luxury brands in India. He was one of the first people in the country to secure a spherical virus tattoo in early March, weeks before the announcement of the lockdown. "Because I travel extensively for work, I had already experienced the situation on ground: the precautionary measures that were being taken to control the spread of the pandemic, and I had an inkling that this was going to be no ordinary virus." When he approached the artiste for a tattoo, he was asked to "think about it".

Gayatri Kashyap, a student from Delhi, has 14  tattoos. The latest on her upper arm says 'Wash your damn hands'
Gayatri Kashyap, a student from Delhi, has 14 tattoos. The latest on her upper arm says 'Wash your damn hands'

Mannan says he gave it a couple of days, and after being talked out of it by near and dear ones, he opted for a temporary tattoo; one that lasted for a good two months. "They said, 'Imagine what your grandchildren will say when they see a funny virus tattoo on you' I laughed, but deep down I was clear that I wanted it." His tattoo has faded. Whether he'd get a permanent one linked to the virus is something he's not sure about.

Entrepreneur Siddharth Mannan got a temporary virus tattoo in early March. He was keen on getting a permanent one, but was talked out of it by his tattoo artiste
Entrepreneur Siddharth Mannan got a temporary virus tattoo in early March. He was keen on getting a permanent one, but was talked out of it by his tattoo artiste

Meanwhile, Kashyap's tattoo has become the favourite subject of discussion in her family circle, with relatives eager to see it over Zoom calls. She says it wasn't a decision taken on a whim and one that she could not be talked out of. The lockdown had given her enough time to mull over it. "I didn't consult my family while opting for it. When I went to the studio, I called up my mother and informed her. She protested, but she has now made peace with it."

Mallika Chaudhari and Vikas Malani
Mallika Chaudhari and Vikas Malani

Mechanical engineer Varun Saklani got COVID-19: Made in China inked on his right calf muscle in September. He calls it a commemorative tattoo. "We're part of history. I'm always going to remember this period in time, because I've seen much trauma and disintegration around me. I think we've emerged stronger," he says.

Lokesh Verma, founder of Devil'z Tattooz, recently inked a quarantine stamp on a client
Lokesh Verma, founder of Devil'z Tattooz, recently inked a quarantine stamp on a client

Lokesh Verma, founder, Devil'z Tattooz, says that despite the deluge of enquiries, they are taking it easy. "Since the pandemic, we are only allowing one person per artiste because we want to take proper measures to ensure people's safety as well as that of our team. We spray them with an anti-bacterial alcohol solution. Plus, entry is only allowed after they have worn the shoe covers that we provide outside the studio. One of the clients who came back from overseas was quarantined for a while and got a tattoo of the stamp of their quarantine completion and being COVID negative."

It's not just COVID-19 tattoos that top the charts. Chennai's popular tattooist Mallika Chaudhari of Laughing Buddha studio is receiving an overwhelming demand
for coverup tattoos. "One thing that the year has taught us is that life is uncertain. So people want to let go of the gunk of the past. I've had people who have come to cover up tattoos. The reasons range from faded regrets to a boyfriend long gone."

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First Published: 22 November, 2020 07:04 IST

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