Sunday afternoon, not much happening, so we decided to go to a tattoo festival. It was called “Heartwork” at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. We were feeling lucky so we flagged down the first bus on the outer ring road and climbed aboard. I had no idea what the Hindi script said on the front of the bus, but I reckoned it would be taking us in the general direction of Kashmere Gate. We stayed on for an extra 10 rupees and the conductor dropped us off at the stadium.
We eventually found the correct gate and joined the queue to pay. I think we were the only two non-tattooed people standing in line. Luckily the cashier accepted plastic and we entered the velodrome where the festival was taking place.
I am not sure what we expected. People being tattooed, yes. But there were competitions, with prizes for completed and partly-healed inkwork. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work. There were four rows of canvas stands, each occupied by a team of tattooists, some in action, some with itchy needles, waiting for work. There were also some outrageous tee-shirts on sale, a biker charity, specialist equipment stalls.
The programme advertised Bez666 (from UK), Fred (from Spain), Stepan Negur (from Russia) and Jay Freestyle (from Netherlands) as “headlining acts”, but we didn’t see them in action. There were several food stalls, but the ticket specifically excluded the organisers from liability for any negative effect of food or drinks. I’d brought some extra strong mints, so we were ok.
The PA system came to life and told us to move to the stage for a performance by a special artist, Jyoti Ram. He was white, bald and spoke with a thick French accent. He played sitar, an Indian flute usually associated with snake charmers, a didgeridoo, and a Jew’s harp. Not all at the same time, of course, but he sampled each instrument electronically and built up a soundscape.
Behind him there was a kaleidoscopic computer graphic screensaver which reminded me of Windows 3.1. Periodically, a cloud of smoke enveloped him and spilled over the stage. I thought it was pretty apt, given the air pollution levels in Delhi at the moment.
Finally, he stopped playing and set up the stage for some mystical entertainment, using a dozen crystal (clear plastic) balls of varying sizes. He changed into a see-through shirt, baggy trousers and a “mad hatter” top hat, which he wore at a jaunty angle. He rolled the balls along his arms and balanced them on his head. At one point, a small ball appeared to be suspended in mid air without any visible support.
My grandfather was in the Royal Navy during the First World War. He had a swallow tattooed on his forearm, perhaps to indicate that he intended to return, to fly back home. An appropriate tattoo for an itinerant doctor, perhaps? No, not for me.