It’s a Sunday afternoon and Arshad’s tattoo parlour in Palika bazaar, Connaught Place has a steady stream of clients. Some tattoo virgins while most are his regular clientele. The tattoo virgins are accompanied by friends who have referred them to get inked here.
Arshad is engrossed in sketching a design a client has asked to be tattooed on the forearm - a she-wolf. Once he is free, he finally sits down for a chat. “Sundays are like rush-hour here,” he says.
At 30 years, this young entrepreneur is a successful tattoo artist and runs four tattoo studios in Palika Bazaar market. But Arshad's life wasn’t always like this. He was a homeless in Delhi. I asked him how he entered this creative field. “When I was a young boy, I wanted to live ‘the good life’ in a city. I decided that I’d do anything to earn no matter how big or small the task,” he shares.
Arshad ran away from home in Assam when he was only 10-years-old. He reached Delhi on a train and found himself wandering the streets in search of work, food and shelter.
Without anyone to support him, he wasted his years drowned in drugs, a time he regrets. “Life on the streets is tough. I ended up on the wrong side until one day, when I was rescued,” he shares. He was taken in by Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM), an NGO that runs drug de-addiction centres for young homeless children.
Arshad was often spotted as the smart one with a zest to progress. “One of our mentors pushed me to be productive, I was a good observer and my willingness to work impressed the seniors,” he recalls. After 18 years of age, he moved near the homeless living around Hanuman Mandir, Connaught Place.
He observed men and ladies applying henna (mehendi) tattoos on tourists near the temple. “I tried my hand at it. I would practice all the time. Someone said to me, why don’t you try tattoo art?”, he said. “I wanted experience so I began working with various tattoo parlours to learn the art and hone my skills,” he quips.
Today, he runs his tattoo studios out of four shops in Palika bazaar, shop number 34, M-10, 113 and 263. He has a staff strength of 15 people. “I challenged myself and I was persistent. Had I given up, I would have been back on the streets. I'd do anything never to go back there again,” he shares.
Today, Arshad is glad that he can support his family back in Assam as well as earn a decent living to rent a roof in Delhi. He has travelled across India on work assignments and wishes to travel abroad to expand his clientele. “When I look back now, I feel I should not have run away from home, I am lucky I survived,” he says adding, “A homeless person is a person. No one wants to be homeless. That is one reason I worked very hard in my life,” he shares.