MOHAN GURUNG: THE ECCENTRIC HERO
‘AN INSPIRATIONAL STORY OF AN UNORTHODOX ACHIEVER WHO WENT AGAINST THE CURRENT AND OVERCAME THE ODDS TO BECOME THE BIGGEST NAME IN THE TATTOOING SCENE OF NEPAL”
From an early start in life, most of us were expected or even forced to become a doctor, engineer or a pilot. Anything else was deemed mediocre. Though this narrow perception for the future is gradually changing now, things were no different for Mohan Gurung while growing up in the 1970’s. But beating all odds, he did a decent job of flowing against the tide and debunking stereotypes. He went against the currents, and stood his ground when everything and everyone around told him to do otherwise. Body clad with tattoos and piercings as well, he contradicts everything that people negatively stereotype about people with body art and modification. Today, he has it made – an underdog who achieved so much in a profession where few would tread on. After more than a decade of struggle in successfully running his continuously expanding business, he has now established himself as an acclaimed tattoo artist. This is the story about his artistic journey.
Like most artists tend to be, Mohan Gurung grew up as the quiet introvert who sketched jaw dropping art work on the back of notebooks in class and nobody even knew about it. With traces of brilliant creativity seen right from a very young age, it was pretty apparent that he would not be pursuing a life behind the desk. Not that his tattoo career was too apparent in the early years either.
Mohan Gurung recalls, “Surprisingly, I was not always into tattoos. While growing up, I did come across the traditional tattoos donned by the older folks. But that did not particularly tickle my fancy. However, I had a very keen interest in music. It was probably my exposure to the beautiful tattoos flaunted by bands like Guns and Roses and Ozzy Ozbourne, which ignited the initial interest in tattoos.”
Come teenage years, like most parents, Mohan’s parents too began to fear that he would stray off into wrong tracks in Nepal. So consequently, he found himself in Korea in the early 90’s.
“It was there that I got to try my hand at tattooing for the first time after hanging out with a tattoo artist from Holland. So I spent my days not just working in Korea, but tattooing friends and strangers as well, who were willing to let me experiment on their bodies and get inked for free.
HE WENT AGAINST THE CURRENTS, AND STOOD HIS GROUND WHEN EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE AROUND TOLD HIM TO DO OTHERWISE.
However, despite the fact that I could have had a much easier life in Korea, my heart was always set on returning to Nepal.”
Mohan Gurung never really liked leaving his country and it was only a matter of time before he decided that he would not spend the rest of his life away from Nepal. Not being the type of person to gather a considerable saving, he came back home with little savings, having spent most of what he earned. Sadly, he did not receive a lot of support from his friends and family when he came home empty handed. At a time when most youngsters were expected to go abroad to earn riches, the reactions were definitely not coming out of the blue. It stung Mohan to receive this rusty reception.
Nevertheless, there was a silver lining to the dark cloud. Mohan Gurung had discovered his passion and was all set to create a legacy for the future. Tattoos began playing a larger role in his life and although he was yet to earn any money out of it, his work was slowly gaining recognition in his hometown Pokhara. “As a result, my friends encouraged me to start my own tattoo parlor. Needless to say, my parents were not really keen about my obsession with permanently inking designs into other’s bodies. So the only financial help they were willing to give me was to go abroad for work. But thanks to one of my very good friends and another, a close sister, I was finally able to open up a small tattoo shop in Mulchowk, Pokhara.”
Still unsure about the new venture, Mohan would tirelessly work at the shop, either on his customers or his sketches. At that particular moment in time, Nepal was going through a fashion wave of tribal tattoos, where plain black ink was filled into tribal designs. But Mohan was delving into something more complicated – tattoos that involved shading and colors. This was a different from what everyone else was doing and it gradually began to increase in popularity. One thing leading to another, Mohan Gurung soon found himself in the heart of the country, Kathmandu.
MONEY WAS NEVER TOO BIG OF A FACTOR FOR ME, AND IT MIGHT NEVER BE. I AM DEDICATED TO THIS PROFESSION SOLELY BECAUSE IT IS MY BIGGEST OBSESSION.
Even so, it would still be a long time before tattooing garnered its popularity. Tattoos were still scorned upon by the masses and it was the norm to keep an eye out for tattooed miscreants. Babu Raja and Karma were the only two tattoo artists at that time in the city, but they too disappeared from the scene soon after. With no competition in sight, Mohan Gurung set out to do what he did best and began creating a name for himself in the tattoo industry of Nepal. After countless tattoos, learning experiences abroad, visiting as many tattoo conventions as he possibly could and making more friends than foes, Mohan Gurung now owns and operates the best known name amongst tattoo parlors in Nepal – Mohan’s Tattoo Inn.
However, Mohan Gurung is more of an artist at heart rather than much of a business man. Despite being the biggest entrepreneur in the tattoo scene of Nepal, he never believed in running after money. A true man of passion, he is determined to stay loyal to his work, the beautiful world of body art.
“Money was never too big of a factor for me, and it might never be. I am dedicated to this profession solely because it is my biggest obsession. Since my work is my hobby, I end up sketching and tattooing even in my free time. But people rather accuse me of being a workaholic and working too hard for money. Not too fond of arguments and confrontations, I just smile back and move on. Even when I go out of the country, I go for tattoo conventions because that is my definition of fun and leisure. This is what I love. If I wasn’t into tattooing I wouldn’t probably even be in Nepal. I’d be doing a menial job abroad.”
MOHAN GURUNG IS RIGHTFULLY THE FACE OF THE TATTOO SCENE OF NEPAL, AND HE HAS BEEN DOING A SPLENDID JOB OF TURNING NEGATIVE STEREOTYPES TO POSITIVE ADMIRATION FOR THE PAST TWO DECADES.
He started off on this journey, not with a set destination, but with the determination to do his best in his field of work. A humble man, Mohan still feels that there is so much more to learn as a tattoo artist and as a person. But success is a two headed coin and the other side always brings along darker aspects. In more than two decades in the business, Mohan Gurung has gone through tough times and tackled tougher people in his own ways. Unlike the usual stereotype of a tattooed person, his perception and ways of handling negativity is in fact monk like.
“The way an individual approaches negativity, depends on that particular individual. If you are calm and peaceful, you will go about doing things in a peaceful manner. But if you have a darker angrier side within yourself, it will be difficult to see the world any differently.”
It was a struggle to get to where he is today and he admits to doing a lot of hard work. Even though Mohan Gurung seems like the ideal person to sidestep the obstacles and problems that come his way, there are things that wound more than others. It is particularly difficult to deal with disappointment when it comes from someone close to you.
“Taking on an unorthodox career has its drawbacks, and lack of support from family and relatives may be one of the biggest setbacks. Expecting full support from everyone while venturing into an offbeat career like tattooing may have been a long shot, especially when body modification wasn’t as openly accepted as it is today. So if you are going to pursue an unconventional profession based on your passion, you need to be good at it. Similarly, my son is now following on my footsteps and I am proud that he is showing signs of becoming a good tattoo artist. I have been keeping a close eye on him and he is on the verge of learning the art.”
Nonetheless, the inked pioneer of the tattoo industry has come a long way in an industry that had to struggle to be taken seriously. The heretical nature of the occupation must have been even more daunting in the 90’s than it is today. Mohan Gurung is a fish out of water in more ways than one. In a world where people strive day and night for money, Mohan Gurung works hard because he likes what he does and constantly wants to improve. He chooses to draw sketches as opposed to forcefully socializing in parties.
What he has done for and in the tattoo industry is admirable. But apart from his work as an artist, it is his personality that sets him apart. His polite demeanor forces even the most extreme of stereotypes to overlook the tattoos adorning his skin and respect the person that he is. Mohan Gurung is rightfully the face of the tattoo scene of Nepal, and he has been doing a splendid job of turning negative stereotypes to positive admiration for the past two decades. Now, married, a father to two children and approaching 40, he shows no signs of slowing down.
When asked if he had plans of retiring anytime soon, he spontaneously replies, “I guess, I’ll continue tattooing till I die.”
By: Ankit Shakya | Photography: Shashank Pradhan