Motion pictures

Truck art
Last Updated 22 March 2014, 14:29 IST

Trucks in India carry witty words and variegated designs along with goods. Brinda Suri acquaints us with this artwork that is topical, regional and thematic.

Some of the best wit and wisdom is found on Indian highways. Sample this: ‘Kisi ki amanat dekh kar hairaan na ho, Bhagwan tujhe bhi dega pareshaan na ho’ (Don’t envy others’ wealth, God will give you too, don’t fret). Or this: Ameeron ki zindagi biscuit aur cake par, Driver ki zindagi clutch aur brake par. (The rich live on biscuit and cake, drivers’ lives are on clutch and brake)! Care for a riddle, that’s offered too.

Decode this: Dil 20 13, 80 20 13. Hint: You need to know your numerals in Punjabi. Read on for the answer.

No prizes for guessing where you would spot these wacky one-liners. The rear end of trucks is a slate for poetic outpouring. Mischievous, straightforward, inspirational or literal, undeniably noticeable are these witticisms.

On the road, when stuck behind one of these gentle giants, haven’t most of us craned our necks to read the written word? We have smiled to ourselves on managing to catch it all before the tuck speeds off or shared a laugh with co-passengers. That’s how attractive this wit on wheels is.

Art in motion Indeed the entire truck exterior is a fascinating canvas. It’s not merely prose that lights up a corner of these mean machines, raw artistic talent is on exhibition too. Painters capture the incredible colours of the country and let their brushes bring alive customs, folktales, regional emblems, religious iconography as well as elements from pop culture.

The truck is queen for those who drive her and they treat her like a beloved. Usually, it is drivers who express the desire of a theme they would want displayed on their trucks and subsequently the painter is given a freehand. The imagery is always bucolic and cheerful, reflecting the environs and aspirations of those who drive it. The task can cost upward of Rs 15,000 and generally it takes the painter about four days to complete it.

 Each region of the country has art typical to it. Drivers unanimously agree on trucks of North India being the most vibrant. With Punjabis expectedly wearing their heart on their sleeves, their trucks display an equal measure of romance and bravado. The pretty maiden, lush fields, cupid, hawk, eagle, lion etc can be found on their trucks.

Region-wiseThe men from the hills almost always have snow-capped mountains or lush hills painted on the trucks’ tail end, while trucks from southern India usually choose between swaying coconut palms, deepam, lotus, pairs of elephants, collection of religious symbols and so on. Accessories and bling is par for the course here too, with tassels, mirrors, beads, buntings being used to adorn their lady.

They are a patriotic lot, these truckers, and paintings of freedom fighters and the Tricolour finds pride of place. Social messages as ‘Each one, Teach one’ or ‘Save the girl child’, as well as traffic advice, for instance, ‘Overtake from Right’ and the inimitable ‘Horn OK please’ are regular signages.

A characteristic common to all truckers is their faith in religion and superstitions. To counter the latter, they hang/paint ‘nazar’ or symbols to ward off the evil eye. An old shoe, a painted jutti, the Devi’s eyes, devil face or black cloth are preferred icons.

As far as appeasing the Supreme power goes, the truck’s driving cabin is a virtual pantheon, decked as it is with posters of gods and, well, cine goddesses!

By design Contemporary artists and fashion designers have been inspired by truck art and have used its quirky elements in their works.Popular among these are a wide range of merchandise, including coasters, placemats, bags, mugs, folders from trendy product design companies as Happily Unmarried and Mad(e) in India.

Next time you’re on the road, let traffic snarls not bother you. Look out for a truck and immerse yourself in appreciating the spirit of India. Before steering away, here’s the answer to the riddle in the opening paragraph: Dil (Heart’s) 20 13 (also yours), 80 (I’m) 20 13 (also yours)!

(Published 22 March 2014, 14:29 IST)

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