Sunday, March 3, 2013

Truck art in India - I love it :)

One of the pleasures of a driving holiday in India is the gaily painted trucks I get to see on the road.

Truck art interests me because it makes for great photography, but also because each truck "talks to me" about the owner and some of his thoughts. 
This truck above is a great example of typical Indian truck art
There are so many interesting things that this truck is telling me. For example, I know that the owner of the truck is called Choudhary. This tells me something about his ancestors. The word Choudhary originally referred to landholders who collected tax on behalf of the king, and were entitled to withhold 25% (Choudhary means "holder of a fourth"). So this particular Choudhary obviously has diversified from agriculture into the trucking business :)

Agriculture is still very much the major theme of the truck. Under the sacks of onions which the truck is carrying, you can see a scene of bucolic plenty. Buxom prosperous women with lots of jewellery, green fertile lands, plenty of water, lactating cows, fruits, vegetables, well-built village houses - each of these is a symbol for prosperity and plenty. This is Indian representational art at its folksy best.
Scenes of almost unreal rural prosperity are a common theme on Indian trucks
The Choudhary surname is widespread across North India, so just going by the name, I cannot tell where this particular guy comes from. This village scene gives me no specific clues, except that the costumes of the women are the North Indian ghagra-choli. Besides, the vehicle says it has a National Permit (NP), so it could literally be from anywhere. But the truck art gives me more clues: 
Under the title Choudhary the truck says "Veer Tejaji" in Devnagri script
Veer Teja is a folk hero from Rajasthan, so now I have my next little piece of info :) This is probably a Rajasthani Choudhary. Now I see the semi-hidden license plate, and find out it is a Goa license (GA = Goa). So maybe this Rajasthani Choudhary currently lives in Goa. Or, more likely, maybe he bought and registered the truck there for some tax break. There are two names, Vishal and Anurag, also written. Probably his sons. 

Apart from these "identifying marks", there are interesting homilies and sayings painted on the truck. 
  • "Maa ka aashirvaad" (Mother's Blessings) is a very common feature of all Indian trucks, and refers to the almost divine status accorded to mothers in popular culture (many Bollywood movies have this theme too). 
  • "Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram" (Truth, God, Beauty); this is a traditional philosophical statement that has entered the mainstream because it is also the title of a famous 70's Hindi movie. 
  • "Soch kar socho saath kya jayega" translates to "Think! What can you take with you when you go (die)?". It's another philosophical statement which suggests that too much attachment to material possessions is meaningless.
  • "Jai Hind" (Victory to India) - another popular theme, expressing national pride and patriotism
As you can see from the above, truck art is not just about painting a truck. It is a fairly complex expression of the cultural background, community, personality and belief systems of the person owning the truck.

Another common feature of Indian truck art is what I can only call "driving instructions". Horn, Please or Horn OK Please is the most ubiquitous one, asking those following the truck to honk while overtaking so that the truck driver is alert to their presence. Drivers use their hand - they stick it out of the window and wave - to signal to people behind them that they may now overtake the truck. At night this system doesn't work, hence the somewhat baffling "Use Dipper at Night". You are supposed to flash your dipper (high beam), and then "Wait for Side" (which the truck driver will signal using the blinking red light signal). Then you can overtake. For much of India's trucking years, we have had narrow highways and side-roads, often permitting only one vehicle in each direction. So this kind of signalling is essential.

Here is another gorgeously painted truck, that I photographed near Jaipur:
A charming find on the Jaipur Highway :) :)
You can tell by now, that there are lots of similar elements between the two trucks, right? This one has the same buxom woman, signs of prosperity and plenty and identification markings showing the trucker's community (Meena) and his favourite god (Hanuman). On the top of the truck it says "Dekh Saheli tera aashik aaya", which brought a smile to my face. "Look, says the heroine's friend to her, your lover has arrived". And it has the ever-popular warning "Buri nazar wale, tera muh kaala" (Oh you person with the evil-eye, may your face be blackened).

If you are travelling in India and come across beautifully painted trucks, do send me some photographs! I am creating a facebook album for them, and would love to add to my collection. You can email them to deepa at delhimagic dot com and I'll send you an invite to the rest of the album. Thanks in advance :) :)

10 comments:

deejthtraveller said...

very interesting read, loved every bit of your observation. Especially the explanation of each item.

Nowadays, a pair of blue eyes adorn the bot & bonnet of trucks in North India these days - latest trend i assume :)

Alpha Charlie said...

I love the poetry or humorous statements on some of these.. my current favourite is
'jal mat, kishton pe aai hoon'. Literally meaning 'dont be jealous, I have been bought on a loan'

Another common quirk is the diesel tank being labelled 'Iran ka paani' etc.

These artistically decorated trucks are a common sight in North India and even in Pakistan (particularly the Punjab province). Southern India does not seem to have this tendency to use the truck body as a canvas! I wonder why, particularly because otherwise Southern India has very rich cultural motifs used liberally in life. Its intriguing to say the least

Carolina said...

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Taxi for Agra said...

Such quotes are very interesting. When i saw these quotes on truck i must read out the whole quote.

Hire Cab for Airport Drop said...

Hey these images are really nice and its show creativity. we must say that truck drivers in Delhi are not ordinary people.

Shwets said...

Interesting write up.Loved reading your observations on Trucks & the interesting art on them:)pictures a are lovely as well.I stumbled upon your blog while googling something & I liked your writing.

Shwets said...

I stumbled on your blog while googling something & I liked your writing:) This writeup on trucks & truck art is very interesting to read. Liked your observation and the way you have put it in words:)
Interesting Read!

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Prarthana said...

some time these lines are to inspirational and full of sarcastic values that you can't ignore