Horn YES Please

By – Gaargi Jamkar (SY Bsc) 

While driving on the roads I usually get very annoyed when I find myself behind a truck and can only think of when I will get enough space to overtake it immediately. In that rush and irritation, what I (and most of us) fail to notice is the intricate designs and vibrant motifs that adorn these trucks! Looking at a truck in our country is like looking through a kaleidoscope that amazes you with its colourful patterns and styles, making the beholder awestruck

Yes Truck art is a real thing!

Unique Art form 

While its exact history and origins are unknown it is obvious that this practice has its heart in South Asia and is especially popular in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Back in the 1920’s Bedford trucks were being imported from England to Pakistan and it served as a canvas for artists to experiment and express. Since then this ‘industry’ and ‘art’ has grown rapidly and even has art historians studying and preserving this unique form of art .

If you’re wondering why these boring enormous trucks have been decorated with bold and vibrant  floral designs and calligraphy, you’re not the only one. On further research I realised that not only is this art form a medium of expression and craftsmanship, it also serves as a memory of home to the driver. These trucks are usually huge good carriers that travel all across the country on a regular basis with their drivers. Thus most of the time, these drivers sleep in their trucks throughout the journey which is why they choose to decorate their trucks as if it is a home. The art and designs on the truck symbolise the city or village they came from and for most drivers it feels as if they are carrying their family and city with them wherever they go. Some even ‘dress’ their truck as a bride or ‘dulhan’ to signify their love and sense of belongingness to these trucks. To these drivers the trucks aren’t a mere means of transportation but their ‘bread’ and their ‘beloved’. 

Coming back to the art form, these paintings usually done by bright enamel paints (long lasting and durable) vary from truck to truck and place to place. They come in a variety of forms from floral elements, intricate patterns, vibrant landscapes and sometimes even a famous political figure or celebrity! 

Anything can feature on these trucks! 

Most trucks also have proverbs or poetry inscribed on the sides of the truck that are usually humorous or sarcastic commenting on a worldly affair – a pop culture reference if you will!

While the artisans and the craftsmen who usually put in the effort and creativity in these works of art are accredited and recognized by the drivers, they aren’t that well known in the eyes of a common man. For example, Nafees Ahmad Khan from Indore has designed a truck everyday for the past thirty two years! Syed Phool Badshaah or colloquially called ‘Phool ji’ from Pakistan is renowned for his fusion of fine arts in truck design. He learned the art at the age of 12 from flowers to complicated portraits and has now established a Truck Art Academy at his home! As you can see, working and training in this art is considered as a highly respected and noble profession as it employs more than 50,000 people in Pakistan only and even more in Northern India. 

The art form even has its own name called ‘Phool Patti’ in Hindi and Urdu and has a unique style everywhere that captures the culture of that place in a painting or a pattern. 

The art form has since evolved and many cities like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Delhi, Chandigarh and Indore have become hubs for truck art and decoration to such an extent that Carrier trucks even in the remotest of places like the mountains of Balochistan and Afghanistan have paintings and calligraphy covering every inch of them. 

Phool Patti in its truest form 

During the War in Afghanistan many Pakistani Trucks ran services between the borders adorned in the art form were popular and came to be known as ‘Jingle Trucks’ by the American Military referring to the bells, pendants and chimes hung all around a truck’s bumper. 

A ‘Jingle Truck’ 

Truck art has been evolving since and has inspired many other artists in other fields. Many rickshaws in the country have adopted a similar style of intricate vibrant paintings that make them stand out and picture worthy. Dolce and Gabbana, a high end fashion brand named this art form as their inspiration for their 2015 campaign and it was incorporated in the brands’s clothing line and even kitchenware! 

The Dolce and Gabbana Campaign

While it’s heartwarming to see this art getting globalised and recognised many fear that it will lose its essence in the markets and via capitalism. Artists want to preserve their art form in its simplicity of reminding people of their homes and their people. Just like any art form we must recognise the need of preserving it and passing it on from generation to generation. 

So the next time you come across ‘Horn OK please’, by all means honk to your heart’s delight but take a moment to appreciate the beauty, passion and skill that is in front of you!

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