Horn. OK. Please.

Unlike other artists, truck artists live a life of anonymity; recognition for their work is seldom, leaving them as mere painters of an unglamourous transport vehicle.

It is kitsch. It is crude. It is considered an inferior form of art. Yet, its practitioners refuse to adulterate it to increase its appeal.


An Indian truck is an ensemble of colors. Each motif, each message it carries has a story

On an average a truck artist paints more canvasses than any other artist in their lifetime. Despite the number of these canvasses, this art form is seldom appreciated. It is perhaps the character of the canvas that strips away the dignity from this art form, leaving an impression of it being cheeky and brash.

To give a white outline to every letter is one of the basic rules of truck art. The purpose is to ensure that it is legible to people from some distance too

Hansraj Sharma, the connoisseur of this less-recognised art form, has been in the trade for over 30 years and echoes the same thoughts. He confidently declares that, “This is the only form of art-in-motion in the country, but people fail to give it the honour it deserves.”

23-year-old Sanjay from Peeragarhi transport nagar hopes that someday he will be called an artist and not just a ‘truckwala painter’. Sanjay is a migrant from Rudrapur in Uttarakhand, who made it to the city to make it big in the field of art. But after working for six years as a truck artist, he's realised fate has other plans.

As a child, I remember how most of our long road journeys in our biscuit-coloured Maruti van on the arid landscape of NH8, with only ‘Babool’ bushes in sight, were made enjoyable by the funny slogans, scribbles and drawings on the trucks. They weren’t always perfect but they did leave a lasting impression.

With time, the technique of embellishing the body of trucks has also evolved. When there is not enough money to hire a painter, the truck owner resorts to buying colorful holographic cello tape and stickers to decorate his truck. “It is a tough competition for us. Our paint does not glow in the dark, while the stickers and the tape do. This is why truck artists are facing a threat from these apparently safer and cheaper options available these days,” explains Ustaad Pinki from Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar.

Like any other form of art, Truck Art too has its set rules. Motifs, slogans, typeface, colors and symbols remain the same, with little or no variation. Even though the rigid inventory leaves little scope of innovation for the artists, there is enough regional variation that exists within the trucks found across the length and breadth of the country. 23-year old truck artist Sadik informs that the truck owners from different regions have different art demands.

As a memory/ remembrance of where they come from, many truck drivers choose to get the scenery they belong to, painted on their trucks.

“Most of the truck owners from Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh want a scenery on their trucks, while most of the trucks from Punjab want a ‘Baajh’ to be painted on their trucks. Trucks from UP, mostly have the Indian flag and the witty one-liners in the form of sher-o-shayari, while the trucks from Rajasthan have an abundance of peacocks painted on them.”

“The Indian trucks are a visual treat for the co-travellers, but only non-Indians are able to recognise that,” adds Hansraj, fondly called Pinky Ustaad in the Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar in Delhi.

The irony is that the market is bustling with glamorized version of truck art on designer products while the origin of the art is bereft of commendation.

Apart from the usual writings like Horn Ok Please, ‘Buri nazar waale tera muh kaala’, ‘Use Dipper at Night’ etc., there are many other messages written on the trucks. “Truck art reflects the emotions of the truck owner/driver. There are messages for the people the truck drivers leave behind, messages for those they travel with, and messages for those they hope to reunite with,” decodes Hansraj.

This art of creating a moving riot of colours starts from a small sum of Rs 2000 and goes to up a more ornate and elaborate one for up to Rs 20,000.

Off late, kitsch has made a mark in the more dignified art circles. There are brands and graphic designers extensively using the everyday symbols of truck art to create a ‘desi’ appeal for their brand. This resurgence may help people recognise the origin of this art and may even help in keeping it alive not just in minds but also on the roads.

Image courtesy: Baya Agarwal

AUTHOR'S BIO: Baya is a silent observer. She loves to travel, meet new people, hear them out and make her own impressions of them. She romanticises about all that is gone – past, not just her own but also of places and other people.

  • Radha Beteille

    I always wonder about the innate creativity with which you write of things that we see each passing day, yet fail to record in our minds. And every time I read what you write, I take away a valuable bit of knowledge about a person or a thing with me. Keep writing, you really are a treat to read!