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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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