Christina Arora *
During the trip we made to India in 2016, one of the many things that impressed us were the decorated trucks we met on the bustling roads of the country, especially in the mountains. They were so ornamented that they made me wonder what customs and habits were hiding behind this impressive decoration.
After a short study, I discovered that this was a tradition of many years. As early as the 1940s, Sikhs have beenpainting the forms of their gurus as well as other religious themes that helped them spread their religion, while Muslims painted their own saints, the Sufi. In the meantime the motifs were enriched and became more mainstream.
Indian trucks (as well as Pakistani) are a major factor of this fast-growing economy. To meet the needs of this huge country, drivers of these beasts are forced to spend most of the time on the wheel, often stranded for a long time because of bad weather or road conditions. Thus, they are absent for a long time from their home and their family.In order for them to be consoled and feel more homey, cosier, they decorate their vehicle to feel like they are at home. This decoration takes place both in the interior and on the exterior part of the vehicle, while the most frequently seen decoration is a painted woman asking her husband-driver in hindi language “when will you come home?”
Of course there are more reasons why truck drivers decorate their trucks. Many believe that in this way they exorcise evil and bad energy as they want to have good luck, which they need on their long journey. Moreover, we must not forget that the vehicle is their only way to ensure their livelihood and basically it is a moving advertising sign. The more beautiful it is, the more customers it will attract. And on the other hand they pay tribute to the vehicle that accompanies them and provides them with the means to live.
But what paintings do the Indians decorate their lorries with? In such a large country, the designs could only be varied. We see religious iconography quite often. We specifically saw painted Hindu gods and Tibetans ones as well. Apart from deities, Bollywood’s famous stars are also found on the trucks. The colors are intense and vibrant. They could not “dress” their vehicles differently. The same way they dress themselves. Floral motifs are usual. We also find wooden sculptures on the doors that act as amulets. Hanging on the front we see tassels, knitted fabrics, garlands, and even chains tied by the bumper. Frequently, encourangements are written on the rear part of the truck such as Horn please! or something similar that pushes the Indian drivers to their beloved habit (horning). You cannot do anything in the streets of India without a constant horn. In addition to these common messages, many choose to write political slogans through which they express their beliefs. Of course, these also change from timeto time depending on socio-political circumstances.
This decoration is often undertaken by specialized laboratories. The artists who have been painting India’s trucks for many years have been wasting hours of hard work under the mighty sun. That’s why they do not want their children to experience the same hardship. Thus, they urge them to study instead of continuing their art. Of course, it is understandable for a parent to feel and act like this. However, if we take into account that fact and thetendency to replace the paintings with stickers, it may be the beginning of the end for these mobile artworks.
Through this habit, drivers basically express themselves. It is an act of externalizing their psyche. On the other hand, it is an act of revolt, a rite of passage of these colorful trucks on the grey and dusty roads of the country.
* Christina Arora was born in Athens in 1986. She comes from Greece and from Punjab, India. She has studied Greek literature and currently works in the private sector. She was engaged in Braille while she recently began to study Hindi and Indian culture. She is administrator and article writer in:
Articles by Christina Arora in INDIKA
Decorated trucks on the roads of India, INDIKA 2019
Identity Issues (Being a Greek-Indian in Greece in the 21st century), Christina and Angelos Arora, INDIKA 2019
This post is also available in: Ελληνικα (Greek)