Integrative Seminar – Indian Truck Art

 

INDIAN TRUCK ART

Atika Amonker

ISDI Section G

February 6, 2017

 

A prominent feature of Indian highways are brightly decorated trucks that travel the length and breadth of the country’s roads.[1] This paper encapsulates the various elements of iconography seen on Indian trucks. What do these colourful icons mean? We see them everyday, what we don’t realize is that they speak volumes about the character and journey of the truck and its driver.

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-08-02-pm

Fig.-Bright colours used on an Indian truck.[2]

Truck art is considered as an extension of the spirit of the Indian people. Indians are known to be warm as well as loud and expressive. You can tell the state of mind of the truck driver just by looking at the art on his truck.[3] The designs painted on the truck not only serve the purpose of aesthetically enhancing the truck, but it also displays the religious, superstitious and emotional viewpoints of the truck driver as well as the artist.[4]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-08-10-pm

Fig.- Lucky charms and painting on Indian trucks.[5]

The grim economical and living conditions as well as the dangerous nature of their job, help truck drivers find joy in the beauty of their trucks. Truck drivers spend months together away from home. This leads them to develop a strong relationship with their trucks. It is as though the truck is a replacement of his wife, family and home. Therefore, the trucker feels morally obliged to decorate his truck, as he would his new bride. This is the reason why most of the trucks sport such luminous colours. They remind the truckers of the colours worn by their wives. The practical application of these colours is that, they can be spotted from a distance, especially in the night.[6] There is a common belief among truckers, that the more elaborately one’s truck is painted, the better it is for business.[7]

 

Truck art doesn’t represent a linear form of thought. It doesn’t guide the viewer’s attention in any direction. It is an extension of the trucker’s personality and hence it is very individualistic. This art form attaches a personal value to a piece of machinery, which evokes trust in the mind of the customer. It is mood alleviating for drivers who often times travel on harsh, perilous routes. It also emerges from a driver’s feeling that if they took care of their trucks, their trucks would take care of them.[8]

Alot of typography is seen on Indian trucks. Quality of typography also plays a role in enhancing the way a truck looks.[9]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-08-32-pm

Fig.- A truck artist carefully painting type on a truck.[10]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-08-38-pm

Fig.-Typography on side panel.[11]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-08-49-pm

 Fig.-Hindi typography on side panel.[12]

Usually, ‘Goods Carrier’ is written in front of the cabin, while ‘All India Permit’ is written on the top front.screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-09-01-pm

Fig.-‘Goods Carrier’ written in front of the vehicle.[13]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-09-10-pm

Fig.- ‘All India Permit’ written at the back of the vehicle.[14]

You’ll also find Bhagyalakshmi’(Goddess of luck), ‘Maa ka Aashirwad’ (mother’s blessings) written on the trucks. ‘All India Permit’, ‘Goods carrier’ and the number plate are all in the front as per RTO regulations.

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-09-24-pm

            Fig.-‘Maa ka Aashirwad’ painted on a truck.[15]

 

‘Speed 40 km’ is written at the back of the truck. On the other side will be the number plate with ‘Horn Please’ written in the center, with some designs around it.

The regularity of the font that the painters use is fascinating, since it isn’t actually a real font. It is something that is created by the painters itself. Professional calligraphers use a different angle to hold the brush while rendering Hindi alphabets. However, truck painters use the brush like they would for English lettering. The painters also use embellishments and ornaments to enhance the typography.

The font seen on one truck is very similar to the font seen on another. They identify a particular style of lettering with a truck. These truck painters use drop shadows for their lettering. Drop shadows are something we use on computers nowadays, however, this was something the truck painters had adapted years ago.

Modern day truck painters, not only use the brush, but also spray paint.

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-09-31-pm

Fig.-Drop shadows used on lettering at the back of a truck.[1]

 

The concept of ‘Horn Please’ comes from the war period, when kerosene used to be transported from one place to another. Since kerosene was an inflammable product, people wanted to make way as the trucks would catch fire. As per Indian standards, you can only overtake from the right, not from the left. This is the reason why the ‘Stop’ sign is on the left and the number plate is on the right. [2]

 

Horn OK Please’ communicates that one should blow the horn to get an ‘OK’ signal from the driver to overtake. A theory that speaks about the origin of the phrase ‘Horn OK Please’ is that, during the British rule in India, trucks would have a small bulb at the back. If these trucks were on the highway in the night, and a vehicle behind the truck had to overtake, he would sound the horn. The truck driver would check if there was another vehicle approaching from the front. If the road was clear, he would switch on the light bulb over the word ‘OK’. This was a signal to the vehicle behind that he had the permission to overtake.[3]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-09-38-pm

Fig.-‘Horn OK Please’ on the backs of trucks.[4]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-09-46-pm

Fig.- Horn OK Please’ on the backs of trucks 2.[5]

Another theory suggests that in the olden days, a soap called ‘OK’ was made available. One truck driver incorporated the name ‘OK’, after which this became a tradition for others to do the same.[6]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-09-58-pm

Fig.- OK soap.[7]

Some truckers write couplets on their truck showcasing their bravado, while others who miss their homes and loved ones write that message.

The people of India are very familiar with religious icons. Whether it is Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism or Christianity. [8]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-10-06-pm

Fig. Truck owned by Hindu driver.[1]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-10-12-pm

Fig.-Truck owned by Muslim driver.[2]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-10-17-pm

Fig.-Truck owned by Sikh driver.[3]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-10-22-pm

Fig.-Truck owned by Christian driver.[4]

Sometimes, there are also political icons. Usually, most Muslim truckers have the image of 786, a depiction of the Kaba and of a place called Karbala.[5]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-10-40-pm

Fig.-Political icons on an Indian truck.[6]

One of the earliest icons to be seen on Indian trucks was a cow with a calf. In olden days, it used to be a political sign. It also represents the protector. In this case the protector is the owner of the truck.[7]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-10-45-pm

Fig.-Cow with calf on a Hindu truck in Haryana.[8]

Most trucks also sport the Lotus, which is an important symbol of fertility and enlightenment. In Hindu culture it is a sign of spiritual communion with God. In the 1940s and 1950s, V. Shantaram was a very popular director. Most of his movies (Do Aankhen Barah Haath), start with a woman doing a gesture of pouring from a lotus flower. There is a Bharatnatyam dance pose with a woman doing the same gesture. This is a sign of offering to God. [9]screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-10-56-pm

Fig.- Lotus icon on a truck.[10]

Every trucker has a different taste. Some paintings are made, keeping the sensual aspect in mind. Some get a dancing pose painted, while others have mythological characters depicted. Shiva is depicted as he is a destroyer as well as a procreator. He is also an important masculine God, who we revere as being a vagabond.

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-11-15-pm

Fig.-Depiction of a sensual dance pose on a truck.[11]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-11-02-pm

Fig.-Depiction of Lord Shiva on a truck.[1]

Many trucks incorporate depictions of the Taj Mahal. By doing so, the driver wants to equate his vehicle to being the greatest in the world.[2]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-11-08-pm

Fig.-Glass painting of Taj Mahal.[3]

 

Another popular depiction is that of the Bishnoi women rebelling against their king. The king of Khejarli, a place near Jodhpur needed wood for his palace. Khejarli was a place here the Bishnoi community used to reside. When the king’s army arrived to cut down the trees, the children, men and especially the women of the community, all came in their way to stop them from cutting down the trees. They were ready to die at the cost of saving the trees. When the king found out, he apologized to his people. Today they have built a pilgrimage there.[4]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-11-22-pm

Fig.- Depiction of the myth of the Bishnoi community[5].

 

Many trucks also incorporate Panihari painting (women carrying water). Most of the times there are two women depicted with a cow or a calf in the space between them. In some, the cow is being milked, while in others there are depictions of small temples.[6]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-11-28-pm

Fig.-Depiction of Panihari women with a cow between them.[7]

 

Sometimes you see a hunting scene being painted with depictions of animals such as deer, tigers, peacocks, etc. Peacocks and tigers are depicted as they are our national bird and national animal, respectively. This is a way of showing pride. The truckers are proud of their Indian heritage.[8]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-11-35-pm

Fig.- Depiction of  peacocks on a truck.[9]

It is believed that one of the painters from Rajasthan, painted a picture of his girlfriend on a few trucks. Now, every painter paints that same picture whenever he has to paint a woman.[10]

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-6-11-40-pm

Fig.- Depiction of a woman commonly seen on many trucks.[11]

A lot of the decoration on the truck is to do with good luck on the road and warning away from bad omens. Sometimes they tie shoes to the bottom. This is meant to keep away the evil eye.[12]

Truck art is considered as an extension of the personality of the truck driver. It displays the superstitious, religious and personal beliefs of the truck driver. Since the drivers spend months away from home, it makes them develop a strong relationship with the truck. The truck is almost like a substitute for his family, wife and home. Hence he feels obliged to decorate it, as he wood his new bride. Truck art is mood alleviating, especially when the trucker travels through harsh, perilous roads. The practical application for the use of right colours is that they can be spotted from a distance in the night.

Truck art consists of a variety of typography. From short phrases and poems to the iconic “Horn OK Please”. Most of the other of elements of typography are placed as per RTO rules.

A number of trucks display religious as well as political icons on their trucks. The most common icons seen on trucks is the lotus and the cow and calf symbol. Most trucks also have depictions of Lord Shiva, considering his role as protector. Some trucks even have depictions of certain stories and scenes, like the painting of the Bishnoi women, Panihari painting, hunting scenes etc.

 The truck art industry is slowly on the verge of decline. Barring a few other aspects, this is because the business that the truck achieves has become the primary focus. The artwork and the aesthetic appeal of the truck has taken a backseat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Shantanu Suman, Depiction of Lord Shiva on a truck., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

[2] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[3] Shantanu Suman, Glass painting of Taj Mahal, digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

[4] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[5] Shantanu Suman, Depiction of the myth of the Bishnoi community., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

 

[6] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[7] Deepa Krishnan, Depiction of Panihari women with a cow between them, digital image, Delhi Magic, March 3, 2013, accessed February 4, 2017, http://delhimagic.blogspot.in/2013/03/truck-art-in-india-i-love-it.html.

 

 

 

[8] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[9] Shantanu Suman, Depiction of peacocks on a truck., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

[10] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[11] Shantanu Suman, Depiction of a woman commonly seen on many trucks., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

[12] Sheena McKenzie, “Pimp my ride: The psychedelic world of Indian truck art,” CNN, , accessed February 08, 2017, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/04/travel/india-truck-art-travel-design/.

 

 

[1] Shantanu Suman, Truck owned by Hindu driver, digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

 

[2] Shantanu Suman, Truck owned by Muslim driver, digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

[3] Shantanu Suman, Truck owned by Sikh driver, digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

[4] Shantanu Suman, Truck owned by Christian driver, digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

[5] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[6] Sheena McKenzie Political icons on an Indian truck, digital image, CNN, August 4, 2015, accessed February 4, 2017, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/04/travel/india-truck-art-travel-design/.

 

[7] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[8] Shantanu Suman, Cow with calf on a Hindu truck in Haryana., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

[9] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[10] Shantanu Suman, Lotus icon on a truck, digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

[11]Shantanu Suman, Depiction of a sensual dance pose on a truck., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

[1] Shantanu Suman Drop shadows used on lettering at the back of a truck., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-decoration/.

[2] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[3] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[4] Shantanu Suman .-‘Horn OK Please’ on the backs of trucks., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-decoration/.

 

[5] Shantanu Suman .-‘Horn OK Please’ on the backs of trucks 2., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-decoration/.

[6] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

 

[7] Shantanu Suman .- OK soap., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-decoration/.

[8] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

 

[1] Dan Eckstein, Horn please: the decorated trucks of India (Brooklyn, NY: PowerHouse Books, 2014), , accessed February 8, 2017, https://books.google.co.in/books?id=sceongEACAAJ&dq=indian truck art&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj__tWTnoDSAhWEto8KHRGEDQkQ6AEIGjAA.

[2] Sheena McKenzie, Bright colours used on an Indian truck, digital image, CNN, August 4, 2015, accessed February 4, 2017, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/04/travel/india-truck-art-travel-design/.

[3] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[4] “The truck art of India,” UPPERCASE, January 20, 2014, , accessed February 08, 2017, http://uppercasemagazine.com/blog/2014/1/20/the-truck-art-of-india.

 

 

[5] Shantanu Suman Lucky charms and painting on Indian trucks., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-decoration/.

 

[6] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[7] Priyanshi Khemka, “Har Truck kuch kehta hai – Indian truck art,” Behance, , accessed February 08, 2017, https://www.behance.net/gallery/41689119/Har-Truck-kuch-kehta-hai-Indian-truck-art.

[8] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

 

[9] Horn Please, , accessed February 02, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

[10] Shantanu Suman A truck artist carefully painting type on a truck., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.

 

 

 

 

[11] Shantanu Suman Typography on side panel., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-decoration/.

[12] Shantanu Suman Hindi typography on side panel., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-decoration/.

 

 

[13] Shantanu Suman ‘Goods Carrier’ written in front of the vehicle., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-decoration/.

[14] Shantanu Suman ‘All India Permit’ written at the back of the vehicle., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-decoration/.

 

[15] Shantanu Suman ‘Maa ka Aashirwad’ painted on a truck., digital image, Project Horn Please, accessed February 4, 2017, http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-decoration/.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Eckstein, Dan. Horn please: the decorated trucks of India. Brooklyn, NY: PowerHouse Books, 2014. Accessed February 8, 2017. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=sceongEACAAJ&dq=indian truck art&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj__tWTnoDSAhWEto8KHRGEDQkQ6AEIGjAA.
  2. Khemka, Priyanshi. “Har Truck kuch kehta hai – Indian truck art.” Behance. Accessed February 08, 2017. https://www.behance.net/gallery/41689119/Har-Truck-kuch-kehta-hai-Indian-truck-art.
  3. Krishnan, Deepa. Depiction of Panihari women with a cow between them. Digital image. Delhi Magic. March 3, 2013. Accessed February 4, 2017. http://delhimagic.blogspot.in/2013/03/truck-art-in-india-i-love-it.html.
  4. Suman, Shantanu. Lotus icon on a truck. Digital image. Project Horn Please. Accessed February 4, 2017. http://www.projecthornplease.com/research-2/photo-gallery/truck-construction/.
  5. McKenzie, Sheena . The psychedelic world of Indian Truck art. Digital image. CNN. August 4, 2015. Accessed February 3, 2017. http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/04/travel/india-truck-art-travel-design/.
  6. McKenzie, Sheena. “Pimp my ride: The psychedelic world of Indian truck art.” CNN. Accessed February 08, 2017. http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/04/travel/india-truck-art-travel-design/.
  7. “The truck art of India.” UPPERCASE. January 20, 2014. Accessed February 08, 2017. http://uppercasemagazine.com/blog/2014/1/20/the-truck-art-of-india.
  8. Horn Please. Accessed February 02, 2017. http://www.projecthornplease.com/portfolio-post/horn-please-documentary/.

 

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