Ode to the Road: Truck Art of North India

in Image Gallery
Published on: 22 March 2021

Dinesh Kafle

Dinesh Kafle is a journalist and translator based in New Delhi. He has worked for The Wire and Routledge Books, and writes a regular column for The Kathmandu Post. He has translated two books between English and Nepali. He received a PhD in English from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Trucks are normally seen as vehicles for transport of goods from one place to another. In literary and artistic imaginations, trucks are considered vehicles that shift an individual from one place to another, both literally and figuratively. But trucks also serve as alternative literary spaces, opening possibilities for the reach of poetry and philosophical adages to a large number of people. 

An example of such a space, the bumpers of the trucks in North India are often painted with couplets and quartets. Among North Indian trucks, those registered in Uttar Pradesh often carry writings that are closest to what we call truck literature: couplets and quartets. The trucks registered in Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, and Punjab have different kinds of writings, designs and iconography, but often carry fewer poetic expressions compared to those registered in Uttar Pradesh. 

Truck literature represents expressions ranging from personal to political, emotive to didactic. While the idea of love or romance forms bulk of truck literature, other kinds of expressions that often find space in truck literature include philosophical adages, advice on safe driving and social issues. It is not unusual to see one-liner romantic expressions such as ‘Hans mat pagli, pyaar ho jayega’ (Don’t laugh silly girl, for I might fall in love with you) or popular sayings such as ‘Buri najar waale, tera munh kaala’ (Those who have evil eye may get a black face). 

This photoessay explores how truck professionals use literary expressions to tell the stories of their lives as well as of contemporary society to their fellow professionals and passersby. These expressions include one's affiliations to caste, community, gender, religion, region, and nation. They also include truck professionals’ longing for home, family, and the loved ones. 

The photos included here show a truck driver who loves reading shayaris (poems) written on trucks and can recite dozens of them but prefers not to have them written on his truck, a truck repairman who laments the decline of truck literature due to the onslaught of cheap printing technology, a truck professional’s message to fellow drivers on safe driving practices, a jilted lover’s message to his former beloved, a hardworking professional’s trust on the almighty’s kindness, a truck professional’s pride in regional affiliation, and much more.