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A driver’s pride and joy

Updated August 09, 2015

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72 years old Haji Habibur Rehman gives final touches to his work.
72 years old Haji Habibur Rehman gives final touches to his work.

Pakistani trucks are known around the world as moving canvases. These trucks are lovingly decorated by their drivers, who spend their days and nights driving them through the length and breadth of the country. Decked in vibrant colours and bells, inscribed with romantic couplets and even images of political personalities, each truck tells a unique tale. But with the arrival of transportation companies, which have large fleets of modern trucks with containers, traditional truck art is becoming less common.

Mohammad Khan, 24, is one of the many truckers who spend a large amount of money embellishing their vehicles.
Mohammad Khan, 24, is one of the many truckers who spend a large amount of money embellishing their vehicles.

In the garrison city, some truck artists can still be found in the Dhoke Ratta area. According to them, this art form became popularised in Rawalpindi in 1955 by artists who arrived here from Rampur in India. Haji Habibur Rehman, 72, was among the group of pupils who trained with the first generation of truck artists. He has been painting trucks for the last 58 years. “I started painting trucks when I was 14 years old,” he said. The old master believes traditional truck art techniques are becoming endangered. “Truck art is slowly vanishing with stickers and plastic and steel ornaments, replacing the tedious work of painting by hand,” he said.

Ornamental steel fixtures such as these are commonly affixed on the sides of trucks.
Ornamental steel fixtures such as these are commonly affixed on the sides of trucks.

“My children are not interested in learning the art of painting trucks,” he added.

Aware of the great value placed on this art form around the world; these artists are now using truck art style with its vibrant colour scheme and bold strokes, to embellish other ornamental objects.

Workers put fresh coats of paint on the faded embellishments on this old truck. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad
Workers put fresh coats of paint on the faded embellishments on this old truck. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad

The shops in Dhoke Ratta sell lanterns, teapots, mugs, plates, bowls and other things painted in truck art style. But for trucker, Mohammad Khan, traditional truck art still holds great value.

“Decorative paintings and ornamental fixtures raise the price of a truck, in addition to drawing appreciation from fellow truckers,” he said.

Even the inside of engines may be decorated on the drivers’ demand.
Even the inside of engines may be decorated on the drivers’ demand.

He said that in the 1960s drivers would get romantic or humorous couplets inscribed on the bumpers of the truck but times have changed and most people now inscribe the names of Allah or the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) on their vehicles.

Bold brush strokes in vibrant colours are a defining feature of truck art.
Bold brush strokes in vibrant colours are a defining feature of truck art.

“After all, a truck is a driver’s pride and joy,” he added.

Explore: Karachi’s bedecked buses

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2015

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