Color

Southasia - - Culture - Ki­ran Wa­jid is a sea­soned jour­nal­ist who writes on top­ics of di­verse in­ter­est.

ous that the mo­ti­va­tion to have one’s ve­hi­cle dec­o­rated is purely emo­tional, sen­ti­men­tal and even re­li­gious. Of­ten, the mo­tifs found on th­ese ve­hi­cles have more to them than mere aes­thetic con­sid­er­a­tions. Fur­ther­more, trucks are largely used for trans­port­ing cargo through­out the coun­try and truck art is now con­sid­ered one of the most pop­u­lar forms of rep­re­sen­ta­tional art in Pak­istan.

Truck art in Pak­istan has been ex­ten­sively stud­ied by both lo­cal as well for­eign re­searchers and art en­thu­si­asts, who have iden­ti­fied five dif­fer­ent kinds of styles. The most com­monly used is the Rawalpindi or Pun­jab style, which, as the name sug­gests, is found in (north­ern) Pun­jab, par­tic­u­larly Rawalpindi, Hasan­ab­dal, Haripur and Gu­jran­wala as well as Azad Kash­mir. Th­ese trucks have an or­nate me­tal cowl­ing above the wind­shield and rely heav­ily on plas­tic ap­pliqué in their dec­o­ra­tion. Then there is the Swat style that is known for its carved wooden doors and limited use of plas­tic and ham­mered met­al­work. The third is the Pe­shawar style, which is a mix be­tween Rawalpindi and Swat, fea­tur­ing carved wooden doors that are usu­ally painted and have sim­ple me­tal cowl­ings. The fourth is the Baloch form, based in south­ern and western Pak­istan (Dera Ghazi Khan, Quetta and Karachi) and is the most elab­o­rate be­cause it ex­ten­sively em- ploys mo­saic ap­pliqué and chrome bumpers. Fi­nally, there is the Karachi style, which is a com­bi­na­tion of all the above-men­tioned styles. One of the fea­tures of the Karachi style is the wooden re­lief work over the wind­shield, done in flu­o­res­cent paints.

The dec­o­ra­tive mo­tifs too can be di­vided into five cat­e­gories: the ide­alised ele­ments of life such as a utopian vil­lage, beau­ti­ful land­scapes and women; ele­ments of mod­ern life, for ex­am­ple, po­lit­i­cal fig­ures and sym­bols of pa­tri­o­tism; sym­bols such as horses, horns and items of cloth­ing; re­li­giously loaded sym­bols, such as eyes and fish; and ob­vi­ous re­li­gious sym­bols and im­ages, such as Bu­raq (the ce­les­tial horse be­lieved to have car­ried the Prophet (PBUH) on a spir­i­tual jour­ney to heaven).

One can make sense then, of the Pak­istani truck that at first glance ap­pears to be an ex­plo­sive ex­pres­sion of pop­u­lar or folk art. The side panels are used to place the con­stantly mov­ing driver in a so­cial ge­og­ra­phy. The role played by the truck­ing com­pany’s name and routes is self-ap­par­ent in this func­tion, but other im­ages, par­tic­u­larly ro­man­ti­cised or ide­alised nat­u­ral­is­tic paint­ings, are equally sig­nif­i­cant. The no­madic na­ture of the driver is crit­i­cal to his self-con­cep­tion, con­sciously ar­tic­u­lated by him in con­ver­sa­tion and in the mu­sic he lis­tens to. He pines for an imag­ined home from which he is ab­sent by def­i­ni­tion. The truck func­tions not only as his home away from home, but also as his means of liveli­hood and his part­ner. The last con­cern ex­plains the gen­eral mo­ti­va­tion to dec­o­rate the truck and to fem­i­nise it and en­dow it with bri­dal sym­bols.

The sym­bol­ism con­nected with the safety of the per­son and liveli­hood dom­i­nates the truck and also the trucker’s be­hav­ior (vis­its to shrines, re­li­gious stick­ers adorn­ing the in­te­rior of the truck, etc). The need to avoid mis­for­tune and gain good for­tune pro­vides a sim­ple ex­pla­na­tion for the tal­is­manic ob­jects, sym­bols and ex­plicit re­li­gious mo­tifs on the truck. How­ever, their spe­cific na­ture and place­ment give ev­i­dence that truck dec­o­ra­tion func­tions lin­guis­ti­cally and that the choice of mo­tifs and their lo­ca­tion are the syn­tax through which vary­ing mes­sages are con­veyed.

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