Beauty inside

These stunning hand-painted trucks rule the roads of Pakistan – 89.3 WFPL News Louisville

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan – Everything about Pakistani trucks is exuberant and over the top, from the colors and loud patterns to the intricate wood carvings on the doors. Each is richly decorated and no two trucks are alike.

For drivers and artists decorating their vehicles, Pakistani trucks are more than just trucks.

“When we decorate it, we hope people will look at our truck with love,” says Muhammad Ijaz Mughal, a lifelong truck artist who learned the craft from his father and now runs a small studio from his home. “When a truck is decorated, we treat it like a bride, we decorate it and take care of it.”

The interior of a truck in Rawalpindi. For drivers and artists decorating their vehicles, Pakistani trucks are more than just trucks.

Just off the main trade route between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, there are artists, welders, metalworkers, horn sellers and electricians, all busy renovating and decorating the huge vehicles parked in the yard. Their vast space, called the Cart Factory area, is devoted to the upkeep and care of creations that serve a utilitarian purpose – transporting goods from one place to another – while looking and feeling the its as awesome as it gets.

Every driver wants their truck to be the most admired vehicle on the road.

“We make sure that when a truck hits the road, it looks good. It has a variety of beauties,” says Mughal. “It should look the best, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

“When we decorate it, we hope people will look at our truck with love,” says Muhammad Ijaz Mughal, a lifelong truck artist who learned the craft from his father.

Truck painting has become a quintessentially Pakistani art form

Scholars have drawn decorated proof of transport in the subcontinent for thousands of years. The Pakistani practice of painting trucks began to gain popularity soon after the country’s independence. Mughal says his father, Haji Habib Rahman, was one of the first truck artists in the country.

While trucks in India and other countries may feature embellishments, few are as extravagantly – or as elaborately and elaborately – decorated as Pakistani trucks.

A man is putting the finishing touches on some art that will be added to the truck’s decor, including bells for the rear.

Platforms large and small are covered in patterns, colorful stickers and whimsical paintings – hearts, flowers, peacocks, movie stars, folk singers, animals, politicians, angels and army generals. Chains dangling from the bottom rattle and sway as the truck stops and turns.

There are lines of poetry in swirls of calligraphy expressing the loneliness of the long-haul trucker: “My beloved,” says an Urdu couplet from the back of a truck, “I’m surprised to see you at the edge of the sea. You left me in the middle of the troubled sea, and now you are walking on the shore.

Irfan Muhammad, 40, has been painting trucks for 20 years.

Styles vary by region, and in Rawalpindi people tend to favor truck art which Mughal describes as “disco”. Mirrors and embossed metal shimmer and sparkle, not only on the exterior, but also inside the driver’s cabs. In recent years, some trucks have started adding multi-color flashing lights.

Pakistani anthropologist and filmmaker Samar Minallah Khan says the Pakistani tradition of truck art is special in part because it overturns assumptions about truckers.

“It just celebrates their culture, their way of life,” she says. “You see they are artists. They are poets. They have a sense of humor. They love nature. They love, you know, so many things that need to be celebrated.

Trucks are the main mode of freight transport in Pakistan

There is more than 200,000 registered trucks on Pakistan’s roads – and probably many more in total, as the informal nature of the industry makes a full count difficult. Trucks remain the main means of transporting goods due to the poor state of the country’s rail system.

Often loaded to the brim, they weave their way along highways, over rugged mountain roads and in and around city streets, hauling their tons of goods – from gravel, cement and bricks to wheat, cotton and fruit. Many are stately old Bedford trucks, no longer in production.

Electrician Muhammad Ishaq, 50, works on a set of headlights for the front of a truck.

Trucks need to be reconditioned and repainted regularly. Jamal Elias, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of On the Wings of Diesel: Trucks, Identity and Culture in Pakistanfelt that the trucks needed to be repainted approximately every five years. A full refurbishment costs thousands of dollars, say traders in the Rawalpindi car factory area, and can require the labor and expertise of around four dozen people.

Drivers and owners have their say, but the artist’s vision usually prevails

Crouching next to a truck at the studio, a painter named Irfan Muhammad puts the finishing touches to a mountain valley scene in bright greens, oranges, blues and reds. He has been painting trucks for 20 years now. His favorite subject is peacocks – he admires their beauty – but other truck artists prefer different animals, usually for symbolic effect.

Sometimes, says Mughal, “They paint a lion, and the lion chases a deer or something – so hard that truck is the lion. It’s the best and it’s the fiercest truck, [more] that others.”

At a truck yard in Rawalpindi, trucks are lined up next to each other awaiting attention and repairs from the mechanics and artists working there.

Others prefer more spiritual emblems of power: some want their vehicles to bear a representation of the Buraqthe winged steed that carried the Prophet Muhammad to heaven.

The images and designs that appear on a Pakistani truck reflect the wishes of its owner and driver, but, says Mughal, the artists “are those whose imagination dominates the art of the truck and can convince the owner if they wish. “.

Horns come in several varieties

Drivers have a choice when it comes to horns. Some are trilling and melodious, others moaning or shrill like a train whistle, and still others good old-fashioned horns. All are impossible to ignore.

In his shop, Javed Iqbal vocalizes some of the horn sounds for visitors. Many drivers call for the “rail wallah” horn, he says, the one that sounds like a train. And for those who don’t want to choose a single sound, it sells a single horn with multiple effects.

“It sounds like musical sounds, train sounds,” he says. “So because different drivers have different tendencies, the truck has to have more than one horn and we have to make it easier for them. So in one package, a five-six-seven sound.

Irfan Muhammad’s favorite painting subject is the peacock.

Truck art also helped bring missing children home

Thanks in part to the efforts of Khan, the anthropologist and filmmaker, Pakistani trucks not only look good and sound great, they also serve a social good. She helped launch an award-winning program project in 2019 in which a small number of trucks carry portraits of missing children, along with a number to call for Roshni Helpline, a Karachi-based non-profit organization dedicated to their recovery.

“So if anyone sees this picture and, you know, wants to contact that organization or that helpline with any kind of information, it would be easier for them to remember the number and everything,” she explains. .

Many have reached out. Of the 20 or so missing children whose portraits were painted on trucks, Khan says at least five have been found. The project, she says, is continuing.

NPR’s Fatma Tanis contributed to this Rawalpindi story.

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