HIGH KITSCH ON THE HIGHWAY

THE BROADER PICTURE

IN BRITAIN, we sometimes refer to our lorries as the Kings of the Road. In Pakistan, they are always Queens. Painted in vivid colours and adorned with rosewood carvings, the trucks are often things of extraordinary beauty: moving expressions of their (male) drivers' love for their vehicles.

Brightly-painted wagons are a long-standing tradition in many Asian countries, including India and Indonesia, and in Paki-stan nearly all forms of transport rickshaws, buses, horse-drawn carriages, even bicycles are decorated. But Pakistan's heavy goods vehicles stand out for the sheer lavishness and intricacy of their ornamentation: this is truck-decoration as serious art.

Surprisingly, it is a relatively young art. Its founder is thought to have been the painter Ustad Allah Baksh, who in 1947 left his native Kutch for Dera Ghazi Khan, a dusty city in the centre of the newly formed state of Pakistan. Finding no demand there for his skills (he had been a painter of frescos for the nobility), he turned his attentions to the goods trucks that he kept encountering. There were already spray-painted trucks in the north of the country, but Ustad Allah Baksh's son Yusuf claims that proper truck-painting as it exists today, using bold enamel paints, owes its origins to his father. It is certainly true that, despite the intricately decorated trucks that are found in every large Pakistani city, Dera Ghazi Khan remains the undisputed centre of high truck art.

The subject matter of the paintings on the trucks, whatever region they come from, is often similar. Patriotism finds expression in pictures of national flags, monuments and political leaders, from General Ayub Khan to Benazir Bhutto. Fights between lions and snakes symbolise the triumph of good over evil. Pastoral scenes of lakes, waterfalls, snow-covered peaks and forests are meta-phors for the promised paradise of Islam. And, in recent years, portraits of voluptuous film stars have begun to appear, along with renderings of rifles and weapons of war, reflecting ways in which life has changed in modern Pakistan. Many of the trucks boast intricately cut-out metalwork, laboriously hammered by hand before being painted, and it is a matter of pride among drivers to see who can festoon his vehicle with the most mascots, badges, fringes, flashing lights, streamers and tassels. Every available inch of space is covered.

Street poetry, too, adorns the mudguards of many trucks. Crude but pungent couplets exhort all to tread the straight and narrow, refrain from casting the evil eye and reward loyalty with a tender glance. The couplets can be ribald, witty or sanctimonious ("A mother's prayer is like the breeze of heaven"), depending upon the driver's political, social and emotional affiliations.

Driver are willing to pay thousands of pounds on the decoration of a single truck, which takes place at one of the many workshops that are found in every city. Indeed, adorning a truck often costs a driver more than he might pay for a bride which may explain why truckers often refer to their newly-decorated trucks as their brides. Indeed, the average truck driver probably spends far more time in his truck than in the company of his wife which is the other side of the story.

For all its external colour, a truck driver's life is gruelling and monotonous. "One day I'm in Rawalpindi, the next day in Lahore," said Nazakat Ali, a driver from Hazara. "I do that every day of the year, except the two Eids [religious festivals]. I always travel with another driver; while I sleep, he drives. But neither of us ever sleeps for more than two hours at a stretch. I go carefully, but sometimes exhaustion makes you careless. When your time comes, it comes," he added, with a shrug. "A dark veil descends before your eyes and the angels drag you away."'!

Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz