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."'!

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent