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The Jingle Trucks of Pakistan

A typical Pakistani truck driver spends more time with his truck than he does with his wife. Which explains why he wants his 10-ton six-wheeler to look like a new bride.

These trucks plying across Pakistan’s national highways and the neighboring country of Afghanistan are distinctively ostentatious. The entire trucks, from top to bottom, are a riot of colors. Lavishly painted panels containing a mosaic of birds, flowers, landscapes, saints, and actresses in hyper-saturated color palette adorn the exterior, while plastic flowers, draped beads, mirrors, ribbons and velvet grace the interior. The cabin is crowned by a custom built wooden prow wrapped in more kitschy artwork, while a string of metal bells dangle from the chassis all round the periphery. When the truck is in motion, these bells clang against each other like a new bride’s ghungroo. This is where the nickname “jingle trucks” come from—coined by US troops deployed in Afghanistan.

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Photo credit: ISAF Public Affairs/Flickr

And it isn’t just trucks alone. Passenger buses, water tankers, transport vans, rickshaws, and even vendors’ pushcarts are psychedelically decorated with eye-popping colors. It’s like a rolling folk art, “a national gallery without walls, a free-form, kaleidoscopic exhibition in perpetual motion,” as Richard Covington puts it.

The tradition of decorating trucks began sometime in the 1920s with the introduction of the long-distance Bedfords—a British-built truck with rounded cab and seven-feet high paneled sides that was to become the country’s most prestigious and dependable truck for more than half a century. Originally trucks were painted with each company’s logo so that illiterate people could recognize who owned the trucks. Gradually, these logos became more fanciful, flamboyant and competitive. By the 1950s, stylized murals and frescoes had begun to replace them. It was only in the 1960s, as the country’s economy boomed, the decorations became increasingly sophisticated to reflect the growing wealth of the drivers and the rise of a new urban class.

Pimping out a truck this way cost truck owners a small fortune. It isn’t unheard of for a driver to spend the equivalent of a year’s worth, or more, of profits on truck decorations. According to a 2005 article, a basic painting and body job costs a minimum of $2500, equivalent to two years of the average truck driver’s salary. Some spend upwards of $10,000 outfitting their rigs. Unbelievably, many truckers will return to the workshop every three or four years for a full vehicle makeover.

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Photo credit: Alexandros.Papadopoulos/Wikimedia

“Truckers don’t even spend so much money on their own houses,” marvels Durriya Kazi, head of the department of visual studies at the University of Karachi. “I remember one driver who told me that he put his life and livelihood into the truck. If he didn’t honor it with the proper paint job, he would feel he was being ungrateful.”

A well-decorated truck also gives customers the impression that it is well taken care of and will, therefore, be a dependable way to transport goods.

Truck painting is also a big business. In Karachi city alone, more than 50,000 people are engaged in this unregulated yet lucrative industry. Family-run workshops comprising of apprentices and highly trained artisans, and small shops selling all manners of outlandish ornaments and accessories crowd around truck yards.

Over the years, however, the business has changed. Now instead of meticulously hand painting each truck, mass produced stickers and adornments are used.

“Truck decoration is not stagnating; it is dead,” laments R M Naeem, an assistant professor at the National College of Arts, Lahore. “This is because truck painters treat their work as a source of livelihood. They do not have the time or the luxury to innovate; they repeat the same old patterns, images and icons over and over again.”

However, thanks to artists like Haider Ali, who gave a Ford van a jingle-truck-style makeover a couple of years ago in a parking lot in Pasadena, California, and other painters, it’s unlikely that this quintessentially Pakistani craft is going to die out any time soon.

Related: Dekotora: The Ridiculously Decorated Trucks of Japan

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Photo credit: Benny Lin/Flickr

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Photo credit: carol mitchell/Flickr

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Photo credit: carol mitchell/Flickr

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Photo credit: carol mitchell/Flickr

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Photo credit: carol mitchell/Flickr

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Photo credit: carol mitchell/Flickr

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Photo credit: Murtaza Imran Ali/Wikimedia

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Photo credit: Olaf Kellerhoff/Flickr

Pakistan-Impressionen

Photo credit: Olaf Kellerhoff/Flickr

1 comment:

  1. Wow! they look like the old circus tr
    ucks, Very eye catching. Back to the psychodelic 60w.

    ReplyDelete

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