The Exuberantly Decorated Trucks of India

No 53

From the southern jungles to the high plateaus, beneath the blistering desert sun and Himalayan night skies, out of swarming ports and cities and into isolated rural towns, India's trucks plod along the country's roads to deliver the food, clothes, tools, and fuel that keep the country running.

A driver of one of these commercial vehicles might spend as many as ten months a year on the road. Unable to take part in the more stationary life known to his friends and families, he makes his truck his home—often in vibrant, highly personalized fashion. Indian trucks announce their presence on the road in a way unknown in pretty much every other country.

They are, in short, embellished to the max. Silver tassels might hang from the steering wheel, and flower-printed cushions pad the seat. Bright paintings of Hindu, Christian, and Muslim deities hang next to glossy posters of Bollywood stars. Geometric shapes are scrawled all over the exterior, where decals shout messages—“ROAD KING," “NON STOP"—in English and Hindi, red, yellow, blue, green, and orange.

It is the effusive aesthetic found so widely in India, adapted to the somewhat unromantic canvas of a smoke-belching cargo vehicle. But some of the decorations play a practical role, too. A garland of vegetables strung across a truck's grill indicates what it is transporting, and thus perhaps saves the driver a time-consuming inspection. Chilies and coconuts tied to the bumper are thought to bring good fortune. Written on the back of so many of these heavy carriers is “HORN PLEASE," a polite but firm request for other drivers to make some noise while overtaking. The average vehicle in India is considerably less noticeable than a truck, after all.

For more, see Dan Eckstein, Horn Please (New York: PowerHouse, 2014). These photos are used with permission.

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