The art of truck painting
Running his hand along the brightly painted Hindi letters emblazoned on the back of a truck, the master painter, Ramesh Meena explains – “It says – If you look at me with your evil eye, your face should be blackened.”
The lilting sound of Indian music plays through a tinny radio. Painted trucks line the streets and kick up dust on the dirt roads in Transport Nagar – the neighbourhood where mechanics live and work.
“This one here is the mother’s blessing.” He says, pointing out another delicately painted phrase in Sanskrit. “Here in India, mothers are revered more than Gods.”
It’s a folk tradition – the commercial trucks that beep their horns along the roads and highways of India, carrying goods from village to town, from town to city, from state to state, are hand-painted in the brightest of colours.
Ramesh has been painting trucks since he was 18. His father was also a specialist in the craft.
“No one can say exactly how long this has been a tradition,” Ramesh says and shrugs. “Since trucks started.”
“In this area, I’m the only person who does this.” He says with pride. “Some people take paint and offer their services, but I’m the only person here with a shop. People come to me.”
Floral motifs, religious symbols, animals, agricultural scenes featuring women wearing colourful saris, as well as lyrics and phrases, all are painted with deft hands in reds and oranges, blues and greens, whites and yellows.
Common motifs are chillies and lemons, to ward off the evil eye, or the Trishula, the trident wielded by the Hindu God, Shiva. Then of course, the ubiquitous “Blow Horn” or “Horn Please”, summoning you to beep when overtaking – the rules of the road, Indian style.
It takes three artisans and up to four days to hand-paint a truck. Their skill is evident. Brush strokes are smooth and clean, dispensed with steady hands, at a careful pace and yet with speed.
“The drivers want Gods and Goddesses, religious symbols like the Swastik and the Om, and blessings. Words and quotes from Indian poetry, philosophical phrases on life and love.”
He looks at us, serious.
“If your truck is beautiful,” he says. “Then your business will be prosperous.”
Men – young and old – and little kids, all squash up next to us to watch Ramesh paint a special piece for Swoon Editions. Women watch from the balconies of the surrounding homes, pigs chase each other in the sun, kites from the recent Kite Festival, caught in the power lines, flap in the breeze, and mountains form a surreal backdrop.
Beneath the flowers, swans, and love hearts that Ramesh paints with confident hands, a line of pale blue Sanskrit flows across the page.
“It says Colourful Rajasthan.”
Ramesh Meena, master painter, 33