Art for Life


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When I was on my way to meet Haider, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew only that he was a truck artist who my friend and artist, Tapu Javeri, adored. The drive to Haider’s neighbourhood, Garden East, was harrowing. It took me to the entrance of Gandhi Garden, which I believe we now insist on calling Karachi Zoo. The last time that I had really been there was when I was a child visiting Pakistan for my summer holidays from Saudi Arabia. Was the traffic this chaotic? I can’t say that I remember the streets being quite as congested, the shops piled on top of each other in the way they are now, and the air so thick with smog that it wasn’t really air anymore. Maybe that’s childhood though. It transcends ‘the desert of the real.’

Haider arrived on a motorcycle and gestured to our two-car conspicuous convoy, plastered with DawnNews stickers, to follow him. After some negotiations with buses, trucks, that deadly automobile called Shehzore, rickshaws, cars, motorcycles, donkey carts and so on, we arrived at Haider’s workplace. With an irrepressible sense of humour, humility and hospitality, Haider showed us his latest work. He wanted to take us backwards through his life work, starting with the newest – his own idea.

“I don’t want this craft to die so I’m finding new ways to keep it alive,” he said with his infectious smile as he showed me his innovation, ‘truck art’ on canvas. “It glows in the dark,” he explained. “I’m also painting chests; that was Tapubhai’s idea.”

Soon after, Haider led me and my crew to the workshop where a truck awaited. “The space speaks to you and tells you what to paint,” he told me. “If I had a hundred trucks, each one would have a voice of its own, and I would find a different picture that would suit only it.”

The poetry on Pakistani trucks is exclusive to these vibrant vehicles. I had often wondered at their origin. “It’s not like we pick up just any poetry like Mirza Ghalib’s or someone else’s. This is a serious process that involves four or five people. We all sit for a few days, and decide what to write,” he explained. As he talks to me, the words he painted were:

Dil baraaye farokht/qeemat buss aik muskuraahat

Heart for sale/Price only one smile”

But times are hard for Haider and others of his ‘trade.’ He lamented at how once the narrow lanes of his neighbourhood were lined with trucks to be painted. “The price of petrol has gone up so much that truck owners can’t afford to spend so much on decoration. Work is slow, and Pakistanis are not interested in preserving our art. If our profession is neglected by our government and our people, soon it will only live on in books.”

Haider wants to keep his art alive, and you can help him do that by commissioning his unique work. Contact him on +92 300 210 1329.

8 Responses to “Art for Life”

  1. 1 Rai M Azlan

    nice write up it has remind me my first ever journey to Murrey hills, Rawalpindi and Islamabad when i enjoyed the journey through GT road and throughout the way truck and truck art was a noticeable factor for me today after 13 years almost out of no where all those sights are appearing in my vision again and thanks to this post.

  2. Truck, bus, and ricksha art is SPLENDID…I quite literally stop in my tracks every time I see a beautifully decorated truck, a lovingly painted bus, or an interesting image behind a ricksha on the road. One wonders how anyone anywhere lives WITHOUT these things on the road…those uninspiring blank monocolor (or at most duo-tone, unless they’re carrying an advertisement) buses and trucks. Dull, depressing and devoid of character. Maybe if more of us start getting artists like Haider to commission our own cars/motorbikes, their art will transcend its traditional canvas and add a little color and character to our compacts. Thanks for this post!

  3. Great post. I didn’t know how these people worked, and their art has, deservedly, carved out a space in life in Pakistan. Thank you for sharing.

    ps. i too was once a child from saudi arabia who visited pakistan in the summer holidays! where did you live?

  4. great to see people take an interest in truck art.

    i fell in love with it while researching as a student and what i found was quite incredible. there is a clear link between the stylistic and symbolic elements of truck art with the decorative art adorning castles, forts, mosques etc during the Mughal era and Islamic art in general. what’s more, there are at least seven discernible “schools” of truck art within pakistan, each originating from a different city with their own different styles, motifs and symbols. it is quite fascinating, and i don’t think haider needs to despair – his art would always find new mediums. it has already travelled from the taj mahal to his hino-pak, i think it has the vitality to make several more journeys!

  5. nice post, I’ve always loved the truck art. They convey special messages and vividness of the typical truck culture of Pakistan.

  6. 6 muzzamil hussain

    thanks a lot for this v well written article. Truck art is unique and something must be done to prevent it from dying….

  7. 7 Nassim Ally (Ali) Osman

    hat off

    brings back lovely memories of well decorated buses and trucks

    travel in style

  1. 1 uberVU - social comments

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