Indo-Pak relations may have been walking a tense political tightrope, yet defying the odds, ordinary people from both the countries continue to craft their own cordial routes.
Indo-Pak relations may have been walking a tense political tightrope, yet defying the odds, ordinary people from both the countries continue to craft their own cordial routes. Keeping that spirit in mind, and in a first-of-its-kind endeavour, the indigenous truck art of Pakistan is all set to leave its fine print all over a Durga Puja pandal in Kolkata. The preparations are already in full swing at Nabin Pally in the north of the city, as Pakistani truck artists are busy decorating the Puja pandal. With less than a fortnight left for the festivities, Haider Ali, Muhammad Iqbal and Inam Elahi have a tough task on hand. Yet their enthusiasm and expertise assure of a brilliant final product on the stipulated date. Originating from a humble background in the North West Frontier Province (renamed as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,) truck art that was previously dismissed as too flashy is now one of the most celebrated crafts of Pakistan internationally. “The flamboyant designs displayed on Pakistani trucks are inspired from Mughal art, but along with conventional styles, there’s chutzpah and much more in the form of cheeky slogans vying for attention with portraits of cricketers and film stars. It remains a high price affair as even the minimum cost of decorating a truck can go up to a few lakhs,” says Haider. On the flavours dominating this particular art at the moment, Haider says, “There was a time when a portrait of Madhuri Dixit was much in demand. With time, preferences change, these days Aishwarya Rai and Katrina Kaif are getting all the attention on trucks back home.” According to Haider, folk singer Ataullah Khan also makes it to the “most wanted list”. “Truck drivers are particularly fond of his songs. Nostalgia runs high while driving through the dusty and lonely highways of Pakistan. Perhaps some of them hold on to a love story gone wrong and his soulful voice provides soothing company. Hence, his face too is a welcome addition.” As Haider and his two-member team from Karachi create beautiful calligraphy and art with paint brushes and acrylic paints, they keep talking about the customers’ choices back home. “There are some very religious-minded clients, for them human figures are a strict no-no, so they settle for colourful floral patterns or a beautiful landscape. A verse from a ghazal, couplets ranging from the romantic to humorous and of course goodwill messages also find place,” Haider informs. Haider also recreates some of the popular couplets that are visible on trucks there in calligraphy style. He writes in Urdu, “Dil Bara e farokht... qeemat eik muskuraahat (The heart is for sale/a smile is the price)” followed by “Faasla rakh...Pyar ho jayega (Keep distance/else you will fall in love)”. Also on display is a fascinating milieu of vibrant colours and eye-catching designs on simple products like tables, lanterns, mirrors, frames, irons, kettles, mugs and containers and miniature trucks, created by these artists. They all seem happy about their India visit. “It’s a great experience, the people are friendly and the place exudes warmth. If there was any initial hesitation, it vanished the moment we crossed the border and interacted with our Indian brothers,” says a smiling Inam Elahi. Muhammad Iqbal, who is still training under Haider, feels, “You simply cannot master this art, of course with experience you can improve and enhance your proficiency. Ustaad saheb has been doing this work since the last 25 years, yet he insists he has a lot to learn.” Iqbal does reveal his wish list for the India visit. “If I manage to catch a glimpse of Shah Rukh Khan and the Taj Mahal at Agra, it will be a dream come true,” he admits with a smile. Gopal Poddar, the organiser of Nabin Pally Durga Utsav, is instrumental in bringing the Pakistani truck art show to the festivities in Bengal. “It is a humble effort to bring the people of both the countries closer. ICCR played a pivotal role in making this goodwill initiative a reality,” he says.