When you’re out driving on the highway, among the things that keep you entertained are the old-school trucks, with their hand-painted designs. Aside from the few spelling errors, the artwork can be quite spectacular – like a hyper-detailed tattoo sleeve, but for trucks. This form of art has been around for almost as long as the 5.5 million kilometre highway network across India has existed, which may be an exaggeration, but it’s definitely a phenomenon that has been familiar to most of the Indian subcontinent for the longest time. There are many truck painters around, individuals who put their souls into turning seemingly unattractive machines into striking (if somewhat kitschy) pieces of art.
Farid Bawa, the founder of All India Permit, comes from a family that has had a history involving heavy duty transport. His grandfather grew his business from a single truck into a fleet of his own, when he moved from Rawalpindi to Ludhiana to start his transport business in 1964. Naturally, a young Farid saw and grew to love trucks, and the artwork that came with them, when he’d visit him at the workshop. Cut to adulthood, and Bawa noticed that pre-painted trucks and DIY stickers were taking away the truck artists’ profits, so he decided to do something about it. As a way of nurturing the artists community, and to give them more than just local recognition, he set up AIP.
AIP, the online store, has artwork for sale that you’d usually see on a truck on the highway. From quirky, superstitious Hindi phrases like the classic “Buri nazar waale tera mooh kala” to hybrid animal paintings and beautiful depictions of Indian flora, AIP has artists recreating what the trucks showcase on the road onto a canvas. The duration of completing any piece can range from a couple of hours to a few days, Bawa explained. On the artist community’s potential development, Bawa said that these artists have been in the truck art business for generations. They’ve gone through ups and downs, but their spirit to keep the art alive inspires AIP to do the same. He said, “I hope that the community achieves global recognition, financial stability and a better future. It’s what they must earn from years of hard work.”
So what does Bawa— a man who grew up to love truck art, watching the artists brush away in his grandfather’s workshop— hope for All India Permit? The plan has just unfolded, since it’s a fairly recent initiative. But the response has apparently been overwhelming from around the country as well as abroad. AIP hopes to open art galleries, host workshops with the artists and collaborate with artists from other states in the future, with the eventual aim of rewarding an entire generation of truck artists with the recognition and financial security they deserve.