India vs. Pakistan: Truck Art Rivalry?

There is a thriving vehicle decoration sector in both countries, but when it comes to their decorated vehicles, Pakistan’s are more vibrant, intricate, and labor intensive. Each part of a Pakistani truck is covered as part of a canvass. Indian vehicles, while colorful, pay less attention to the whole vehicle and focus more on individual elements, which may not be interconnected.

According to one report, Pakistani truck decoration developed to differentiate their vehicles from their neighbor’s. That account differs from most other accounts of the origins of Pakistani truck art, but regardless of its accuracy, it does underscore the divergent styles of vehicle decoration.

Al Jazeera has coverage of a truck repair and decoration workshop somewhere in India.

Note the TATA insignia on Rana, which has no embellishments. In contrast, Pakistani trucks artists craft premade metallic flourishes that adorn the cowling and embellish the Hino or Bedford insignias, the two most common makes of Pakistani trucks.

While Pakistani vehicles are decorated with reflective tape and paint, Indian trucks seems to use more pattern-cut decals, and, in the case of the trucks interior, glossy posters. Both are rare on Pakistani trucks. Indian vehicles seem to have fewer idyllic scenes. Though some of the motifs, such as a peacock, are similar, the entirety of the Indian truck is not used as a canvass, but only selected scenes are painted.

The narrator seems impressed that the Sikh workshop owners have been in business for six years. In Pakistan, the norm is artists who have been working for decades lifetime. While a Pakistani truck will require teams of painters to prepare, as well as a separate source for decoration pieces and additional accessories, from the report it looks like the Indian workshop leaves it up to a couple workers.

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Taxi Motifs in Islamabad/Rawalpindi: The Origin of R-A-K

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On the rear of nearly every taxi in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and surrounding areas are decals with the letters R–A-K. The letters are capitalized, printed in a bold font, and sometimes appear with a variation of the Australian or New Zealand flag beneath the A. There are variations on the selection of letters, but RAK is almost as much a symbol of a taxi as its yellow color or the standard make of taxis, the Suzuki FX800. Red and black taxis exist, but these are most easily recognizable by the R-A-K additions.

An R-A-K taxi. Note the USA decals below the bumpers

Almost as inexplicable as the R-A-K sequence are the other decals that appear on taxis. Below the bumper is frequently a British flag, and decals that say “USA,” or “Japan.” The presence of a USA sticker is especially surprising as in a recent Pew survey of Pakistani public opinion only 16% of Pakistanis viewed the US favorably. Only one country had a more unfavorable opinion of the US. According to another poll, Pakistanis view the US as more of a threat than India.

The explanation proffered for design choices is similar between taxi and truck decorations. Most taxi drivers shrug when asked why RAK appears on their taxi and usually suggest that it is just for decorative purposes. Similarly, truck drivers seldom articulate the rationale behind why a flower appears in one panel of their truck and a women or idyllic scene in another.

When decorative styles vary from the norm, there is often an explanation. A taxi driver chose to use the letters UAH instead of RAK in honor of his children, Usman, Asma, and Haroon. Another taxi driver, has changed the R to a P and drives with PAK on his rear to support his country. The same is true for truck art. Unique paintings often commemorate a lost family member.

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