Ramri keti ki ta ghamandi hunchhey ki ta murkha (A pretty girl is either too proud or a fool) reads the message on the back of a bus on Ring Road, painted in distinctive bold colours. Colloquially labeled ‘Truck Sahitya’, these whimsical little sayings and slogans can be found etched on the facades of most buses and trucks plying the roads in the country, making for what many passengers and passersby agree are very interesting sights.
Photo: CP Aryal
Heavy vehicles not just in Nepal but in many parts of South Asia are often embellished in this manner, the outside surfaces proffering a canvas of sorts for artistic, and in this case, literary expression. Being that these vehicles are constantly on the move, their customised messages—ranging in theme from love, sex, patriotism to political discontentment among others—are thus carried across long distances, providing an aesthetic and very often humorous break in the monotony of road travel. A particularly lovely little scrap splashed across a tempo said—Lipsi laageko timro kaleji ooth mero afnai kalejiko tukra ho ki jasto lagyo (Your lipstick-coloured lips could very well be a piece of my heart).
What drives people to scrawl these lines on their vehicles? And why do so many do it? Govinda Lamsal, who drives a truck, says that in a line of work that is so mechanical, these words or images are a way of showing some creative flair and personal philosophy. “People perceive us as hardened folk without emotions,” he says. “Well, we have feelings too, and this is usually our only means of showing them while on the road.” Lamsal had advised the owner of the vehicle he drives to paint a message reflecting his patriotic side—Raktadaan garne yuvaharu yuddhabhumi ma sakriya chhan. Ragat chahine nai ho bhaane nadibata lyaunu (Our valiant youth are engaged in battle; if you want blood just go to the rivers).
Photo: Safal Ghimire
While the tradition of writing on vehicles has been continuing for many years, it was perhaps never officially acknowledged until eight years ago when a literary program was organised inside a bus at a fuel station in Balaju. Under the chairmanship of Dr Tulasi Bhattarai, a magazine called Bus Sahitya had then been launched. Then in 2011, journalist and teacher Subid Guragain published a collection of more than 700 quirky messages he had seen on trucks, compiled in a volume titled Truck Sahitya.
Although accurate numbers are yet to be established, it is safe to say based on simple observation that love figures highly among the subjects of such scribbles, a reflection perhaps of the romantic inclinations of those manning the vehicles. Patriotic impressions probably come a close second—Nasochaun desh le hamilai ke diyo, sochaun deshlai hamile ke diyaun (Let’s not think of what the country has given us, rather what we can give to the country)—some of which have today even travelled to those foreign lands where Nepali migrant labourers are found working in large numbers. Lorries painted with exultations of nation-love can be seen frequently in the Gulf countries, for example, most commonly used are phrases like Nepali mann (Nepali heart), Nepal nabirsaun (Let’s not forget Nepal), and My Nepal, my pride. Lately, however, political statements seem to have gained some ground thanks to the general resentment bubbling amid the masses owing to the volatility of the country’s political circumstances. In this context, messages such as Mera Nepal mahaan lekin janta pareshaan (My Nepal is great, but the citizens are anxious) or Buddha ko desh ma shanti ko khoji (Seeking peace in Buddha’s country) appear particularly apt, demonstrating how these scribbles mirror contemporary social concerns.
Photo: CP Aryal
“Truck sahitya is a fascinating area of study and one that hasn’t been explored enough,” say Netra Atom and Sukum Sharma, lecturers at the Central Department of Nepali at Tribhuvan University, adding that there needs to be more research conducted on this “literary trend”. Whether as a means of exhibiting some personality, romantic sensitivity, or simply as a means of putting forth feelings of political resentment or patriotism, it is certain that these customised messages are a highly unique form of expression. And considering the variety and evolution of the content itself, it wouldn’t be exaggerating, perhaps, to say that as lightly as we might take them, these painted words—like most forms of art—are oftentimes a reflection of our national climate.