Trucks of North India: Poetry in Motion

A close friend of mine tells me that the truckers of North India have a strong kinship with the “yamdoots“, ever ready to swoop on you and whisk you away to meet your maker.

Maybe my friend has had some issues with these souls on his highway drives. Maybe he is being a bit cynical. But for me, the trucker is very humane, a considerate fellow-user of the highway, a philosopher, a responsible citizen of India, a die-hard romantic, and only at times contemptuous of those who cast an evil eye on either his vehicle or his vocation. And above all, a great philosopher poet.

I have always nursed a secret admiration for these gentlemen who roam the length and the breadth of the country ferrying goods from one end of the country to another.

I have always admired these magically-bedecked trucks. The silk tassles, the red cloth from Vaishno Devi slung on the rear-view mirror fluttering in the breeze as the truck speeds past, the dangling shoe and the string of lemons slung at the back of the vehicle, and of course the marvellous graffiti (what else can I call it) painted all over the vehicle. Especially at the back of the truck.

I used to be a “collector” of this graffiti, slogans, poetry- call it whatever you may- for several years. One big regret is the loss of the diary where I would diligently note these down. However, I do remember some, and these find their way into this post. Please do add to the ones mentioned in this piece below.

To start with the truckers are unfailingly polite. And always have a friendly suggestion or advice for their co-travellers on the highway.

Sample this:

“OK, Tata, Bye”

“जगह मिलने पर साइड देंगे”

Or the intriguing request: “Blow OK horn.”

I used to wonder what this phrase, unique only to trucks, means. Initially I thought they wanted the horn toot to be just OK, not too soft, nor too harsh. It was only later I figured out that the actual phrase was “Horn Please”. The large OK painted at the center was only a design element.

Or the plain advice: “Use dipper at night”

And this endearing “फिर मिलेंगे” (see you later)

But, if you dare to cast an eveil eye on this truck, then better beware! Besides the usual antidotes to the evil eye, like a dangling shoe or the string of lemons, you could also spot this pithy remark on the truck:

“बुरी नज़र वाले, तेरा मुंह काला”

Or its variant:

“रिश्ते में लगता तू साला,

बुरी नज़र वाले तेरा मुंह काला.”

And another:

“सत्तर के फूल, तिरसठ की माला

बुरी नज़र वाले, तेरा मुंह काला”

“सत्तर” is 70 and “तिरसठ” is 63.  And that is this truck’s four-digit vehicle license number. Very common coinage. Like if the vehicle number was 1254, this ditty would start as “बारह के फूल, चौव्वन की माला…….”

The ditty could get nasty with some truckers:

“बुरी नज़र वाले, तेरे बच्चे जियें,

बड़े होकर, देसी शराब पियें”

What starts off with blessing to the children of the one with the evil eye ends with a sting in the tail: May your children be condemned to a lifetime of addiction to country liquor.

Truck drivers have a healthy sense of patriotism and social responsiblity as well. Sample this:

“मेरा भारत महान”

Or its cynical variant:

“सौ में नब्बे बेईमान,

फिर भी मेरा देश महान”

And the ubiquitous family planning slogans:

“छोटा परिवार, सुखी परिवार”

“एक या दो, बस”

And an interesting poetic take on this:

“शेर दो हों मगर सलीके के,

घर को ऐसी ग़ज़ल बनाना है”

Dont miss the play on the word,”शेर”!

A trucker’s life is largely spent away from home and he finds solace in his vehicle. And he starts treating the truck as his beloved. The truck is always a “she”, a young playful lover for our truckman.
(Many truckers find solace elsewhere too, but this being a “family” blog, I shall not get into the details of those diversions!)

Sample these:

From a bashful: “चल हट, कोई देख लेगा”

To a romantic exhortation to the vehicle behind: “देखो मगर प्यार से”

And see how he mixes the romance of his life with his profession:

“दुल्हन वही जो पिया मन भाये,

गाड़ी वही जो नोट कमाए”

My loose translation:

“A true bride earns the love of her beloved,

And a true vehicle is that which fetches earnings.”

And sample this gem:

“काला कुरता, काला चश्मा, काला रंग कढाई का,

एक तो तेरी याद सताए, दूजा सोच कमाई का.”

My pedestrian translation once again:

“I am torn between

My yearnings for my black-bedecked beloved

And my need for earnings.”

Some of the poetry is plain philiosophical:

“चलती है गाड़ी, उड़ती है धूल,

निकलता है पसीना, बिखरते हैं फूल”

Or its wicked variant:

“चलती है गाड़ी, उड़ती है धूल,

जलतें हैं दुश्मन, बिखरतें हैं फूल.”

And finally, to end this piece, I quote the trucker’s pithy comment on his lot, and by extension on the socio-economic divide:

“अमीरों की ज़िन्दगी,  बिस्कुट और केक पर,

ड्राईवर की ज़िन्दगी, क्लच और ब्रेक पर.”


27 Responses to Trucks of North India: Poetry in Motion

  1. Ashutosh says:

    Sir, this is really great.
    A real tribute to truck drivers in North!

  2. Subhash Shanbhag says:

    Nice one Santosh. Enjoyed

  3. G.Mohan says:

    Have been reading your blog quite regularly, of late. I enjoyed this post. “Family” blogs can get a little more liberal, given the kind of scenes we see in Bollywood family movies. Just kidding !

    Keep writing.


  4. pk jha says:

    It’s great piece and shows your sensibility too.

  5. rajeev says:

    too good! u r getting better by the post!

  6. Narendra Kumar says:

    I just want to add one more दुल्हन ही दहेज है

  7. sudeep kumar says:

    I remember a bhojpuri variant :
    लटकलअ त गईला ।
    you will surely fall if u dare cling at the back of my truck”

  8. Ashutosh Ojha says:

    Great ones Santosh. I hope the readers too will contribute.

    My personal favourite (though not in Devnagari) is from the “Emergency” era slogans.

    Highly Inflammable Nation on the move.

    Here is one from my friend Anvar

    बीवी रहे टिपटॉप
    दो के बाद फुल स्टॉप

  9. savita shukla says:

    main north mein hoon tum south mein par tumhe mujhse zyada slogans yaad hain. main bhi school jaate samay inko padkar apna manoranjan karti hoon.

  10. Debuda says:

    A great post, of particular interest to me as I’ve been a ‘highway-type’ for decades and often narrate such gems seen behind trucks to my friends.

    बुरी नज़र वाले, तेरा भी हो भला !

    बुरी नज़र वाले तू जिए,
    और तेरा बेटा बड़ा होकर तेरा खून पिए!

  11. Milind Chalisgaonkar says:

    Good one Santosh. Keep writing, it’s a pleasure to read your posts.

  12. Anuj says:

    Hi Sir,

    Great piece as usual, remember reading these on the backs of trucks leaving Jamshedpur (my house is in Mango).

    Didnt meet you at the reunion, there were plenty from my bacth who wanted to meet see you in person.


  13. Madhup says:

    Good one santosh.

    Another one which comes to my mind:

    NEki kar or jute kha, Maine khayen hain tu bhi kha

  14. Naveen says:

    Na koi buri nazar
    Na kisi ka muh kala,
    Sab ka bhala chahta hai
    barah tiresath (12-63)wala!

  15. santoshojha says:

    Thank you all for writing in.
    And thanks you Narendra, Sudeep, Ashutosh, Anvar, Debu da, Madhup and Naveen for your wonderful additions!

  16. sandeep raja says:

    Santosh,excellent one.We need to once again meet up at La Casa and catch up with more of your awesome stuff.

  17. Ashok says:

    Santosh, Enjoyed your collection of Truck Graphics.
    ‘Ram Bolo Darwaza Kholo,also is popular graphics.
    – Ashok

  18. Tuhin Sen says:

    Hi Santosh
    I’m reading your blogs after quite some time. Great as usual. I used to do a lot of treking during my BHU days (1980-85) and IIM, Lko days (1985-87). We, typically a friend and I, used to just go onto any highway, decide in which direction we wished to travel, and hitch a lift from these trucker guys. Rates then were 10 paise per passenger per km. Recently on my way from Hyd to Mumbai via a Volvo bus, I had the unfortunate experience of being left behind during a dinner & toilet break that these guys allow you. Luckily a friend of mine was on the bus, and by the time he picked up his cell, it was a good 20 minutes later. As the Volvo refused to come back to pick me up, but agreed to wait till I reached it, my only option was to hitch a ride in a truck. Guys “down south”, are also just as “mast ram” as the truckers of the north. Only the rate has changed – it is now Re.1/- per passenger per km. Rest is still the same – the lure of the open road !!

  19. santoshojha says:

    Sandeep: Thanks. Yes, La Casa is always welcome!

    Ashok: Nice addition to the growing list!

    Tuhin: Thanks for looking up my Blog. Great that you managed a Re 1/km ride. Highway travellers share a great brotherhood. I too have my stories about the highway when six of us from BHU cycled from Varanasi to Delhi! Maybe in one of the future posts….

  20. Ravi Menon says:

    Got to see this one late but enjoyed reading it as usual,

  21. Tushar Acharya says:

    Amazing blog ! liked it very much 🙂

  22. Deepak says:

    Jaao aur Jaane Do
    (inspired from Jeeo aur jeene do)

  23. Nirmal says:

    Buri nazar wale, tu bhi kamaa ke khaale.

  24. Vivek Sharma says:

    I saw a some interesting ones on the highway:
    “Iraq ka paani, kam pee meri rani”
    and this one got my goat,
    “No girlfriend, eh ho hi tension”

    Nice post Santosh!

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