If you find yourself at a loose end in Agartala, you could just take a rickshaw to the border crossing to Bangladesh. It is a busy place. A vendor from across the border tried to sell us jhalmuri, but was told by guards from both sides that he could not cross the border. Nor could we, so I cannot give you a comparison between Bangladeshi and Indian jhalmuri. Many others with permits could go across. Individuals came on one rickshaw, crossed the border on foot, and then took a different rickshaw on the other side.

Trucks crossed in both directions. I’m used to seeing the message “Horn OK Please” across the back of every truck I see on Indian roads. I found that the same message was carried by trucks from Bangladesh.

Another truck had a beautiful painting of an unidentifiable bird. We discussed this a bit, and thought that the aggressive posture, and the shape of the beak, meant that it was a raptor. Perhaps a hawk or an eagle.

But the winner was clearly this painting on the door of a truck parked off to one side. Here was a person with a large heart. I just love that bucket below to hold the dripping blood!

On the road

We had a bit of a drive ahead of us and our driver pulled into a petrol pump almost as soon as we got on to the highway. I looked out of the window at the truck filling up next to us. I’ve written about art work on Indian trucks many times before, but this looked different. At eye level with me was some of the usual kitsch (featured photo), but it was executed perfectly. None of the distortions of naive art. This was a master at work.

I got off and walked around the truck. No amateur, the artists who worked on this truck. Stencils had been used. This medium is becoming commercial! But just look at that swan: wonderful lines. Never seen something like that on a truck. This could be a well-trained commercial artist, one who could as easily design a logo.

Around another tyre-well, more kitsch, this time from some cartoon. But look at that repeating motif that arches around the tyre. It is not only executed flawlessly over and over (see also the featured photo), but has been designed to be easy to execute.

An elegantly executed Hanuman was spray painted on with a stencil elsewhere on the truck. There were numerous small pieces rather than a single overall theme which I’ve seen before on trucks. Is this good or bad? Am I seeing the beginning of the commercialization of truck art? Is this the end of King Rat? By all accounts small businesses have given way to large conglomerates over the last three years. Perhaps in future large fleets of trucks will be decorated by one commercial artists’ firm, instead of one truck one artist.