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Archive for June, 2013

A peep into Truck Art- a chat with ‘truck artist’ Haider Ali


While strolling in a Pakistani Mela,  Khyber to Mehran, in Mississauga I was attracted to a giant canvas partly filled with vibrant colors. As we got closer, we saw a man with was effortlessly making strokes with a brush creating flawless images. Without the initial sketch, even the symmetry was perfect.

That’s truck art.” Screamed my daughter. I stood watching him in awe…not just the perfection, but the speed and the choice of colors. He turned back and in response to our questioning smile, introduced himself as ‘truck artist Haider Ali’ from Karachi. ( The stress was on the first two words).

Haider Ali is visiting Canada on the special sponsorship of the Pakistani Consulate and represented Pakistani Truck Art  in the South Asian Heritage Celebrations called RUNG, at Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, and Carrasauga Festival in Mississauga in May. Last week he also painted a panel at the Canadian Parliament at Ottawa.

I had a million questions to ask about the Truck Art, so I followed him at the exhibition Moving Art  arranged by a  friend Asma Mahmood at her Promenade Gallery

First of all I wanted to know the history of the origin of truck art:

“It all developed very gradually. In 1950s after partition, the Karachi Port ( Keamari Port) became the main source of trade. It was mainly the camel carts and the donkey carts that carried the goods. The camel carts being bigger, brought goods from the port upto wide roads and then transferred the good were carried on smaller donkey carts, to navigate through the narrow lanes leading to the City Station from where trains carried them to the rest of Pakistan. The painters painted camel, donkey and horse carts , while their animals were adorned with intricate accessories and ornaments made out of beads and wool.
In 1960s, Bedford trucks started to arrive from Luton, England. So the trucks gradually replaced the camel carts. Three  painters which included his father, started to comply to the demands by the truck drivers’ demands to paint the names of their cities, and sometimes for their kids mention on the truck.

  • Mera Sona sheher Chakwal
  • Aao sanam Kashmir chalein
  • Sonu tey Billo di gaddi.

Like the animal cart owners, they considered their trucks as their companions. Perhaps ( speculates Haider Ali), the more imaginative ones wanted their trucks also to be more ornately adorned like these animals. Hence the idea of more detailed motifs developed. The idea got better, and better. The painters started to add more colors, and designs like flowers, birds, scenes, and human figures on the truck. This inspired a competitive spirit, not just between the truck owners but also between the painters, who boasted of their  newer and more creative designs. Thus the art kept evolving, and it still is.”

“In the 60s and 70s the Garden area, which is the hub of truck art in Karachi, used to look like an artists street from Italy or Spain”. says Haider Ali.  Many foreigners used to come and appreciate the art. Many wrote articles on it, as they went back.

Haider ali began learning from his father at the age of 7. After school he used to play around the place where his father painted, and sometime out of curiosity for colors, his father let him put dots or lines on the truck. He learnt mixing of colors, contrasts, and how to make strokes. Seeing his interest and flair in strokes, his father sent him to a friend who used to paint posters for films.

At the age of 22 he decorated a truck for the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. one of the most detailed piece he has painted, The truck still stands there at the institute.

HyderAliSmithsonian

He has exhibited his art on a truck &  vans in London and Luton too:

hyderAliUK

HyderAlivansUK

A bus and a friend ship car in Turkey. The doors of the car below show King Faisal Mosque(Pakistan) on the left  and Blue Dome mosque(Turkey) on the right.

HyderAliTurkey

HyderAliTurkeyBus

There are so many  colors and details to be added. Isn’t it very complicated?

“Each truck is worked by 6-7 group of artists specializing in different areas.When it is our turn to paint,  start from a white painted background, the add details over details. Once painted, a sticker paper is added in lines to reflect the light, called the chamak patti. Then the electrician adds the electric fitting like colorful bulbs , metal workers add the colored chains, and metallic frames to make it more intricate. Even the interiors are explicitly detailed, including the faux leather seats, which  match the motif designs.”

The play of color begins:

HyderAliColors

HyderAliWhiteTruck

HyderAliPredetailsHyderAliDetails

The explicitly detailed interiors:

Elaborate Truck Art Of Pakistan
Asking him about the details of the kind of motifs the truck drivers demand, he says.

The image that stands most popular since time immemorial is Ataullah EsaKhel.  They love his songs, and he has been painted thousands time over.
Ayub Khan was also one of the popular figure among the drivers from KPK na they often comes with: Teri yaad aayi tere jaane ke baad.”
Are there any demands for politicians? Yes few have aslked for Baloch sardars, but mostly it is Ayub Khan. Some have now started to paint

Imran Khan, but I guess now this demand will increase. He has painted the famous Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s  photo for a few:

HyderAliBB

Film stars?

“Yes Mustafa Qureshi was very much in demand some time ago. Amongst the Bollywood, Mamta Kulkarni with a unique picture of a chain in her mouth( I have asked Haider to look for the picture) is much in demand. He has also made a few of Rani Mukherjee, and one of Aishwarya Rai”.

Any male stars? Shahrukh or Amitabh Bachan?

And he smiles, “No. Not yet.”

Among the monuments, Minar-e-Pakistan, Faisal Mosque and Khyber Gate are the most popular. Taj Mahal is also demanded by many.( That was a surprise, indeed.)

HyderAliMinarePakistan

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“One driver demanded Bruce Lee on his truck.” smiles Haider Ali.
HyderAliBruceLee

Many want birds, or even sher ( for which he paints a tiger).

HyderAliSher

Haider Ali loves drawing all kinds of birds and their details including falcon, peacocks, partridges, eagles etc.

HyderAliMacawsHyderAliDove

HyderAliPeacocks

Are there any unusual themes that you worked for?

The demand for themes and designs vary with changing times.
For example, in the times of war, in 60s and 70s, there were patriotic slogans with missiles and jet planes.”

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While in the last elections, he painted a truck on demand for Pak Election 2013, by SAMAA TV channel.

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Talking of the slogans, he said calligraphy on trucks is another field and many artists do it as a separate. He loves to do the calligraphy too.

What are your favorite slogans:

Anything that a truck driver demands. Almost all trucks adorn a Masha Allah on the head. If they leave on us, we choose for them.

  • Dekho fasla rakho, warna pya ho jaaega.( Keep distance, otherwise we’ll fall in love)
  • Hum chalein, dushman jalein( As we roll, our rivals envy)
  • Na ghabra ai zaalim paas aney sey, Khuda bhi rooth jata hai kisi ka dil dukhane sey.
    (Don’t be afrais of coming close, even God is displease by those who hurt others.).

Most who get their trick repainted the favorite is:

  • “Waqt ne pher sey dulhan bana diya.” (Time has turned us into a bride again).

Haider Ali’s favorite shair being:

  • Tum ney aisa rabta rakha, na paas aye na door rakha. ( You kept such a relationship, neither came close, nor went too far apart).
  • Zid na ker, assi aap barey ziddi aan. ( Don’t be stubborn, I am the same too).

HyderAli8

Among the famous in Pakistan Tapu Javeri the photographer, had commissioned him to make a panel for his house. Ever since they became friends. Haider Ali pays tribute to his friend by at times changing the famous slogan to:

  • “Tapu yaar tang na ker.”

HyderAliTapu

Can truck art be used to promote Peace for India Pakistan Peace friendship?

Haider says he went to Museum of Peace in India  just 1.5 km from Atari and painted an India Pakistan friendship van. He again has been called to Calcutta this September for a yet undisclosed Project.

HyderAliIndoPakdostiVan

My daughter was curious: “Does NCA or Indus Valley have Truck Art’ in their course? Have yuo ever been to those places?”
He smiles: They don’t consider truck art as an art. However, thanks to Sabeen Mahmood, I have my works on display all the time at T2F. And Lok Virsa.  In Pakistan we are a moving exhibition, 24X7, spreading the message of peace and harmony through colors and slogans. You will not find any hateful message on any truck or bus. Like our designs, our location of exhibit have no bounds.( “Hamre art ko koi qaid nahin hai.” ( Our art knows no bounds neither of ideas, nor of locations).

People copy your ideas?

“Yes, though our art is not considered an art, many designers have copied them on dresses, furniture, crockery etc. They can copy our designs, but can’t copy our ideas and skill. I don’t feel offended. Infinite is the limit of ideas for a ‘truck artist’. No two motifs are identical, no two trucks are same. And they are what they call in art world, ‘custom designed.’. .”

If not painting on truck, Haider Ali loves to make painting depicting stories( owing to his interest and training in painting the film posters when young.

I particularly liked the one of Omar Khayyam:

HyderAliOmarKhayyam

And the Sohni Mahiwal

HyderAliSohniMahiwal

He has a two year old son, who he aspires to be a ‘truck artist’ too, but also wants him to first complete his education, which Haider Ali missed out on. If educated person will come in the truck art, we will get more recognition.

My daughter pointed out how in film BOL the place where trucks are painted was shown as the place where the transgender boy was raped. Haider Ali retorted, “There are good and bad everywhere.” Though there is no dearth of respect and recognition we get world over, wish our Pakistani films and dramas showed the positive side of lives too.

Some more of Haider Ali’s works:

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He invited me to his work shop in Karachi to learn the swift and  steady brush strokes that fascinates me so much. But before I seriously go and master them, I practiced them out on the ‘truck art’ inspired  silk scarves the same evening.
(One in Hindi & the other in Urdu)

TruckArtScarves

TruckArtScarves1

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Samra’s story: When marital abuse did not break her


First published in Express Tribune, Pakistan on June 10, 2013 : http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/17620/samras-story-when-marital-abuse-did-not-break-her/

 

Attending the graduation ceremony of students at the prestigious University of Toronto, my daughter pointed out Samra Zafar, saying

“She topped in Economics and she is a Pakistani!”

Samra was flanked not by parents, but two daughters, aged 12 and seven. I wanted to know more about her, and hence invited her over to our house next evening.

At home, while sipping tea, Samra shared her 14 year journey with me and I was absolutely floored by her story.

In 1999, in Abu Dhabi, Samra was a brilliant 16-years-old student of grade 11, dreaming to go to a foreign university to pursue higher studies. Her only fault was that she was tall and extremely good looking – she was a dream bride. Hence when the proposal from a ‘well settled boy in Canada’ arrived, it was difficult for her working class parents to refuse. Eldest of four daughters, the parents thought this would give her a great opportunity to go aboard and pursue her dream, under the safety of her husband and in-laws.

The in-laws reassured their support too.

However, once married and in Canada, things changed. She was told,

“The atmosphere in high schools is not good, and hence it is better to not be thankless and stay happy at home.”

Samra refused to give up though and completed her high school courses through distance learning.

Despite being a mom at the age of 18, she excelled in her high school exams and got accepted to the University of Toronto. Her husband, however, refused to support her and his good financial status left her ineligible for university loans. She tried to convince her in laws for three years but to no avail.

It was not just her education; she was under strict vigil all the time. She was not allowed to leave the house, had no cell phone and was not allowed to learn how to drive. She never had a penny on herself and was constantly abused and neglected.

Samra had not visited her parents for five years. The first time she went back was when her father sent tickets for Samra and her daughter. When she was leaving, she asked her husband fora meagre $10 so that she could have some coffee and buy some chocolate for her daughter during their transit stop at Heathrow Airport. He just snarled at here and said,

“Ask your father for that too.”

She had left and did not intend to come back, but her husband begged her to return with a promise that he would change and that she will be allowed to study this time; he said that he realized he could not live without her. Reassured, Samra returned, only to know that once she got pregnant the second time, the physical abuse was to became worse.

Samra stated that,

“A bruise on my upper arm was a permanent fixture, as in every bout of anger, he would grab my arm really hard and squeeze. Often he pushed me, pulled my hair and spit in my face, even in front of my daughters.”

Again disheartened, she went back to her father’s home, pregnant with her second daughter. Within a couple of months her father suddenly fell ill and passed away. Samra recalls the day before his death and the advice her father gave her when he said,

“My life is uncertain, I may not live to look after you. You have to be strong and pull yourself out of this. I have always envisioned seeing you at the top of a world ranking University.”

Things had changed. Her mother was alone now and had two other unmarried daughters to support.

Samra, accepting it as fate, returned to her husband. To earn her own money, she began baby sitting in her house. As consolation to continue her work, she would give her husband some pocket money from which he would buy his cigarettes and a share to her mother in law, too, to earn their approval.

In 2008, she applied again and got accepted to the University of Toronto. This time she did not have to look to her husband for financial assistance, as her child care business could enable her to pay her own fees. However, this led to escalation of physical abuse. She was instructed by her husband on a daily basis,

“Don’t talk to your male professors, don’t talk to anyone on campus and don’t go to the library.”

The abuse was so severe, that she had to take a break after the first year. Several times she had suicidal thoughts and her self-confidence had completely shattered. That led her to a meeting with the Psychological Counselor at the university campus. She attended the sessions in secrecy and there she was informed that what she was going through was a typical cycle of domestic abuse. And that it was not her fault, or her destiny to bear it.

She reveals;

“It was my daily routine to beg my husband and ask him, ‘Why do you do this? Why don’t you love me?’”

And all he replied with each time was,

“Because you deserve this.”

The psychological counselling at the university, gave her the strength to get back to university. By the second year, the abuse had become worse but she had been told that she could call 911 if need be.

“I will call the cops, if you hit me again.” She uttered once, while her husband raised his hand. That is what triggered him to say,

“Talaq, talaq, talaq.”

(I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.)

Samra says,

“I was shattered, and I did not know what to do next. If I left the house, I would not have childcare income. How would I continue to study? I had two young girls to support.”

Samra’s husband and in-laws ran from pillar to post to get Fatwas to invalidate the divorce. Samra laughs,

“Once my mother-in-law even brought a person for the necessary Halala to rectify the Talaq.”

However, by now Samra had, despite many weak moments, gathered enough strength to move out of this cyclical abuse and face what came her way.

She shifted to a residence at the university campus. Her husband and in-laws then tried threatening her; they said either return or they would malign her in the local Pakistani community of her ‘living’ with men at the university. Her husband often told their daughter,

Do you think your mother goes to university to study only?”

Samra revealed that,

“After a decade of physical, financial, psychological and emotional, abuse it was only in the summer of 2011, that I finally had the courage to go to the cops and give a detailed, date by date account of the abuse I faced, along with the evidence.”

As a result, her husband was arrested on four counts of assault. Despite two court cases, three jobs and two children, she continued to excel in her studies and became head teaching assistant.

Today, Monday June 10, 2013, at the official convocation of the prestigious University of Toronto, Samra will not only be awarded a Bachelors degree in Economics, but she will also be awarded the prestigious Top Student Award in Economics. She also has to her credit a dozen more awards given to her for her academic excellence in the past four years, including the prestigious John H Moss Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a single student in the entire university (all three campuses). She has also been admitted to the PhD program in Economics at the University of Toronto, with a full scholarship.

When not studying or working, Samra loves cooking for her girls and gives them all the free time she gets.

“We are now the happiest we have ever been.”

I asked her how she would advise other girls who are trapped in the same scenario and to that she said,

“Do not let anyone disrespect you. Believe in yourself. You are the only one who can change your situation. It is not easy, but it isn’t impossible either. I had all the disadvantages any girl could have.”

She refers to the myth of needing a man as a support,

I have no father, brother, son, or husband to support me. But I have done it, all by myself. If I can do it, anyone can.”

Read more by Ilmana here or follow her on Twitter @Zeemana