Horn OK Please

If you have ever been to a casino, such as those in Las Vegas or Macau, you know that it is so difficult to leave the premises. Unless you are cleaned out, casinos can rivet you. The thrills of making quick money in a universe of glamour and bright lights have cross-cultural magnetism. The feel-good music keeps visitors so wonderfully buoyed up, and the usually-free food and drink can turn most people into epicureans who lose all sense of calories and time. We want to be Humphrey Bogart playing Roulette in a casino in the movie Casablanca, even if just for today. But the mathematical odds are stacked against us players. Many of us know that; we just feel we are going to be the ones who will somehow beat the system.

So leaving is hard. Even so, the body eventually gets tired, and visitors begin to feel drowsy. The casino owners are aware of the body clock, so they do many things to hold us in there longer. They know that higher levels of oxygen keep us alert and awake. After all, that is what Pranayama does in Yoga, helping us take in more oxygen to rejuvenate us. Hence, late at night, casinos introduce additional oxygen from pressurised cylinders to do the job. It works wonders.

There are other tricks casinos employ to keep us in there, like music is played seamlessly, and the place has an absence of clocks or windows or anything that can remind us that we have responsibilities of time or of being in the real world. In this universe which seems hermetically-sealed, finding the exit is another issue, as is locating the counter to cash our chips. One of their cleverest ideas is to install psychedelic carpets, the kind that have strong, conflicting colours and garish designs. You just cannot feel serene looking at them; in fact they zap you to stay alert.

Earlier this month, something like that last idea was installed in Pakistan, in the Baggage Claim area at Islamabad’s new International Airport, but through paintings on the walls, not carpets on the floor. Most passengers who finish an air journey, especially a long one, feel tired and want to get home or to a hotel as soon as possible. The wait at Baggage Claim can feel very long. Ten minutes can seem like thirty to a weary passenger dying to find a bed. The authorities figured that if this area could somehow be made colourful or funny, it could reduce sleep levels by engaging passengers for a while. It’s a brilliant decision.

This is not to suggest that Pakistanis have taken the idea from casinos; in fact, their idea seems to predate the scientific findings by casinos. Pakistan has a fairly developed ‘Truck Art’ culture, perhaps a unique one. This is the painting with messages, witticisms or images on all easily-visible parts of trucks, and this painting is done in strong colours. Truck owners let professionals take several months to paint their vehicles, paying the latter many lacs of Rupees to do so. It is that important to them. Telling a story or outlining history is a tradition for Pakistanis that began when camels were used to transport goods. They used to decorate the camels with bright colours and messages to attract customers. When trucks happened upon them, they continued the art on their new medium of transport, and then went about improving the art. It’s the truck equivalent of tattoos on human bodies. It is Truck Art that adorns the airport wall mentioned above.

Trucks are goods-carrying vehicles, whose load-bearing areas can be covered or open-to-air. They come in many sizes but are fun to ride on, anywhere in the world, regardless of what people call them. In England they use the word lorry more, while truck is American. Truckers (long-distance lorry drivers), spend long days and nights away from home, so the vehicle becomes their second home, especially since they sometimes even sleep in it. Thus they also decorate it with ribbons and tinsel, keep the tyres inflated, the radiator hydrated and the engine oiled. The vehicle’s health and appearance are important for their lives. That is also the reason they paint messages in quick wisdom thoughts that can be read in a few seconds by vehicles behind them. In India, the most common message on trucks is Horn OK Please, in which you wonder why the OK is there at all. In fact for the decibel-level threatening times that we live in, the message should be Horn Not OK Please, which would even pass the grammar test better!

Many other messages can be found on the back of trucks. “Buri nazar waale tera moonh kaala”, “Mera Bharat Mahaan (But a few also read “Mera Bharat Mahaan, Magar 100 Mein 99 Beimaan”), and funny ones too: “Take Poison But Do Not Believe In Girls”, and “Has Mat Pagli Pyaar Ho Jaayega”.

What has Hindi filmdom done with trucks, as far as songs are concerned? Our story begins in 1957, when the Ajit-Nalini Jayant starrer Miss Bombay was released. The film’s title itself was the name of the truck! Here are a few songs that romanced the idea of these wheels:

  1. Din ho ya raat hum rahen tere saath (Rafi, Suman/Hansraj Behl/Prem Dhawan/Miss Bombay, 1957) (Ajit and Nalini Jaywant)
  2. Duniya ye kehti hai meri qismat mein likhi wo (Rafi, Suman/Hansraj Behl/Qamar Jalalabadi/Miss Bombay, 1957) (Ajit and Nalini Jaywant)
  3. Le chala jidhar ye dil nikal pade (Rafi/Hansraj Behl/Prem Dhawan/Miss Bombay, 1957) (Ajit)
  4. Hum hain raahi pyaar ke (Kishore/SD Burman/Majrooh/Nau Do Gyarah, 1957) (Dev Anand)
  5. Kali ke roop mein chali ho dhoop mein kahaan (Rafi, Asha/SD Burman/Majrooh/Nau Do Gyarah, 1957) (Dev Anand and Kalpana Kartik)
  6. Balam bada jhoottha, sajan bada jhoottha (Asha/OP Nayyar/Jan Nissar Akhtar/Farishta, 1958) (Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari, Smriti Biswas)
  7. O mere pyaaro zameen ke taaro (Asha, Sudha/S Mohinder/Pandit Indra/Zameen Ke Taare, 1960) (Anwar Husain, Daisy Irani, Honey Irani)
  8. Dil kehta hai zara to dam le lo (Manna Dey/Salil Chowdhury/Shailendra/Sapan Suhaane, 1961) (Balraj Sahni and others)
  9. O gori aaja gaddi wich baitth ja (Manna Dey, Lata/Salil Chowdhury/Shailendra/Sapan Suhaane, 1961) (Balraj Sahni, Geeta Bali)
  10. Subhanallah haaye haseen chehra haaye (Rafi/OP Nayyar/SH Bihari/Kashmir Ki Kali, 1964) (Shammi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore and Pran)
  11. Kaanton se kheench ke ye aanchal (Lata/SD Burman/Shailendra/Guide, 1965) (Waheeda Rehman and Dev Anand)
  12. Do akalmand hue fikarmand (Rafi, Kishore/OP Nayyar/Aziz Kashmiri/Akalmand, 1966) (Kishore Kumar and IS Johar)
  13. Kisi raah mein kisi mod par (Lata, Mukesh/Kalyanji-Anandji/Anand Bakshi/Mere Humsafar, 1970) (Jeetendra, Sharmila Tagore)
  14. Mausam hai bahaaron ka (Mahendra Kapoor, S Balbir/Kalyanji-Anandji/Anand Bakshi/Mere Humsafar, 1970) (Jagdeep)
  15. Raah pe rehte hain, yaadon pe basar karte hain (Kishore Kumar/RD Burman/Gulzar/Namkeen, 1982) (Sanjeev Kumar)

Jaate-Jaate, here’s a message on the back of a truck:

Na mila hai na milega mujhe aaraam kaheen

Main musafir hoon meri subah kaheen shaam kaheen

In a Jaimala program on All India Radio, composer C Ramchandra informed listeners he had read these lines on the back of a truck. He made the basic tune there and then, after which he gave these words to PL Santoshi who completed the poem. The full song was rendered by Chitalkar (ie, the composer himself), in a Marathi film called Dhananjay. We know that C Ramchandra couldn’t make a tune without the lyrics. Words received, he was King. Never mind if the poetry was on the back of a truck. Geniuses look for sparks from anywhere.


Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 23 September 2018, page 13 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-09-23

Featured image: from Hum hain raahi pyaar ke

16 thoughts on “Horn OK Please

  1. Manek, lovely write up there. As for truckers and their messages, it seems to me it is the quirk of truckers in India and Pakistan only. As for the west, they have no such custom. Besides you will also notice that whilst in India there will be an assistant – commonly known as cleaner to most of us – and man Friday for the truck driver. In the west, huge trucks with 6 and 8 axles will most likely have only the driver – no concept of the cleaner there. Also his cabin will have all modern comforts as found in cars such as music, radio, air conditioning/heating etc. unlike our Indian truckers. They indeed work in difficult conditions – not to speak of handling the hafta along the way 🙂

    1. Beautifully observed, Balbir, thanks! But I do think this is an area where we must not put India and Pakistan together. Let’s face it, they have made it an art form…

  2. Wow! From psychedelic carpets in cleverly oxygenated, timeless casinos, to decorated camels and Truck Art in Pakistan, to painted messages behind trucks, to songs sung in/from trucks, to CR being inspired by a ‘truck tattoo’ – you’ve connected and covered all of it seamlessly Manek! Really enjoyed the Sunday read ?

    Horn Ok Please is just the perfect title for this absorbing article! And the one I’ve read most often is the ‘buri nazar wale’ quote.

    Here’s another typical one:
    Dheere chalega toh baar baar milenge
    Tez chalega toh Haridwar milenge

    1. “Dheere chalega toh baar baar milenge
      Tez chalega toh Haridwar milenge” 🙂 🙂

      Waise Madhur one thing I have yet to understand, when a car is fit, they say gaadi chaalu hai. When they say chaalu about a girl, the meaning morphs 🙂

  3. So true! That last line! Geniuses look for sparks anywhere! That would, I think, include you, Manek, quite effectively. What an essay! Casinos and truck art!

    The counter to the almost universal truck slogan is ‘buri nazar wale, Tera bhi bhalaa ‘ on many trucks in India.

    I wonder if this ‘truck’ song might make the cut- A Mahendra Kapoor song in ‘Kala Patthar’ . Filmed on Parikshit Sahni. ‘Jageya, jageya, jageya, kadi ishq chhuppan nai-o lageya. ‘

    Hats off yet again!

  4. From Casinos to Extra Oxygen to Psychedelic lights to Islamabad Airport [ did you visit there recently-maybe for Imran’s swearing in ceremony with the ever guffawing Siddhu ] and then to Trucks / Lorries- oh dear exhaustive journey for the reader-nonetheless exhilarating .
    I can never pass a truck, without reading what is written on the back- you can call it my OCD . Once upon a time I had the habit of writing them down too. A fair amount of them in a note book, only to loose the book somewhere. Remember one very clearly=” Besharam Sharam kar , Dada se aage na nikal

    1. Loved the last line Dilip 🙂 And I do notice them too, near my office, they come to pick up water from wells, amazing that such wells still exist, in South Mumbai of all places!

  5. once again a great article as you spin your story with a few parallel’s. 🙂 Songs emanating from short slogans on trucks is well known phenomena – the west did that too going beyond just this with slogans found on motels, ranches and the wild west supplied enough for their lyrics which you find in abundance – country western. 🙂

    The neighbouring forced nation does not enthuse me in any way. hence no comments there. 🙂

    more strength to your thinking cap. 🙂

    1. Hmm…thoughtful observations Commander! One diff between the west and us, I noticed is in Fodor’s they tell you when you are on the road and looking for a nice eatery, stop where you see trucks parked. Truckers know about good food. Now we have dhabas here, where these guys eat, but our hungry folks will stop anywhere but there 🙂

  6. That was a fantastic read!! Made my Sunday ?
    While traveling by road, I’m always eager to read what is written on the truck. It is fun to go through the captions. Some are philosophical while some are naughty. And just the other day I shared a photo on my timeline where it was written ‘Hans mat pagli pyar ho jaayega’ ?? I wonder how many songs are inspired by these truck captions. One also had – Tu chal main aayi…. that’s another song!!
    Ohh see what your article does. Thoughts just flow ??

    1. Deepa _()_ 🙂

      “Tu chal main aayi”…lol…I do think sometimes these people have a better sense of humour than us literary types 🙂

  7. Manek, your canvas is getting bigger and more engaging. This article…. it is so amazing, so much of information but more importantly it opens up a new vista of curiosity. This Pakistan angle is really an eye opener. Quite creative.

    And I love the truck-quote in the concluding para – Gulzar will easily own it, given his love for raah, mod, musafir !

    I have read many but one that I can’t forget is – so full of philosophy :

    neki kar, joote kha
    maine khaaye, tu bhi kha !


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