12-18 August 2016 #821

Lorry laureates

A visit to the truck studios of Banepa where poets and artists let their creative juices flow
Upasana Khadka in KAVRE

POETRY IN MOTION: Truck driver Bikash Tamang and painter Jivan Choudhary.

The automobile workshops of Banepa have traditionally specialised in building bodies on truck chassis, but less well known is the town’s reputation for gaudy truck art and the flowery poetry on vehicles.

The messages are hard to miss while driving along Nepal’s highways: some are witty, others profound. They range from the common ‘Ama Babu Ko Ashirbad’ (Parent’s Blessings), and ‘See You Again’ to the more complex shayari verses about lost love and patriotism. 

“When drivers came with requests for shayari, I used to scribble down about three on the spot and ask them to choose their favourite,” says Narayan Bhakta Karna, Banepa’s legendary lorry laureate who is now retired.

Karna is well known for his hit song Biteka Timra Yad Harule, but stopped writing poetry for trucks five years ago. Hundreds of his verses can still be seen on vehicles all over Nepal, but many others disappeared after the vehicles were abandoned or painted over.

“Most of my songs have been flops, except Biteka Timra Yad Harule,” Karna said, “but because many of the lines were written on the spot for the trucks, I don’t remember most of them.” 

Banepa's legendary lorry laureate Narayan Bhakta Karna, and his notebooks of verses

Rendering the poetry onto the sides of trucks is the job of painter and poet Kanil Kumar Choudhary, who is much sought-after in Kavre. Originally from Sunsari, he has been painting trucks in Banepa for over two decades in his Kala Sona Art shop, which charges up to Rs 12,000 to paint a whole truck.

“Our drivers are very influenced by western culture, and they want logos of Adidas, Playboy, Barcelona and Manchester United,” he said, displaying a sample Barcelona logo that he was working on.

Choudhary is a two-in-one expert: he composes a poem on the spot, which he then paints on the side of a customer’s truck. He tries not to repeat his poems, so each driver gets an exclusive. Sometimes customers reject the poem he proposes, and ask him to write them another one. 

“Some drivers come with their own poems, others want me to write them so I ask for a theme, it is usually about love, longing, separation,” Choudhary says, adding that a common subject is the fragility of life, which could be due to the danger of being a driver on Nepal’s treacherous highways.

Jivan Choudhary is an accomplished painter in Kavre, and Kanil’s nephew and protege. He does not write poetry, but paints what the drivers want on the sides of their vehicles. Most popular these days are the words ‘Blind Love’, or even ‘SMS’ and ‘Facebook’ on the backs of tipper trucks.

Jivan Choudhary paints the flag of Nepal on the side of a truck.

Kanil Kumar Choudhary is a 2-in-1 artist, sought after for his painting and poetry.

Bikash Tamang is a truck driver and is having a verse he had himself written painted on the back of his truck: ‘Bhoko pet, khali goji ra jhuto prem le manislai dherai kura sikayera jancha’ (‘A man learns a lot from an empty stomach and false love’). Explained Tamang: “It is based on my real life experience.”  

Jivan is busy painting the flag of Nepal on the side of another truck and trying to get driver Tamju Ramtel to hurry up and decide on the shayari he wants on his vehicle. 

“I am not sure about the words yet, maybe we will sit down with friends over drinks and come up with something by tomorrow,” he tells Jivan. “Whatever it is, it should capture the attention of the vehicles behind me on the road.”

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