I got an email from my friend Dan Eckstein this morning letting me know about his new documentary project Horn Please, a series of photographs about long distance truck drivers in India that he made over two trips through India's Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana states earlier this year.
Of the series, he writes,
Horn Please is the mantra of the Indian highway and some version of the sentiment is written on the back of practically every truck on the road. In a place where lanes are a mere suggestion, side-view mirrors are seldom used and modes of transport range from horse-drawn carts to eighteen-wheel trucks, the ever-present horn is an essential part of driving etiquette.
Since the creation of the famous Grant Trunk Road, which once stretched from Afghanistan to Bangladesh, India’s roadways have been a vital cultural and economic link across the subcontinent. Modern India is crisscrossed by a vast network of highways and rural roads that bring people and goods throughout the country. These range from the gleaming superhighways surrounding Delhi and Mumbai to single-lane mountain passes that have seen little improvement since independence.
Along the highway, one unmistakable feature is the brightly decorated trucks that ply the country’s roads. The men who drive these trucks spend long hours on the road and can be away from their families for weeks at a time so their trucks act as a second home and they take great pride in them. The interior and exterior of the trucks are colorfully decorated with paintings, stickers, garlands, tassels and shrines, which are not only a unique form of folk art but also an expression of individualism. The ornamentation varies from region to region and can indicate everything from the driver’s caste and religion to their hometown to their tastes in music and Bollywood films.
Also along the highway are innumerable truck stops, restaurants, mechanic depots and shops mostly catering to the truckers and other drivers on the road. Simple establishments called dhabas are the hub of roadside culture and provide an inexpensive meal as well as a place for drivers to rest and socialize. They also offer facilities for the drivers to bathe, wash their clothes and their trucks. In the hot mid-day hours the dhabas fill up with men reclining on charpai (cots made from steel tubing and recycled inner-tubes) and drinking masala chai.
The men who drive these trucks do not have it easy but clearly take pride in their work. They work long hours in dusty and dirty places but seem to revel in the camaraderie of the other drivers and the excitement of the open road. The young drivers seem especially satisfied as they pull out onto the highway with their music blaring and windows down.
See the whole series, order prints and watch the accompanying video piece here.