As he languidly moves his brush on the tin interiors of the Nabin Pally puja pandal in north Kolkata, it’s hard to imagine Haider Ali working anywhere else. So comfortable is he mixing colours in a palette of a steel plate, sipping tea from a clay khuri and instructing his small team of helpers, it seems like Haider Ali has been working in Kolkata all his life. But Ali is from Karachi and the political import of his presence in the city doesn’t elude the 33-year-old Pakistani artist. “I feel honoured to be in this city. I hope people from Kolkata appreciate our art and that in turn helps improve the relations between our nations,” says Ali.
Ali and his two helpers, Muhammad Iqbal and Mumtaz Ahmed, are here because Puja organisers at Nabin Pally of Hatibagan have tied up with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Kolkata, to introduce Kolkatans to the famous “truck art” of Pakistan during Durga Puja this year. “The great thing about Durga Puja celebrations nowadays is that the city turns into a veritable exhibition gallery for the five days of puja. Each organiser vies with others to showcase some rare art form or the other. Last year, our theme was khadi. This year, we are offering a slice of Pakistan to Kolkata,” says Shiv Shankar Maitra, president of the Nabin Pally Puja Committee.
This indigenous art form is typical to Pakistan and includes structural changes,paintings, calligraphy and ornamental decor. “Usually, the driver or the owner takes the truck to a coach workshop soon after its purchase for this decoration. The artist embellishes each truck according to the taste of the driver,” says Ali, who has been practising this art form for the past 25 years.
“It started when I was only seven. While returning from school, I would stop over at my father’s workshop. I would see him using vibrant colours and would be fascinated. Sometimes, I would try my hand too. By the time I was in my teens, I could handle painting the whole body of the truck,” says Ali.
His helpers, though, are late bloomers. Ahmed, who is in his mid 40s, was initiated into the art form just a few years ago. “I was a farmer, but I somehow was always drawn to the colourful trucks that would hurtle down the countryside. Thankfully, Ali took me under his wings, and I am slowly