In less than 56 pages, Anjum Rana manages to take us through several sweeping journeys—into the life of Chinar Gul—a truck driver, through the Swat Valley and the Karakoram Highway which was part of the ancient Silk Route, as well as into the creation of a work of art that Pakistan has made famous—the extravagantly painted truck. The narrator of the story is Chinar Gul and he reminisces about his life and his experiences as a gifted truck artist, Zarrar, paints Gul’s truck.
However, I must mention that a false note was struck on the first page which ruined some of the pleasure I got from the book. The narrator and truck owner says, ‘A painted truck is like a decorated bride who is waiting for you at home’. A sentence like this which objectifies and dehumanizes women is totally out of place in a children’s book, that too one from a publishing house that is known for its sensitivity.
Alongside the spectacular truck art from Hakeem Nawaz and Amer Khan, Sameer Kulavoor gives us lovely unfinished, incompletely coloured mountain and rural landscapes and vignettes from the truck painter’s workshop. One almost begins to feel as if one has become part of Chinar Gul’s journey. As children read this tale, I am pretty sure most will pick up their box of crayons or water colours and begin filling in the spaces. That’s a fabulous way of immersing a child in the tale!
This book works wonderfully as an inclusive children’s book and introduces Indian children to the people, customs and geography of a neighbouring nation, of which we know woefully little.