American photographer Dan Eckstein was traveling in Rajasthan, India for a friend’s wedding when the colorful trucks that crisscross the Indian highway caught his eye. Amid the chaos and treacherous traffic of the Indian roads, these trucks stood out.
Over the course of two years and 10,000 kilometers, Eckstein documented the trucks, drivers, and road culture of India. This project in turn became a book, Horn Please, published last month by PowerHouse.
“The roadside in India, especially in rural areas, is the place where the villages meet the greater world. It is where the shops and restaurants are located, it is the place where people go to travel, it is the place where commerce happens. It is real Indian life being played out and is infinitely varied and interesting,” Eckstein told me.
The drivers take great pride in their picturesque trucks. In a way, they are an extension of the personalities of their drivers—mostly young men who work long hours, moving all sorts of goods throughout the country. The brightly colored vehicles, adorned with everything from paintings of deities to pop culture references, offers a snapshot of an India caught between tradition and modernity.
The book itself is named after one of the most important tools the truckers have on the road: their horn. “Horn Please” or some variation of it, is inscribed on almost every truck. “It’s a relic from a time when the trucks did not have side-view mirrors, and other vehicles needed to honk their horn to let them know that they were going to pass. Even today, the horn in an indispensable tool on the road. It lets other drivers, as well as the bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians, ox-drawn cards, and other animals on the road know that you are there,” he added.
The regional identity of the drivers is also reflected in the design of the trucks. Different areas of the country have unique designs.
“I think it’s less about the relationship between the people and the road than the road being a really interesting way to look at contemporary India. It really is a place where you can see ordinary Indian life taking place, which is something that you miss if you only go to the tourist destinations,” Eckstein explained.