COVID-19 vaccination in a village (Representative image: AP)
Oh for Mirza Ghalib during the time of Corona!
They tickle your funny bone but they also send a message. Reading shero-shayari (Urdu couplets) written on passing trucks is a staple Indian highway experience.
Besides sharing the humour and pain about life on the road, they often highlight matters of social relevance like family planning and liquor prohibition and, can at times, be intensely philosophical.
To tap into this trucker tradition and channel it towards creating awareness about COVID-19 and vaccination drives, an initiative was launched by a Bhopal-based NGO, Search and Research Development Society, in association with the National Council for Science and Technology, a government body under the Department of Science and Technology.
"Reading witty and humorous slogans on trucks and buses is a favourite time pass for many people. Moreover, messages on trucks travel around the state and others replicate it too," said Monika Jain, Chairperson of the Society.
This NGO conducted a two-day campaign in which slogans about vaccination drives were painted on or tied to about 200 trucks, carrier autos, milk supply vans and other loading vehicles.
The teams camped out at toll plazas, enticing drivers to lend valuable mobile advertising space for these public health messages. Drivers were asked to select their favourite message from a chart with over two dozen choices.
Many popular sayings were taken and given a scintillating COVID twist.
'Teeka lagao ge to baar baar milenge. Laparwahi karoge to Haridwar me milenge,' (If you get vaccinated, we will meet often; If you disregard it, we will meet in Haridwar) goes a catchy message. Haridwar in Uttarakhand is an important Hindu pilgrimage town and is regarded as most auspicious to conduct final rites and rituals post cremation.
Mukul, a team member who was painting these slogans onto vehicles, replaced Haridwar with Narmada Ghat.
"In Madhya Pradesh, people prefer to perform the last rites at the holy Narmada River rather than going to Haridwar," he said, with a twinkle in his eye.
"Normally, shero-shayaris are merely for entertainment. But I am writing these to save the country, to save people from the pandemic," he said, seriously. "People will read it and the wise follow it too."
Another improvisation was done on the popular and rousing rhyme, 'Chalti hai gaadi udti hai dhool. Jalte hai dushman khilte hain phool' (The vehicle moves, raising dust. Competitors are envious but flowers bloom).
The new second line, an eye catcher, now reminds people that not getting vaccinated is a big mistake ('Vaccine lagwa lo warna hogi badi bhool').
Said Bhopal district's Assistant Nodal Officer for awareness against COVID-19, Akhilesh Chaturvedi,"We chose a toll plaza for this purpose and approached passing truck drivers. We were surprised to see that most of the drivers agreed gladly."
Another cheeky improvisation of a popular line goes, 'Hans mat pagli, pyar ho jayega, teeka lagwa le, corona haar jayega' (Don't laugh, you crazy girl. I might fall in love. Get the vaccine and defeat the coronavirus).
Sunil Patidar, a driver, said that this would be his contribution to the nation - encouraging people to participate in the vaccination drive.
"As these vehicles keep moving in urban and rural areas, people can easily get to see these messages written on them," he points out.
An all time favourite of the drivers' 'Buri nazar wale tera mooh kala', is now appended with 'Achha hota hai vaccine lagwane wala.' (The message curses those with an evil eye and praises those who get vaccinated).(The author is a Bhopal-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)