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Stories behind the Travelling Words of Wisdom – Tuk Tuk Stickers

Driving through rush hour traffic – surrounded by the cacophony of honking, irate drivers who try to cut in front of you and homicidal bus drivers – has the potential to unleash your road rage. But simmer down! Dispersed in the sea of metal are the three-wheeled, (admittedly) exasperating but highly entertaining tuk tuks. Each with a nugget of advice or confounding statement plastered on that can have you crack smile even while trapped in the worst of traffic congestions. Bright tuk tuks adorned with jolly Rogers and pictures of Bollywood actresses remind us that ‘Life is a no backspace’, ‘Everyday is not Christmas’, and ‘Life is Honey, Love is Jolly’.

The peculiar quotes have been the centre of attention in the recent past with words of wisdom on tuk tuks ranging from funny to bizarre. We moseyed around Colombo to uncover the needling question – are tuk tuk drivers really broody and jaded about life or are those quotes purely for aesthetic appeal? Turns out it is a bit of both.

A Reflection of Their Personality

One of the interesting tuk tuk quotes we came across declared “Money Makes Many Thinks”. It certainly got us thinking – was it a deliberate twist on the adage “money makes many things but not everything” or was it a careless typo?

Ranatunga, the proud owner of the bright blue three-wheeler with the adage painted on, said it is how he sees society. “I got a guy in Dompe to put the stickers up for me,” Ranatunga elaborates. “It was about a year or so ago, as soon as I bought the trishaw. This is just my perspective of society. This is what I feel when I think about the people we live with. I know it’s not very pleasant, but that is just what I think,” he says.

Nishantha’s tuk tuk quote is more personal. The poetic line ‘Between each smile there is a tear in my eye’, festoons the back of his beige Bajaj. I connected with it because I felt that it is what reflected my thoughts and my own experiences in life,” he explains. “I feel that most people who have thoughts stickered on their vehicles like to express their own feelings through them.”

Most of the tuk tuk drivers we spoke to shared the same reasons for having opted for stickers on their rides. Though a few of them said they had rented their tuk tuks and they came with the stickers.

For Some, it’s All About the Font

Not all tuk tuk drivers care about letting Colombo know of their worldviews and heartache. According to Mohammed Rimza, who owns a tuk tuk sticker shop in Maligawatta, some of the drivers are more concerned about the font and style rather than what the quote means. He has a stock of quotes on his computer and they select which style they prefer; displaying little or no interest in what the quote is about. “Today a lot of customers ask for a ‘gangster’ or Bob Marley design”. He goes on to say that the culture of modifying three-wheelers has been around for the past 40 years. It has evolved over the years, changing to suit the trends and pop culture of the time.

Describing the stages of acquiring a sticker, Rimza says he shows his clients a stock of predesigned quotes from which they pick their favourite. He prints outs the designs on PVC and luminous sheets in separate blocks of colour and cuts them out with a blade-cutter. The design is then peeled off with a penknife and carefully stuck on the tuk tuk. A small sticker of about 5 inches can be printed and cut out in five minutes and would cost you Rs. 150.

While tuk tuk tattoos have been a trend for a few decades, they seem to have gained more attention and are appreciated a lot more today. The tuk tuk quotes have gradually become more wacky, gangster, and clearly funny. So the next time you’re stuck in crawling traffic, play around of spot the funny tuk tuk quote, and remember, as your friendly neighbourhood tuk tuk advises “Be a safety hero, score and accident zero”.

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