I don’t want to play favorites with Indian scripts, but I have to admit that ever since I became interested in type, I particularly love Bengali letterforms. The Bengali (‘Bangla’) script is the writing system for the Bengali language, the seventh most-used language in the world and is primarily used in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, and South Assam.
A few years ago, I had an opportunity to visit Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal, known as ‘Calcutta’ during British colonization. Kolkata is feted for its art and cultural heritage, symbolic of both the bygone British era as well as the Bengali Renaissance. I associate a sense of romanticism with Kolkata, with its trams, the Howrah bridge, and Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry. However, Kolkata in person is simultaneously romantic and chaotic. This duality can be experienced not only in the visual landscape of city life but also through its letterforms. While many examples of elegant Bengali typography exist, the streets are also flooded with bold vernacular lettering on busses.
It’s hard to miss this hand-painted lettering continually whizzing past. This style of bus ornamentation is unique to Kolkata and has remained a constant inspiration to me since my visit.
I passed a lot of time standing by the side of the road, mesmerized by the colors, decorations, and sheer audacity of these bus graphics!
The main focus is the lettering that displays the bus number and its starting & ending locations, which is seen on the front and sides of the bus.
There are unlimited variations of the small ‘Pilot’ sign painted on the driver-seat door on every bus.
The indication for ‘Emergency Exit’ normally appears with some decorative element or swashy lettering.
A lot of the images from my collection are blurred, since its hard to get a good image while they drive past you quickly. Tip: Standing at a traffic signal is a good place to get clear photographs.
Sadly, these hand-painted signs are being replaced by flex printouts. It is only a matter of time until the buses will be flanked by crass advertisements and LED displays like they are in most other cities.
Head to Kolkata soon before this bus lettering disappears! These lettering samples make me smile every time I look at them and I hope they brighten your day as well.
This post is part of Greetings from, a series in which Alphabettes share typographic curiosities from around the world. Look out for a passport stamp in the photos to spot posts from the series, or read them all here.