During my recent trip to the Indian city of Kolkata( formally Calcutta), I visited the newly opened Tram World Cafe in Ballygunge tram deport. It was unexpected. A cafe promoting Kolkata tram culture. And before my memory fails completely, I am trying to celebrate 150th anniversary of Kolkata tram from some of my recollections.
History of Kolkata Tram:
Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) network is part of British Raj legacy. It started service in 1873. Against many odds, it continues to serve the grand city of Kolkata with its 15 million residences. First metre-gauge horse-drawn tram tracks were laid from Sealdah to Dalhousie Square to Strand Road. In 1902, the first electric tramcar ran from Esplanade to Kidderpore with addition of many new tracks across Kolkata. In 1980s, Burn Standard of Howrah built tramcars for the CTC. The Nonapukur Workshops designed and built modern fibreglass tramcars. In 2008, new track from Park Circus was also started, serving people from from Ballygunge to Behala to Belgatchia. Followed by long haul of neglect and depressive state of affair.
In 2023, pressure from Calcutta Tram Company Union Association (CTUA), increased understanding of eco friendly transport and hype of the 150th of CTC anniversary celebration had thirty tram workers promoted to drivers. A move in the right direction. The celebration also included Tramjatra projects, creation of a new Art Gallery in a tram (Burn Standard tram 258) , theatre performances and decoration of trams with paintings.
Roberto D’Andrea, a ‘tram wallah’ from Melbourne, Australia who keeps spending time in Kolkata to establish an unusually stronger bond between Melbourne and Kolkata, have some Melbourne trams painted with Tramjatra theme and keeps inspiring Kolkata tram lovers to do more for their tram services. His action is powerful enough for Australian High Commissioner Barry ‘Farrell AO,who tweeted on 23/03 “ As Kolkata celebrates 150 years of its trams, sharing an incredible story of Melbourne’s Roberto D’Andrea – a conductor who’s helping save Kolkata’s trams since 1994.”
Forty years of working experience with Melbourne trams, Roberto recently finished writing an open letter to the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal( Indian state) to save the Kolkata tram network from extinction and also to improve its current infrastructure. His love, dedication and participation to celebrate 150th anniversary of Kolkata’s trams has become exemplary. I am thrilled to learn that he lives in same Melbourne city which I visited two decades ago and fell in love with it’s tram culture. It reminded me of my very own nostalgic connection to Kolkata trams.
Over two decades ago, my first tram trip to St Kilda Beach in summer was surreal. I went to St Kilda beach with my girlfriend and was fixated by the beauty of Melbourne trams. As women in their bikinis with towels around their waists got in and out of the tram, my girlfriend at the time, yelled to me , “What are you looking at?”I replied , “Trams”. She said, “Don’t lie”, as the tram gracefully made its way from St Kilda to Melbourne CBD. Professionally, I was again lucky to revisit Melbourne often and create many of my Australian tram memories. Even though, I was a Qantas frequent flyer, I enjoyed travelling from Kew Junction to Melbourne CBD, Collin Street and the Victoria Parliament House more than flying between Sydney and Melbourne.
Not to mention watching the trams from The Windsor Hotel (which was once ran by The Oberoi Group, owner of The Grand, Kolkata) window was mesmerising too. My visit to gastronomic Melbourne which included Chin Chin, Tonka and Young and Jackson Hotel (home to Chloe, the famous nude portrait) were only a tram ride away. While working for pharmaceutical giant GSK, I still remember, catching trams from Kew Junction to the city with my interstate colleagues. It is the best memory of all time. One evening, we all caught a wrong tram and went around the outer suburbs of Melbourne, when someone in our group said, “We are lost.” I replied, “Enjoy being lost in Melbourne. It is not Kolkata.It’s bloody awesome”. Everyone laughed.
Once on my way to Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) for a India vs Australia cricket match, I spotted trams with highly decorated Tramjatra project decorations like those women attending ceremonious fair of Gangaur in Rajasthan. They stole my heart. While working for Crown Group, Holding, visit to Melbourne was necessary for business. During that visit, I was also learnt the rules of a peculiar’Hook Turn’ in Melbourne CBD from a Victorian police with flashing red and blue light, after driving my Jaguar in front of a standing tram. Few years later, during Medtronic days, many a times, I caught trams to Melbourne hospitals and healthcare professionals to help introduce insulin pump technology to Type 1 diabetics. I got accustomed to quintessential Melbourne tram lifestyle.
In 2001, during a World Polo Championship, I stayed at the Werribee House to attend an international polo match, when for the first time, I definitely felt that Kolkata city had transplanted itself in Melbourne with all its similarities in cultural scenes, colonial buildings, polo ground and definitely the sight and sound of trams. And I fell in love with this wonderful connection between Kolkata and Melbourne more and more. In 2022, to celebrate 150th anniversary of Kolkata tram, I wore my dhoti/kurta and photoed with Melbourne vintage tram to fulfil my goal to bring Kolkata and Melbourne even closer.