A walk down to the local community space, The Canopy in LaneCove( Sydney, Australia), I spotted the painting of a tram on a traffic signal box. Today, we do not have any tram service in the north side of the Harbour Bridge and I wondered how the locals would have enjoyed trams( before its service was closed in the late 1950s) as mode of public service transport. It is even more depressive to think just like this tram painting in Lanecove, trams are going to be extinct soon in the Indian city of Kolkata.
Ballygunge, was where I lived:
Ballygunge is a southern suburb of Kolkata with its upmarket houses, apartments and affluent neighbourhood. As South Kolkata teenager, I was a daily user of tram network. Kolkata tram network or Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) had creating lots of memories and made me a Ballygunge lover of Kolkata trams, recollecting my memories in Australia.
Ballygunge Lover of Kolkata Trams:
Being a transnational and living in Sydney, Kolkata trams are still my favourite. Never lost their charm. In Asia, the city of Kolkata is one of the very few cities with tram networks like Beijing, Istanbul and Hiroshima. Kolkata trams are liked by all: locals, non resident Indians and foreigners. It is ingrained in the local culture as people are using trams for their weddings, annual Durga pujo celebration, even as library and a bit for daily public transport.
Being an icon and part of the Bengali culture, Kolkata trams were a perfect choice for Oscar winning film maker Satyajit Ray to film talented actor Soumitra Chattopadhyay, riding a Kolkata tram as a young Bengali named Apu in the film Apur Sansar (The World of Apu). Even my love for Kolkata trams, saw me playing a character in a Hindi comedy film, Guddu Ki Gun(2015) with Indian actor Kunal Khemu to advocate social change and understanding for India’s enormous young population.
Often, catching a tram, I did visit my school friends like late Shivaji Roy(owner of M L Roy & Co Sanitations Pvt Ltd) and others (who went to Loreto House, La Martiniere and Calcutta Boy’s School), attended South Point School (Guinness Book of Records holder, groomed Economics Nobel Prize winner and launched its own nano-satellite in space) tutorials in Hindustan Road and enjoyed my favourite tutti fruiti ice cream from Kwality Restaurant, Ballygunge Phari.
A tram journey to Queens Park, Merlin Park and Ballygunge Circular Road, made me happy to look at the magnificent Bengal bunglow garden houses of the Boses, Ghoshs and Roys as good as listening to Wham! , Meat Loaf and ABBA cassettes brought with pocket money. It was not uncommon for me to watch PC Sorcar performing magic tricks for local kids infront of his house ‘Indrajal’ in Jamir Lane or street cricket being played in Ekdalia near Bharat Sevashram Sangha building or customers enjoying crazy head massage at the corner barbershop, as my tram rolled down to the Ballygunge terminus.
Just like Birdwatching guide in Australia, I made my own Ballygunge Tram-Celebrity Watch guide to spot celebrities such as acclaimed dancer Mamata Sankar ( daughter of Uday Sankar. Uday danced with Anna Pavlova after whom a desert is named in Australia) in her red lipstick and handloom cotton saris or now Bollywood actress and Bong beauty Bipasa Basu or Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France award winning writer Mahasata Devi riding trams in my locality. Sometime, I would also painfully watch my school crushes with other male students, especially during Bengali Valentine’s Day (Saraswati Puja celebrated on Basant Panchami day).
On that particular day, when I watched one of my school crush catching the tram with her new male friend to enjoy Bengali sweets at Tasty Corner, Mandeville Gardens, it broke my heart. Worst, they chose to sit in my favourite seat at the end of the tram to spend time together on a slow journey. Sitting there and tapping my Bata leather shoes on the wooden floor with fictional detectives -Feluda, Sherlock Holmes or TinTin books on my lap, I would imagine travelling the world, question my late mother objective to idolise scientist Dr Megnath Saha (her friend Sanghamitra Sahá’s father) or justify my father’s idea to sell the exquisitely taste of Malda mangoes to the globe.
I also loved looking out of the mobile tram window from that particular seat and watch the mayhem of life being played out in the Kolkata mega metropolis as daily commuters (both city dwellers and villagers) rushed from Ballygunge station to tram terminus. In the meantime, the tram slowly rolled out of the terminus tackling auto rickshaws, buses and Kolkata yellow cabs with loud ‘ding dinging’ noise. Even though, these memories were from 30 years ago, before moving to Australia, the thought of extinction of Kolkata tram is still traumatic for me.
During my annual visits to Kolkata, I continue to ride trams in Ballygunge. In 2022, during a recent family trip to India, my wife with her Australian heritage and a Kolkata handbag, stole everyone’s attention when she jump on board a tram near Gariahart( with it’s numerous gold jewellery shops, sari showrooms and hawkers) after her shopping. She was not carrying her usual Sabyasachi (Indian) or Cartier (French) or Camellia (Australian) bags but her new Kolkata tote bag with ‘Aar Bolo Na’ (‘Don’tTell me‘) written on it. A very common sentence for Bengali women to start chinwag about their shopping experiences.
In the future, stories of many such memories can definitely continue, if younger Calcutta Tram Users Association (CTUA) members are able to keep up with the pro-tram momentum to save Kolkata trams from extinction. As one CTUA member correctly said, “Kolkata trams shouldn’t be seen as amusement “heritage” joy ride only but a critical part of its public transport network”.
With other Kolkata intelligentsia class, they are also advocating for the survival of Kolkata tram network to share jam packed city streets with Hyundai, Maruti Suzuki and Tata cars. For me, the stellar Kolkata tram network is definitely where memories are created, culture is celebrated and heritage is established. Upon my return to Sydney in 2023, I try to enjoy my tram memories as promised to my wife. It was at this chic Tramsheds (former historic Rozelle Tram Depot ,Glebe) in Sydney, while having my morning coffee and coconut chocolate coated Lamington with my family, I felt sudden burst of enthusiasm as Ballygunge lover of Kolkata tram and thinking about its future. I whispered to myself, ‘You beauty! Keep rolling.’