The rattle of iron wheels, the sound of cloudy compressed air kicking dust billowing out through the wheels, shook the mother earth. The squealing metal brakes did its job perfectly well to stop the tram. Yes, the tram had come to a dead stop inches away from the rear bumper of my car.
Respect born out of pure love for these wooden and metal carriages made me turn the car to the left so that I can ease out of the rails that ran through the concrete sections of the roads of Calcutta. The rails, perhaps planted by the British regime, some seventy or maybe eighty years ago still shine under the hot humid sun. She rumbled on beside me to occupy the space I stood on. The tram shuddered and came to another halt. The mechanical foot horn clanked on as the tram driver impatiently stepped on it. She looked old, rusty, her sides all used up by advertisements of all sorts. Trams have been an integral part of my growing up.
My family and I used them extensively. I went to the school or college and my first choice was always a tram. In today’s fast world, the Calcutta tram is looked upon as a relic of the past. They are slow, look decadent and you can hardly see people using them.
It was in my school days, the summer vacation had just started and my face glowed with the excitement when I requested my mother to have a joy ride in a tram. Life was so simple in those days and our want as a kid was limited to just a ride in a tram and my heart filled with the happiness with the mere thought of it.
So, what was so unique?
The world around me was all about that three hours of up and down journey from Ballygunge and back again. The sound was immense as the iron wheels went over the rail grooves reverberating across the houses that lined up the road on either side. Felt so special as if everyone stared at me riding the noisy self-propelled carriages. The forty kilometres per hour speed causing enough air to pour in through its windows and swept back my hair. The tram touched various sections of the city, some very congested with heavy traffic, others less crowded.
A specific section of my memorable journey was just beyond the city limits, for a short spell though, before the rails went right back into the city. They winded through the long unkempt grasses on the Maidan fringes. On one side the Calcutta skyline showed the tall and ever-increasing corporate houses and on the other, the greenery-laden Fort William of the armed forces. The clouded sky with the far-flung city limits flew past the little boy’s scanning eyes. The ride was about an hour and a half. Every bit of it is etched in my memory.
Trams have always been the favorite choice for retired ladies and gentlemen. In one of my rides, I remember an octogenarian, clad in dark pleated trousers went on talking to another old man, both were talking about events, fifty years ago. They sounded so content, and the faces beamed with smiles that stretched from one ear to the other. Hardly youngsters were seen boarding them. However, very recently, a singular event caught my attention and I visited to join in the revelry.
A group consisting of millennium generation or X-generation kids, characterized by toying mobile handheld devices, wires of all kinds sticking out from their ears, short cropped hair, large tattoos adorning their bare skins, bunched up to dig into the history of Calcutta trams.
Some hundred or so in number wanted to fall in love for two days, the world of Calcutta trams. They unearthed fascinating antiquity which dates back to 24th February 1873.
More artists painted the discerning sides of another tram to their heart’s content.
The Ballygunge tram depot which is about five minutes walk from where I stay was opened to the public. School children, young and old with bursting enthusiasm queued up to get a glimpse of where the trams stay for the night after making fifteen to twenty sorties across the city every day.
How they are serviced and maintained. Few trams were neatly decorated with lights and historical anecdotes being shown via big screens. Octogenarians were being interviewed to recollect their memories of trams. The young ones listened to them with bated breath.
Shall I take you on a pictorial journey that I loved so much and wanted to share…
As I was panning my camera, interesting historical facts were decoratively kept on the tram windows. I captured a couple of them for your reading pleasure.
As I was loitering in and around the parked trams, I hopped into one and explored the interior, which included the passenger sections, the driver’s cabin, and the frugal controls with which a tram is driven.
After braving a midday sun for about two to three hours, I was parched like one of the overhead corrugated sheets and needed a drink to quench my thirst. The help came again in the form of a tram turned into a mobile cafe.
A cup of freshly brewed coffee with some munchies helped me to revive my spent strength.
Next day, I drove in the early hours of the morning to visit the tram museum.
I reckon you are now familiar with few slices of Calcutta tram’s history. It still fascinates me as much it did when I was very young.
The tram has not changed much and it still keeps the pace with the twenty-first century four to six-wheeled competitors with its rich history and past. She may not be as fast as them, have wooden benches to sit on but provides a strange sort of sublime comfort which slightly surpasses what a modern-day technologically superior, and ergonomically designed sedan offers 🙂
And of course, she is the most eco-friendly transport with zero emission which none of the automobiles till date has been able to match other than the handful of electric vehicles.
Long live, Calcutta tramways !!