Pratidwandi (1970)

Pratidwandi (1970)
Jayshree Ray fixes her gaze on Central Calcutta in Satyajit Ray's Pratidwandi (The Adversary, 1970)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tram Jatra

Title sequence of Mahanagar (The Big City, 1963), Satyajit Ray

The title sequence of Satyajit Ray's Mahanagar (The Big City, 1963). The overhead electric rod of a Calcutta tram slides along the electric wire. Titles end, and we see the protagonist (Anil Chatterjee), a clerk in a city bank, seated inside the tram, yawning on his way back home after a long day's work. As his stop nears, he rises to get down, and another man, judging by his attire from a slightly higher social tier, takes his place and opens an English magazine. Later in the film, we find ourselves back in the tram, when our protagonist's wife (Madhabi Mukherjee), the real protagonist of the movie, decides to take up the job of a salesgirl and her husband accompanies her to her office on the first day. Seated in the tram, she worries about her son whom she had to leave back in the house with her in-laws. When asked by her comforting husband if she feels nervous, she rests her palm on his. Shocked at how cold the hand is, the husband asks if this happens to her often. With sweet smile, she replies that it happened once before - on the night of their marriage.

Madhabi Mukherjee in the tram-ride sequence in Mahanagar

These two shots bring out how important trams have been to the everyday lives of its middle-class population over the last century. Trams have also repeatedly made headlines since the 1940s as one of the first objects to be vandalised and burnt at the outset of riots and violent political protests in the city. Ironically, or perhaps befittingly, the tram is also associated with one of the greatest cultural tragedies of the city. In 1954, Jibanananda Das, one of Bengal's best modernist poets, passed away after being hit by a tram near Deshapriya Park.

At present, amidst periodic government reluctance at continuing tram service, a group of tram enthusiasts - artists, activists, archivists, tramway workers and tram-lovers  of Calcutta and Melbourne - are trying to revive the tram tradition of Calcutta by opening a dialogue with the tram cultures of the two cities. Here is their blog: A brilliant collaborative work that has come out of this project is a collection of pieces on the tram-experience of the two cities. The English title of the volume reads Tramjatra: Imagining Melbourne and Kolkata by TramwaysThe Forward goes: 

'Tram travel is, after all, staged on the street. Tram after tram choreograph a beat to the movement of the metropolis whilst tramways infrastructure weaves through the public imagination. An endless variety of dreams are caught amongst an urban sky that is shaped into segments by the netting of tram wires. The ground underfoot vibrates in varying tones produced by heavy movement on well-travelled tracks. A grimy young man offers his seat to a hard-nosed woman as the screech of metal on metal resounds, and you smell your fellow travellers in close proximity, for better or worse. Being gathered in a tram is a dynamic experience of a community that is constantly created and recreated along the many different lines that pull us together or divide us apart. Hear the familiar ding-ding? The tram purposefully gathers us together to move. If globalisation of the contemporary world really does increase possibilities for making new connections, who chooses to move with whom?...
The back-and-forth of the tram makes a different kind of time. Rather than being driven by the overly simplistic modern march of time, tramways afford us a sense of the historically specific moment that resonates with memory and imagination. Tramways have been integral to the emergence of these two colonial cities. Yet tramways can also be seen to play a role in threading complex networks of relationships that exceed the dominant power relationship of the colonial. The tram is a poor carrier of the logic of the straightforward, for the tram criss-crosses all over the grain of one-way monologue and mono-direction to weave multiple layered interconnections within the urban condition. The tram transports dialogue...

This book opens out from a loosely framed question: what happens when we utilise the way of the tram to imagine two cities and relations between them? Four sections lie ahead. DEPARTING visits the impulses and ideas from which a tramjatra has gained initial momentum, and so offers preliminary thoughts to accompany your travel. TRACKING takes us amongst tram conductors, artists, social activists and designers in the tracks of tramjatra events held in 2001. Further connections to people and ideas are encountered in the NETWORKING section, where emerging writers and renowned scholars lead us through Melbourne and Kolkata considering the nature of public transport and issues of urban mobility and politics, community and culture, public art, education and learning, development and globalisation, poetics and tramways, and the role of imagination and memory in civic culture. The lines of thought found in the more scholarly chapters of this section are poised between the clatter of multiple voices evident in the chapters at either end. The section opens with a chapter that collects diverse commentaries by 'passengers' who speak of how they have been transported by their encounter with tramjatra, whether with dismay, difficulty or delight. The last chapter at the furthest end of the section veers toward possibilities, taking us through the speculative ideas of artists and designers that reveal some of the extraordinary potential value of tramways - a domain of urban culture little travelled. And just as all tramways systems have a place to gather, rest and share resources, the SHEDDING section is where you will find curious and useful evidence of tramways, tramjatra and this book's contents.' Here is the link to the full Forward:

The group members also maintain a blog, that documents the journey of the Tram-Jatra movement:
You may also find this link interesting:
Finally, here is the link to a piece called 'Tracing Tramjatra: Toward a Participatory Aesthetic Politics' by Mick Douglas, one of the founder-members of the Tram-Jatra movement and the editor of the Tramjatra book:

For those who wish to take a ride, here is the schedule of the Calcutta Tram Corporation (CTC): And here is the route map:

The CTC now also runs a heritage tour on trams. The route plan reads: 'The Heritage tour on tram starts from Esplanade Tram terminus. Then it turns towards BBD Bagh (Dalhousie Square) and passes by Writer's Building, the General Post Office, the Tank Square and the St. Andrews Church. Further it moves towards north and enters the Chitpore Road and passes through neighbourhoods and communities. It goes past the Nakhodia Mosque, the House of Rabindranath, the Kumartuli area, the Jain temple and many more to reach the Belgachia tram depot. The tram retraces from here and connects to Bidhan Sarani. On the way back, it passes by the Star Theatre, the Arya Samaj Temple, the Presidency College and coffee house on College Street.It moves further towards south and takes Lenin Sarani and passes by the Carey's church, and finally rattles its way back to Esplanade.' For further details, see

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