|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: http://www.tramjatra.net/ 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 Tramways. The 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 group members also maintain a blog, that documents the journey of the Tram-Jatra movement: http://www.tramjatra.net/
You may also find this link interesting: http://www.tramtactic.net/
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): http://www.calcuttatramways.com/schedules.htm. And here is the route map: http://www.calcuttatramways.com/map.htm.
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 http://www.calcuttatramways.com/events.aspx