In a quiet corner off the streets in Ballygunge, The state government has set up ‘Tram world’ to celebrate the 140 year old legacy of trams in the city. The aim was to turn this place into a cultural hotspot, a place for a tram aficionado, but it seems like a forgotten project. Bhattacharya laments there is hardly any archival information provided about the trams, and for some reason bright new serviceable trams have been placed here rather than the old ones that reflect the true history of trams. Sadly, there is no information about each tram, their rich heritage and how it was intertwined with the changes that Kolkata has seen. It seems like a mere lip service to this ancient form of transportation. Bhattacharya says this is “neither a museum nor a cultural centre, I don’t know what Tram World is supposed to be.”
Bhattacharya is no longer alone in his fight. More than 400 people have joined his initiative including young people. Twenty three-year-old Arghyadip Hatua, one of the younger members of the CTUA, is a public transport and urban policy enthusiast. He sees it as his life’s mission to fight for tramways and walkability in Kolkata. He also defies the stereotype that it is only the older generation in the city that wants trams back. “There are many young people,” says Hatua, that want the city of their childhood to have clean air, “we see trams and walk-ability as part of the solution, that’s why we are passionate about them,” he adds.
I join Bhattacharya and Hatua for a tram ride from the Esplanade, from where the first trams rolled out more than a hundred years ago, to understand their passion for this mode on transport. It is evening time and the tram is packed with people on their way home. “See how easy it is to board, and look how cheap is the fare,” shouts Hatua above the din of the rattling tram.
Bhattacharya and Hatua, continue chatting, planning their next meeting as the tram trundles through the busy streets of Kolkata. I leave them there; two residents of Kolkata separated by decades but united by their passion for this century old means of transport. While Delhi grabs world headlines for being the most polluted, on most days the air quality in Kolkata is far worse. Kolkata ‘s trams could be the clean mode of transport of the future, should the government choose to invest in this heritage of the past.
(Bahar Dutt is an author and award winning environment journalist)