The Kolkata tram must die in order to live

 A Tram runs at Burra Bazar

A Tram runs at Burra Bazar | Photo Credit: File photo

Sometimes we seem to wait for things to fade out of our lives so that we can mourn them, because mourning them is more fashionable than celebrating them, because the elegies we compose make us appear caring — even though in reality we aren’t. 

What better example than bookshops. From time to time we shed tears on their disappearance from the landscape of our lives; we lend shoulder to one another during this collective mourning; we reminisce, we ruminate. Emotional pieces are penned — and shared widely — each time a legendary bookshop shuts down. Such pieces generate sadness and anger, and one tries to find the villain behind such closures, little realising that the villain is none other than us. If bookshops are shutting down, that’s because we’ve long stopped going there. An owner of a once-busy bookshop isn’t going to keep his business running just to maintain continuity in your life; he too has a family to feed and expenses to meet. 

The bookshop — and its closure — is quickly forgotten as something else turns up to tug at our hearts; it could be the demolition of a once-popular cinema hall. Suddenly, again, there’s a collective outpouring of sadness and anger. How your parents, after getting married, watched their first movie together there, how you yourself grew up watching movies in that hall. What you don’t mention is that one fine day you had stopped visiting this cinema hall — choosing to go to the multiplex instead — and that is why it is closing down. 

The iconic tram of Kolkata is bound for a destiny similar to that of bookshops and cinema halls that were once household names but that became rubble in order to make way for a mall or housing complex. 

Tram Art gallery has been introduced in Kolkata to allow artists to hire a tram and use it to display their works as it goes around the city

Tram Art gallery has been introduced in Kolkata to allow artists to hire a tram and use it to display their works as it goes around the city | Photo Credit: Debashish Bhaduri

The tram is almost gone; barely two routes remain functional today. And come to think of it, only until the other day, Kolkata and the tram were synonymous, in the sense that it was almost impossible to imagine one without the other. 

The Kolkata tram dates back to 1880. It was powered by horses at first and then by steam; and by the end of 1905 it was being run on electricity. Its popularity as a mode of transport peaked in the 1970s, when the city had over 50 tram routes, before a slow and steady decline began with the construction of underground railway and with the pace of life becoming faster than that of the tram. But even until a decade ago, the tram was a common sight in Kolkata. What an assuring sight it was, of the past telescoping into the present, making the city unique in the whole country. 

Today, when you need a system like the tram more than ever, spotting a tram in Kolkata has become as rare as spotting a rainbow. Here, it’s not just citizens, even planners are equally to blame. It wouldn’t have required much imagination — only some willpower — to integrate the suburban railway, metro rail and the tram into an effective transport network that would have rid Kolkata of vehicular pollution, traffic congestion and parking problems. But no — we need something to shed tears for. Especially Kolkata, which so loves its past. Unless the tram rolls into the past, it won’t receive much love. It must die in order to live. 

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Printable version | May 27, 2022 6:58:06 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/the-kolkata-tram-must-die-in-order-to-live/article65464980.ece