ALL THESE YEARS LATER, THE FUTURE OF THE tramcar IS, AT BEST, UNCERTAIN. WHATEVER BE THE REASONS, THE VERDICT IS CLEAR. ʻHERITAGEʼ STATUS NOTWITHSTANDING, TRAMS ARE BEING PHASED OUT. MY GRANDFATHER WOULD HAVE BEEN VERY DISAPPOINTED
Trams, the dear old ladies, have had a very exciting past. I am just a little uncertain about their future. Controversies rage about their existence. Yet they plod on, carrying old memories and taking many old lovers for a ride!
Kolkata can boast of being the only city in India with an existing tram network, the ones in Kanpur and Mumbai having long been dismantled. Trams first appeared on our city streets circa 1880.
The original trams with horse-drawn carriages snailed their way from Dharamtolla to Barrackpore in great style, despite the slow and arduous nature of the treks. Those comfortably seated on First Class soft cushions looked down upon their lesser travelling Second Class, perched on humble wooden seats. Propelled by imperial snobbery, the trams were elegantly decorated to commemorate royal birthdays, accession, anniversaries and of course, visits by the Emperor of India!
With the advent of technology, electric trams were introduced, making the journeys smoother, safer and faster. The first electric-operated tram ran between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat, via B B Ganguly Street and Strand Road, and the first tram depot was set up in Kidderpore.
All these years later, the future of the tramcar is, at best, uncertain. Whatever be the reasons, the verdict is clear. ‘Heritage’ status notwithstanding, trams are being phased out. My grandfather would have been very disappointed because he loved to board a tram and take in all the vignettes from his window seat.