If you have been up and about Kolkata the past week, you must have noticed some trams with beautiful paintings on the flanks. A relief for the eyes indeed, especially in this summer of unbearable heat; though advertisements have their own economic necessity, which cannot be ignored.
These paintings have come about due to the joint efforts of the stationery and colours manufacturer, Koyuku Camlin and Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC). The occasion was the celebration of the birth anniversary of the famous painter (and much else besides), Leonardo da Vinci, which fell on April 15. And the painters were kids from schools in Kolkata and Howrah (a few future da Vincis, perhaps!), their teachers as well as well-known painters.
Colours of joy on a tram
According to a senior Camlin official, trams were chosen over the much-more-used Metro trains because of the fact that the slow speed of the tram would enable people to appreciate the art. A Metro train is visible for a much shorter duration, as most of its journey is through tunnels.
A student paints a tram
The painting sessions went on for three days. April 17 was for students and teachers, April 18 was for professionals and April 19 was reserved exclusively for the little ones.
The kids were very excited for sure. Not just for the fact that their paintings would be seen by so many people, but also for the fact that they would be having their signatures on the paintings, a first for many of them, a la professional painters. And some of the kids put in an extra effort for that: Onshu Majhi of Delhi Public School, Howrah drew a landscape, where the sun in the painting served as the ‘O’ in his signature as well.
Thirty students from 10 schools participated. A horse in full gallop, a peacock, the wide eyes of a woman and landscapes now adorn the five trams that CTC gave over to the painters. The riot of colours is attracting a lot of curious attention on the streets. And this is just as well.
Beautiful artwork (left); Name of one of the participating schools on a tram
Trams served the city for ages, but gradually they had to make way for faster modes of transport. Most of the roads are now tram-free. That they are a pollution-free urban transport, hence environment-friendly, like the Metro, a fact hugely important in this age of more and more air pollution clogging our lungs, merited little attention from the decision-makers. However, now things are moving towards the better. Besides the regular trams, air-conditioned (AC) coaches taking people on special tours across the heritage areas in northern Kolkata and single-coach trams with comfy seats and AC are making their appearance.
Most of the best tramway systems in the world exist in Europe – Vienna, Brussels, St Petersburg, Berlin and Moscow, Budapest (and others). Outside Europe, Melbourne, Toronto, San Francisco (where they are called streetcars) and New Orleans have some of the best systems. These are very well-maintained systems, with well-designed trams, which are popular with residents as well as tourists. Most of them, like Kolkata, are also cities with a lot of heritage, and trams are an integral part of that heritage.
Trams in Budapest
There is a certain tradition of art on tramcars, in Kolkata as well as outside India. In 2008, 27 trams were decorated with drawings based on life in Kolkata, by the master illustrator Samir Biswas. While the exteriors portrayed city landscapes, the interiors depicted landmarks like Victoria Memorial.
In 1978, Australia’s Ministry of the Arts introduced, as part of the Transporting Art project, what came to be called ‘art trams’ – 36 trams painted beautifully by professional artists and rolled out across Melbourne. The project was on till 1993, and these trams were extremely popular, both with residents and tourists. Now the project is being revived. In 2013, a similar project called Melbourne Art Trams was started, for which eight trams were painted. Seeing the popularity, the project is being continued and this year, eight more trams would be rolled out onto the Yarra Trams network as part of the visual arts programme of Melbourne Festival. The artworks though will be done differently from here: they will be generated as digital images which will be printed onto adhesive vinyl and applied to the trams.
'Art trams' of Melbourne
Such painted trams are a welcome contribution towards the popularisation of trams. These types of efforts can sure inject a new kind of enthusiasm for this more-than-a-century-old form of pollution-free transport, which in India now runs only in Kolkata.
Written by Anushtup Haldar for M3.tv