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Still in transports of togetherness
- Tramjatra man back from Melbourne to produce book on shared experience

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee hates them. If he had his way, he would love to remove them from the face of the city. Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty has publicly declared his intention to promote them and turn them environment-friendly. Undeterred by this running battle, Michael Douglas is back again in the city from Melbourne to bring closer the two cities that are the last bastions of tramways.

To jog the memories of readers, Douglas, along with a group of artists and out-of-work tram conductor Roberto D’Andrea (he lost his job to ticketing machines), had come from Australia in February 2001 to work in tandem with artists and patuas from Calcutta. They created art works inspired by the serpentine tracks of trams that were exhibited in a gallery without walls — the Esplanade tram depot. But soon after the opening by the transport minister, a hurricane hit the city and wreaked havoc with the art work, including a replica of Vault, the controversial sculpture in Melbourne, recreated in Calcutta by architect James Legge and city pandal-makers.

Still in the transports of togetherness, Douglas is here with a book project to “document and analyse the diverse experiences of tramways communities brought together through the journey to date”. Douglas, who is a research coordinator with RMIT University and has been visiting Calcutta since 1996, says: “In the context of rising environmental concern and debates on the impact of globalisation, Tramjatra developed new linkages of understanding by stitching together two cities on the basis of friendship and collaboration.” Often sounding like a walking-talking manifesto for Tramjatra, Douglas says the RMIT University Press will publish the book, but he is looking for an Indian publisher to bring out part of it in continuation of the dialogue between the two cities.

In October last year, the Indian participants had visited Melbourne and artists from both the cities and the patuas were required to create fictional Tramjatra stops located around the city circle tram route where people can take free rides. The twin “tramees” Roberto and Prabir Kumar Goswami, a CTC conductor, went around telling stories of both cities. Artist Jayashree Chakravarty created a large vertical painted work of a fictional place between the twin cities. Dukhushyam and Moyna Chitrakar painted patas and performed their scrolls to passersby. A tram half sunk in the pavement by sculptor Lisa Young visualised the precarious state of this mode of transport. Mark Misic, who painted diamond crossings in Calcutta with rich pigments, celebrated the unsung tram drivers of Melbourne by creating stickers with their photos and putting them up on wiring posts. Bright yellow tram prows made of concrete, placed besides tracks to protect passengers embarking or disembarking, acted as entry points to Tramjatra. Legge would secretly repaint these to turn them into unlikely tramstops.

The book, says Douglas, would be in the form of a shared travel journal, “movement being necessary for inhalation and exhalation of life in a city”.

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