| Tramcar Banalata takes Santanu Bandopadhyay to his Behala in-laws for his wedding on Wednesday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
“Sobai uthechhe to' Ebar gari chharo… (Is everyone on board' Let the car leave).”
As the pale winter sun was setting over Chitpur on Wednesday, the bell tinkled and Banalata, the tramcar bedecked, trundled off with its boisterous borjatri. Groom Santanu Bandopadhyay, and his 80-odd relatives and friends, were packed into two coaches of their chosen mode of transport to the Behala Chowrasta biyebari.
“Bibaha abhijan (Wedding journey)” screamed the thermocol signage amidst the roses and rajanigandhas as the Bandopadhyays of Ahiritola set off for a marriage march to remember. ‘Tram Yatra-Gaurab Yatra’, proclaimed Banalata’s visage, signifying an evening’s triumph for the beleaguered Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC). As it trundled through Chitpur, Esplanade and the Maidan, onlookers stopped to catch — and hail — their first glimpse of a marriage procession on wheels of a novel kind.
But for the Bandopadhyays, this was not a first. It was just carrying the family tradition forward. “My grandfather, Bankim Chandra Bandopadhyay, had also gone in a tram from the same spot to Kalighat, in 1923, to get married. My father could not follow in his tracks, as his marriage took place nowhere near a tramline,” smiled Santanu, in dhoti, kurta and topor.
For the fourth-generation tram employee, booking Banalata for Rs 5,000 was a mix of family tradition and quiet activism. “It is really painful to see all the pressures being faced by the CTC. But despite all the negative propaganda, trams remain a popular mode of transport,” said Santanu.
If the accounts department employee with the CTC was using his marriage to make a statement for his ‘office’, the organisation, too, was quick to acknowledge the gesture. Not only was his “unusual request” passed without a hitch, chairman-cum-managing director Sudhir De made it a point to “congratulate” Santanu.
“We hope many more Calcuttans, including tram workers, will follow in Santanu’s footsteps and use trams for such social occasions. After all, the tramcar is not a mere mode of transport but an integral part of the city’s cultural profile,” declared De.
And on Wednesday, merriment merged with the mission. The borjatri had a blast as Banalata inched towards destination Behala. Few of Santanu’s family and friends were ready to miss this marriage party. And so, some even got on midway, prompting the doors to swing open and shut (for Banalata is no ordinary tram and trundles every weekend down heritage trail).
Both old and young appeared truly tramstruck. “This is a unique experience,” gushed Sailendra Bandopadhyay, the groom’s paternal uncle. Also basking in the borjatri spirit was Banalata’s youthful attendant, Madhab Bahadur: “I have been part of many special rides on this tram but never a marriage procession.”
For Banalata, marriage duty ended well past midnight. It waited at Joka while Santanu exchanged his vows, before bringing the borjatri back home, from Behala to B.K. Pal Avenue.