Craig Allen and (right) Roberto D’Andrea pose with the wildlife swap cards on the eco-friendly tram. Picture by Sayantan Ghosh
A tram with colourful wildlife from both Down Under and India painted on its body trundled out of the Esplanade tram depot late on Saturday morning. Two Australian men dressed in blue shirts and shorts with leather bags slung across their shoulders in the two compartments were pretending to be conductors but handing out swap cards with photographs of animals printed on them instead of tickets.
Children as well as grown ups, some running alongside the compartments, demanded the cards out of curiosity.
The two men are Roberto D’Andrea, a veteran “trammie” and artiste who loves clowning, and Craig Allen, an artist who works for Bush Heritage Australia Private National Park. Both have been here from the first day of this month to raise awareness about pollution and create an eco-friendly tram so that this “clean” mode of transport running on electricity is not junked, as it has been in many cities around the world.
Roberto communicates effectively with his “passengers” with the few words of Bengali he has picked up, or else depends entirely on gestures with a few English words thrown in.
The two men are from Melbourne, the last redoubt of trams in Australia. Roberto D’Andrea, who was a tram conductor by profession, first arrived here way back in 1996 to distribute free fictional Melbourne tram tickets, and was also part of the large team of artists, filmmakers, folk artists and tram activists from both countries that was here in 2001 to launch Tramjatra that had taken the city by storm.
Tramjatra was staged in Melbourne as well. Calcutta and Melbourne, both of which have a shared history having once been the capitals of their respective countries during colonial times, became linked ever since.
Subsequently the Tramjatra book was launched and now the tram activists are back again.
Craig is here for the first time, and he has spent much of his time at the Nonapukur tram depot painting the “Paribeshbandhu tram” with pictures of the kangaroo, koala bear, kingfisher, kookaburra, and tiger and gharial as well, whose photographs were printed both on the swap cards and on the small posters pasted below the roofs of the two tram compartments.
He was assisted by artists who are CTC employees, like Ujjal Dhar, who had participated in earlier Australian endeavours as well.
The cards were created by Connies, a small company Roberto has formed that organises popular festivals and engages with schools to raise environment awareness. They are in Calcutta to celebrate the 10th birthday of the company.
The tram will continue to ply in north Calcutta around Chitpur and Bidhan Sarani even after the two Australians are gone.