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Canvass for colour with trams as canvas

A steed at a canter is what Calcutta’s slow but steady colonial-era workhorse, the tram, needed to flaunt on its flanks to pledge its will to keep pace with 21st-century speed.

The thought got daubed in colour as about 30 students from 10 schools in Calcutta and Howrah — along with teachers and professional artists — turned the drab exterior of five trams at the Esplanade depot into a canvas of bright colours and ideas.

They painted a horse in full gallop, the wide eyes of a woman, a peacock and landscapes on the trams that will ply on different routes from this week. Besides, these mix of fun art and graffiti carried their signatures — something the schoolchildren had rarely done before on an artwork.

Anushka Dutta, a Class V student of Ballygunge Shiksha Sadan, was so excited while signing her name below a peacock she had drawn that her hand shook. “I have never signed my name on any of my paintings,” she gushed.

Friends Onshu Majhi and Rajarshi Das of Delhi Public School, Howrah, drew landscapes. Onshu signed his name in style, the sun in his painting finding its place inside the “O” in his name.

The riot of colours is strikingly different from some eyesore advertisements that many trams in Calcutta sport. Though extremely important from the economic point of view, these flank ads lack aesthetics.

“Advertisements are important for a financially weak company like us but when a private company approached us, we decided to provide five trams for the painting session,” said a senior official of the Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC).

Nilanjan Shandilya, the managing director of CTC, said advertisements had been an integral feature of Calcutta’s streetcars for decades. “I have seen pictures of trams in the 1940s that had exterior advertisements,” he said.

“For many years since Independence, the ads disappeared only to make a comeback in the late ’80s as the tram company tried every hand to attract money. I remember seeing large posters of a Smita Patil film on trams while I was a student in the ’80s.”

The five trams were painted over three days from Thursday. The themes were festivals of India, nature and Bengal.

Thursday was reserved for teachers and students of 10 schools while professionals put their brushstrokes on Friday. Saturday was an exclusive student-only affair.

The CTC charged Koyuku Camlin for the art decoration, which was part of the stationery products manufacturing company’s weeklong celebration across the country to mark the birth anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci on April 15.

Leasing its trams for the painting session compliments the CTC’s latest line of innovations — such as air-conditioned coaches with special tours across north Calcutta and single-coach trams with comfy seats and AC — to get back into people’s hearts.

Trams had fallen off the priority of people in a fast-moving city life but their slow pace made them a better choice than the Metro coaches for the art job. “Since a tram moves slowly, the paintings will get greater visibility. People will be able to look at it and admire. In the Metro, the trains whiz past commuters in a jiffy,” said Chandra Shekhar Ojha, a senior official of Camlin.

More eyeballs are also guaranteed because of the routes that the trams take — along some of the city’s most prominent roads and locations. Beside, between 100 and 125 trams ply every day.