| Bhooter Raja teaches schoolchildren better citizenry. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Posters on walls, messages on billboards, schoolchildren taking up brooms, loudspeakers blaring road rule sermons… and the government’s punitive threat of fines. All that has been done and dumped.
On Saturday, another track was tested to teach Calcutta the ways of civic society. Banalata, the heritage tram, trundled out of the Nonapukur depot amid a drizzle. The aim was to clue in people on civic manners in course of its journey. The organiser, Aria Finishing School, was a fit teacher for the captive classroom on board. Fifteen children had come over from The Refuge, a Bowbazar orphanage. By the time the tram reached BBD Bag, the youngsters, aged between eight and 14 years, had learnt a lot about etiquette.
To add a fun touch to the tour, a Bhooter Raja figure (in black overalls, with protruding teeth) had been invited on board. At the Dalhousie Square halt, he got off, took up position under a tree and started quizzing the children: “Where should you drop wrappers' When should you cross the road' How should you dispose of the chewing gum in your mouth'” The answers came in chorus cries.
Saturday afternoon stragglers in the business hub started to gather, amused at the novel effort. Others munched a leisurely paan while watching the kids wax eloquent on the nuisance of spitting.
The next lap was down Chitpur Road. Leaflets containing “tips to become a good citizen” were being distributed by Aria’s volunteers. People snapped them up, evidently with great expectations. On to the Shyambazar depot. A notice at the rusty gate read “Ekhane jonjal phelben na. Phelle jorimana hobe. (Do not litter the place. You will be fined).” Under the board, sure enough, was a heap, soaked and stinking.
A crowd gathered in no time. This time, it was for the passers-by to be quizzed. Onkarnath Gupta, a local milkman, knew that packets should not be dumped on the streets (and won a tiffin box as prize for his awareness). Two women smilingly explained that garbage should be dumped only in the Corporation collection car. (Pens as prize.) “But often the maid is late and so…”
The quiz ended in an argument on plastic packets in the market. “If my sabjiwallah puts my vegetables into a plastic bag, what can I do' It is up to the manufacturers to stop production!” fumed a babu, offended at his green acumen being challenged. (No prize.)
The civic manners mission on wheels over, tram trundled back to Esplanade. No prizes for guessing how many read the first of the 15 tips to be a good citizen or where the leaflets ended up. But then, it was still a start.