Kolkata. Nostalgia.Trams. All these go hand in hand. If you have nothing better to do then simply hop on to a tram going anywhere. The destination is not important. You anyways didnt have anything to do in the first place, remember? Take a window seat. And when the conductor pulls the string and the bells go 'ting ting' -let your journey begin.
Now, time is of crucial importance if you have chosen to travel by this particular mode of transportation. You must have enough time on your hands. If you are in a hurry to reach somewhere, trams are not a good idea. You could reach there faster by walking. Also a virtue which will be immensely useful on this journey is patience! The tram could unexpectedly come to a halt due to a variety of reasons - a cow choosing the particular tram line to rest for a while and get philosophical about life or even a power cut at the place supplying the electricity for the tram.
To make your travel a little more comfortable, you may opt for the first class compartment. The ticket, I believe, costs one rupee more than that for the other compartment. However, you will be able to enjoy the luxury of huge fans overhead if you invest that additional rupee. Now just sit back and enjoy the ride.
I have always enjoyed observing people and creating stories in my head about their lives. A tram ride is one of the best ways to observe a sea of humanity. You will meet the harried office goer, who will lunge for an empty seat like his life depended on it. If you choose to eavesdrop then the conversation he carries on with his colleague will probably be about politics, football or if he is especially disgruntled then about his boss. It may be advisable to take a seat as far away from this gentleman as possible because there would be high probability of him suffering from a chronic case of body odour. It is actually not his fault. Blame it on the high humidity which is a part and parcel of Kolkata climate and his complete lack of awareness about the existence of deodourants.
Another interesting character would be the chatterbox lady in a gaudy synthetic saree, distributing free gyan to her companion. The words of wisdom could be about ways to deal with a scheming mother-in-law, heavy discounts being offered on 'poran jaye joliya' sarees, high price of vegetables or even the last episode of some saas bahu serial on Star Jalsa or Etv Bangla.
One interesting observation I made was that the crowd in trams seems to be infinitely more civilised than that traveling by public buses. It could, of course, be a figment of my imagination,since I have not travelled by bus in over ten years now. However, most men seemed to be 'bhodroloks' who didnt indulge in popular activities like pushing and shoving and of course blatantly staring at interesting anatomy of their female co-passengers.
The tram conductor seemed to be a rare specimen left behind from pre-historic age. He was middle aged, dressed in a 'clean' uniform, wore spectacles, looked extremely decent and was POLITE and HELPFUL. What a combination! Now, the speed of the tram (or the lack of it actually), probably makes it a transport of choice for the elderly. An old man who was almost blind and had an incoherent speech got up at a particular stop. He could not explain the right destination and as a result missed his stop. The conductor and another gentleman did their best to decipher the place he wanted to go to and realising he had missed getting off at the right stop, helped him get off and took pains to give him proper directions. The tram meanwhile was halted for some extra minutes while this discussion was taking place. And not a single person protested about this delay. One of those things which makes me so proud about being a bangali in kolkata :-)
Next was the candy man. Old man with a jhola filled with a variety of desi candies of all flavours and colours - lemon, tamarind, orange, mango and even pineapple. Old age and candy - two of my major weaknesses. What could I do except buy a bunch of those sweet things from that sweet old man? The way those colourful lozenges filled my cupped palms transported me back to my childhood for a moment. It is just one of those split second feeling which I call my 'aha' moments.
Something about traveling without a destination and with plenty time to observe life around you makes you a little more open as a person. So when I finally got off the tram, I would like to believe that I was a little less introvert than I usually am. Proof? If you know me then you would know I can never ever start off a conversation with a total stranger. But right after we (hubby and me) stepped off the tram and were crossing the road, he ran into a sergeant (police) on duty, who he knew through a common friend. Bikes were the topic of discussion. Strangely, I joined in the conversation - discussing Royal Enfields and Yezdis from a 'bored to death because of bikes' wife's point of view. So there we were, a strange sight for many, a couple happily chatting with a formidable looking policeman on a very busy road of Kolkata.
My spurt of sudden extrovertism didnt end just with that encounter. Next we took an auto. A 'shared' auto - yet another mode of transport which I had completely forgotten about. In Kolkata when you are travelling by auto, be prepared to share the space with strangers. The auto driver usually takes on atleast 5 passengers at a time. Three at the back and two sitting or rather hanging out beside the driver! So there we were travelling with total strangers moving towards a common destination. I sat next to a lady with a child of about 8 years of age, on her lap. The kid threw out a piece of paper on the road and guess what - the mother actually scolded her. She then went on to tell her daughter about civic sense and responsibility about keeping the city clean. I was so impressed that I did it again! Started talking to a stranger. Congratulated her about instilling the right values and discussed about the lack of civic sense in most people, dirty metro stations, blah blah blah, till she got off at her stop and happily waved goodbye. My husband meanwhile was staring at me open mouthed! His expression said 'wtf %%&&^&^*&^'
My adventure ended with yet another auto ride home. On the way I stopped to chat with the flower seller :-) and bought all time favourite rajnigandhas (though they always remind me of funerals or solemn prayer meetings). Overall a great day filled with a stroll down College Street and peeking into every possible book stall, stop over at Paramount Sharbat (in existence since 1918, this place sells only sharbats. Must try - dab sharbat - sweet coconut water with loads of ice and a generous helping of soft coconut pulp/kernel) and gorging on yummy chicken sandwiches and mutton cutlets at the famous Coffee House (never ever try coffee at this place and it hasnt allowed the cola giants to enter its sanctuary so water is the only safe bet).
Shhh...dont tell it to anybody but I think I might be falling in love with Kolkata once again!