Last month, the 18th Commonwealth games kicked off with an array of festivities and cultural events in and around the city of Melbourne. The main attractions of the event were of course the sporting events and the athletes from 71 countries. However, the talk of the town became a “Melbourne City Circle Tram” dressed as the famous W11 Karachi mini bus, decorated with popular Urdu calligraphy, parandas hanging off its mirrors, colourful flickering lights, intricate patterns in chamakpatti designs, glittering jhalars all complimented with the pulsating music of Madam Noor Jehan’s popular songs. In addition to all of that, conductors were seen handing out souvenir tickets with popular street poetry and chanting Kemari-Plaza-Jaama-Boultan -Lalookhait-New Karachi-Double Ay Ustad ... The tram became a source of excitement and joy for all Pakistanis living in Australia and an object of amazement, fun and awe for Australians and tourists.
W11 Tram was the brainchild of Mick Douglas, an independent artist and head of the Cultural Transport Unit at the RMIT University who was invited by the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme to curate a public arts project. Mick opted to work with trams as they’re an integral part of Melbourne’s transport system. The idea of decorating a tram as a Pakistani mini bus originated as a result of his visit to Karachi some years ago where he saw vibrant mini buses and trucks. His experience gained in Pakistan provided him with an opportunity to come up with an expression of a different kind and to be at centrestage during the Commonwealth Games. “I also wanted to expose Pakistani Muslim culture in particular, which has a spirit of generosity,” said Mick.
Mick discussed his ideas in Karachi with Durriya Kazi, an independent visual artist and head of the School of Visual Arts at the University of Karachi who has a vast experience of managing similar projects in Pakistan. Mick and Durriya struck a working relationship and after thorough research hired Nusrat Iqbal Chamakpatti (decorator — master craftsman for 22 years) and his team of three other decorators Safdar Ali, M. Nadeem and M. Arshad to start the W11 Tram project.
The buses decorated by Chamakpatti are different from the painted busses as chamakpatti (fluorescent tape) gives a better effect under lights at night. Unlike painting, the chamakpatti decor process combines cutting intricate designs and patterns separately and then it’s pasted on the body and interior of the bus. This requires years of practice, skill and patience. One small design comprises many-coloured chamakpatties pasted on top of each other and a normal size minibus contains thousands of such stickers.
With half of the work done in Karachi the team of chamakpatti artists under the supervision of Durriya Kazi arrived in Melbourne in mid February. “Decorating W11 Tram was different and more challenging than a mini bus,” said Iqbal. “Trams are bigger in size with more space to decorate plus it was for a special occasion and involved Pakistan’s image in a foreign country. There was simply no room for error,” he added.
Iqbal and his team worked tirelessly for almost 10-12 hours every day without taking a break on weekends. The pressure was immense and Mick along with Durriya and production coordinator Wajid Ali made sure the project was completed on time.
After a brief inaugural ceremony on March 14, 2006, by the Games Minister Justin Madden as chief guest, W11 tram was unveiled as “Nai Newaili Dulhan” on the streets of Melbourne.
The W11 Tram ride is beyond expressing in words. The melody and rhythm of Pakistani music made almost everyone tap their feet and every ride resembled a mobile dancing stage with flashy colourful lights. For locals and tourists, this was an ultimate party experience, impossible to forget. Not only did the Pakistanis proudly associate themselves with the tram, but many Australians also found it pretty exciting, getting a taste of Pakistan’s rich culture. The ride was unique, amazing and different to anything one had witnessed before. As one traveller put it: “As a traveller one has the opportunity to cast off all inhibition and sing with the music, talk to strangers whom one may never forget. This is what this tram did for me and for my kids.”
The tram has projected a good image of Pakistan and after the historic 1992 Cricket World Cup win at the MCG, it’s the most positive projection of our country in Australia. The credit of this success goes to Australians and the people of Melbourne in particular who have developed the knack of relishing diversity and multiculturalism.
W11 Tram ran daily for 12 days during the Games offering free rides and priceless entertainment. Mick plans to auction the tram and hopes it will be preserved in one of the many museums in Victoria or may become a mobile Pakistani restaurant offering street food.