Popular Chittagong University shuttle train gets a colorful graffiti makeover

The shuttle train of Chittagong University is adorned with colorful graffiti. Photo by Ehsanul Islam, used with permission.

The University of Chittagong is one of the few universities in the world that has its own shuttle train. Chittagong University, as it's usually called, is situated in Hathazari Upazila, 22 km (14 miles) from the port city of Chattogram (previously known as Chittagong) in Bangladesh, and this train is the only affordable means of transportation for students travelling from the city. A young artist from Germany has completely transformed the trains into a moving work of art, cheering up the students and local residents.

The shuttle train service was started in 1980 with seven pairs of trains, and every day 10,000-12,000 students travel to and from the university on this train and spend their time together. The journey is a passion and love for the students, and each compartment of the train bears to witness many discussions, singing, much gossip, friendship and love!

Lucas Gilinger is the principal artist of the RUSB Art Group in Germany whose focus is on graffiti. When he first visited the university some months ago, he expressed an interest in painting graffiti on the shuttle trains. It took time to get permission via various official channels. Finally, on July 22, he started the work of repainting the shuttle trains with his artist wife, Livia Gilinger. He funded the project himself, although the paint was sponsored. Previously, he had painted graffiti on aeroplanes, steamers and trains in different parts of the world.

Noman Hasan shared a video of the train with the new look on YouTube:

Lucas Gilinger's touch of colour transformed the trains into moving works of art. The graffiti paintings feature various scenes of Bangladesh including Chittagong Railway Station, the parliament building in Dhaka, the Central Railway Building (CRB), and scenic sunset, sea, and mountain views. Some teachers and students of the Fine Arts Institute of Chittagong University assisted Gilinger in this work.

German graffiti artist Lucas Zillinger at work. Photos of the graffiti work became viral on social media. Photo by Ehsanul Islam. Used with permission.

German graffiti artist Lucas Zillinger at work. Photos of the graffiti work went viral on social media. Photo by Ehsanul Islam, used with permission.

Current and former students of the university were overwhelmed by the colourful graffiti created by Lucas Gilinger, and many shared the images on social media. Alumni Noor Alam Siddiqui reminisces about his travels on the shuttle train, which were full of music and chatter by fellow students, as he wrote on Facebook:

আমার প্রিয় বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের এই বর্ণিল রুপ, আমার মতো সকলকেই মুগ্ধ করেছে নিশ্চিত। অনেক অনেক স্মৃতি বিজড়িত এই শাটল ট্রেন!! অনেক শিক্ষনীয় ঘটনার সাক্ষী এই শাটল ট্রেন, অনেক হাসি, তারুণ্যের উচ্ছাস, আড্ডা, বা একমনে বইয়ের পাতায় চোখ বোলানো, অথবা ২০ কিমি গতির সর্পিল ট্রেনের এঁকেবেকে চলার সময় দূর আকাশে তাকিয়ে থাকা, কিংবা ছুটে চলা ট্রেনের আশেপাশের জনজীবনের বৈচিত্রতা আমাদের জীবনবোধ সর্ম্পকে অনেক অনেক অমূল্য শিক্ষা দিয়ে যায়।

This colourful transformation of my beloved university train should have already impressed everyone like me. This shuttle train is full of many memories!! It witnessed many laughs, youthful exuberance, and chatters. Some fellow passengers would ignore all that and stare at a book, or look at the distant sky (from the window) as the train moved at a slow speed of 20 km. Watching the lives of different people outside the train also provided an experience of life.

Singing is common on the train, with some students singing in chorus during the journey. Fellow riders, whether young or old, usually sing along and this creates a joyful atmosphere. An example of that can be found in this YouTube video shared by Nayem Uddin:

There is also a Facebook group titled “CU Shuttle train songs” with over 1.2k subscribers.

However, this is not the first initiative to paint the trains of Chittagong University, as murals have been painted on some trains before. Former student and writer of Chittagong University Fine Arts Faculty, Jaideep Dey, remembered participating in the creations, and was critical of this new initiative, as he wrote on Facebook:

আমি চট্টগ্রাম বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে থাকা অবস্থা দুবার শাটলে ম্যুরাল করা হয়েছিল। প্রত্যেকবারই আমি সে দলে কাজ করেছি। এরপরও অনেকবার ম্যুরাল করা হয়েছে। এ নতুন কিছু নয়। এর জন্য যে খুব বেশি খরচ হয় তা না। কিন্তু তখন কেউ এটা নিয়ে খুব একটা হৈচৈ করেনি। আজ হঠাৎ এই আদিখ্যেতা কেন?

কারণ সাদা সাহেব এসে একেঁ দিয়ে যাচ্ছেন। কিন্তু সাদা সাহেব কী আঁকছেন? তার সঙ্গে আমাদের আবেগ ঐতিহ্য সংস্কৃতির কতটা মিল আছে? আর এই স্পেস তো আমাদের শিল্পীদের ‘হক’। আচ্ছা , আমাদের দেশের কোন শিল্পী জার্মানিতে গিয়ে কি এমন স্পেসে ছবি আঁকতে পারবে?

I remember that during my time at Chittagong University, murals were painted on some trains on two occasions. I had the opportunity to work in those teams. Murals have been done many times since then. This is nothing new and it doesn't cost much to do so. No one made a fuss about it then. Why this sudden attention on them today?

Because Mr. White man (a white foreigner) has painted this time. But what about his arts? To what extent do the graffiti represent our heritage, culture or emotion? And working in this space is the ‘right’ of our local artists. Well, can any artist of our country go to Germany and paint in such an important space?

A shuttle train at the Chittagong University railway station. Photo by Muheen Riad via Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 4.0.

A shuttle train at the Chittagong University railway station. Photo by Muheen Riad via Wikipedia. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Students have complained about the lack of fans or air-conditioning in the trains during the summer days. While the colours have improved the look of the shuttle trains, some riders are calling on authorities to improve the overall shuttle experience by making some improvements and doing repairs.

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