Even when it was officially called Calcutta, Kolkata could boast of bad traffic. And ‘twas ever so. A short film from 1945 made by the British Government, titled Calcutta Traffic Control System, records the struggles of the American military police during the Second World War on the streets of the city.
The 18-minute film, made by the War Department and Army Pictorial Service Signal Corps, provides a comprehensive explanation of the traffic control system implemented by the military police in Calcutta (and beyond), to ensure smooth functioning of the China Burma Indian Theatre (CBI) Road, which passed through the city
Calcutta’s chaotic streets posed a major hurdle to their mission. As the narrator begins, “In the CBI theatre the military police were faced with two kinds of traffic problems: traffic through a tortuous, unexplored jungle on a road still under construction...and street traffic in ancient foreign cities, not yet geared to the high speed of the modern world. One such foreign city is Calcutta, India, the metropolis of the Orient.”
In a condescending, self-righteous tone, the narrator continues to criticise Calcutta, “Its native population, their customs, their very religions were set to a tempo much too slow for the swift efficiency of a modern army. United States military vehicles found themselves disputing the right of way with rickshaws, ox-carts, the city transit system, pedestrians, bicycles and civilian cars. Calcutta was a veritable obstacle course in traffic control.”
The video then goes on to proudly explain, with comprehensive, intricate details, the course of action taken by the military police to ensure smooth movement of their supplies, and the traffic control systems implemented.
The film proclaims that the measures undertaken by the military police in Calcutta applied “modern principles of traffic management to a city not even accustomed to walking on sidewalks.”
The effects do not seem to have lasted, if the video below from a few decades later is anything to go by.