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  ISSUE OF OCTOBER 2002
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Adda or the fine art of socialising

Adda (relaxed conversation about anything and everything under the sun) remains one of the favourite pastime of the people of Bengal

Football and adda, the Bengali term for relaxed conversation about anything and everything under the sun, still remains the favourite pastime of the people of Bengal.

Adda might have originated during the erstwhile ‘zamindari system’ when the ‘zamindar’ or the landlords were surrounded by his moshabes or sycophants, passing time in idle gossip. Or the famous Bengali adda might have its roots in the villages, where elders used to discuss local politics at a common place.

Then with the passage of time things changed and the literary sessions came into being, which were made fashionable by the Tagores and a little later, by Sukumar Roy’s ‘Monday Club’ and then by Derozio and Keshab Chandra Sen. They were usually rounded off by the serving of exquisitely prepared snacks and cups of tea.

Several literary magazines and works took shape out of these discussions. They were usually rounded off by the serving of exquisitely prepared snacks and cups of tea.

This trend was continued in the College Street area, the so-called Boi Para, where famous and about-to-be-famous authors gathered in the evenings. Hours of exhilarating adda followed. Umpteen cups of tea and black coffee were drunk. Established authors encouraged aspiring young ones, and eventually, not only the participants, but those who made up the audience too came away richer in mind.

Across the road, a famous and historical meeting place stood in all its glory, the Coffee House. Inside the Coffee House, a dense fog of cigarette smoke, an assorted aroma of coffee and food and a loud hum-the sound of several addas-greeted the newcomer. Basanta Cabin near Shyambazar is another favourite hunting spot for adda-lovers.
Let me recount my fascination with addas. I grew up in a joint family and Sundays and holidays were special days. My father had a stream of visitors from early morning till late evening. We youngsters used to peep from behind the curtains and observe budding singers fine-tuning the lyrics of their latest songs, young men arguing on the latest political happening, or simply enjoying a siesta. My grandfather had his own set of friends -serious, articulate and dignified elderly men deliberating on a serious topic.

Naturally, so much vocal exercise necessitated the constant slaking of parched throats, so tea was supplied at regular intervals. There were days when more than a hundred cups of tea were made! Yet no one complained - neither the head of the family nor the women (who had to put up with the irregular hours), and especially not the domestic help who untiringly prepared and served tea, and then washed all those cups afterwards. My grandmother regally presided over her own “meetings” - usually in the afternoon, when the men were absent, and the house was quiet and cool. Here, the shining brass paan container, with small bowls holding various ingredients, occupied pride of place. Every topic under the sun was discussed and of course, family gossip exchanged. Elders acted as arbitrators in family or local disputes. Sometimes, even marriages were arranged in these feminine addas.
I remember fondly the smooth green lawns of our college, where we sat during our “off” periods. We shared jhalmoori together with plenty of chatter and carefree laughter.

Come evening, and parks and important street crossings of Kolkata attracted adda-loving young people. Idly watching traffic and people go by, casual conversations assumed new dimensions. The middle-aged and the elderly frequented neighborhood shops or dispensaries. The day’s experiences were related, with the shop owner or the homely doctor joining in. With time hanging heavy on their hands, unemployed young men chose two places for their adda. The roadside ground floor verandah (known as the rok) of a house, or the roadside tea stall. Occasional lewd remarks, aimed at passing girls, caused much resentment among the seniors of the locality.

Sadly for the Bengali adda-lovers, multistoried buildings have replaced roadside verandahs. Parks and footpaths have gradually disappeared. Today’s youth is more interested in their careers, net surfing, computer classes and other extra-curricular activities. Men and women today follow professional schedules. Those women who do not pursue careers are busy bringing up future managers, engineers and doctors. Our time is rigidly programmed. Unannounced guests and irregular hours upset our jet setting lifestyles.

However, a few still cling to this typically Bengali pastime. Early in the morning, or late in the evening, men with faltering steps and failing eyesight gather at selected spots, especially around the Lakes in down south. Neglected by the present, they share memories of their youthful past. Perhaps they lament those glorious addas. Part of another generation, these elderly men watch sadly as “synthetic” adda sessions are planned for special occasions like Poila Baisakh (the Bengali New Year). They realise all too well how these fall very much short of the real thing.

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