Saturday, February 15, 2014


What seems like a taboo to rest of India happens to be a part of life & culture of Bengalis. Adda for a North Indian refers to a location of a group or community, usually shady people. At least this is what I could make out watching typical Bollywood movie from 80’s where all bad guys had an “Adda”.
So what does it really mean to a Bengali or to Kolkata? Adda appears to be a timeless passion with endless conversation. Topic can be anything; sports, politics, music, literature, celebrity, governance etc. It can be between two or group of people, more the merrier… I guess. This is what web says on Adda – It’s is a form of intellectual exchange among members, who were originally of the same socio-economic strata, but the process has democratized in modern times.
Yesterday, I told Amrita about my plan of writing about Adda. She immediately looked at me and said it’s not Adda, its Aadda, with an extended “a” sound at the beginning. There it was, now it all makes sense. Now I know how to differentiate good one from bad one. Just add an “A”. In fact the first time I heard this term was from her. Few years ago I heard her talking to her friends to meet in evening. When I asked her what’s the occasion? She said; nothing, bus Adda marenge. Till then, I knew Adda as a Noun, but it happens to be a verb too. Again, I’m no linguistic expert so I’ll leave it up to you to decide its category.
Although many Kolkatans boast of the city being the birthplace of Adda culture, Satyajit Ray (in his film Agantuk) traces back the origin of the tradition to regular intellectual dialogues prevalent in Ancient Greece at the time of Socrates or Plato. It doesn't matter who started it. Fact is, it exists here because of a specific community and the way I see it, it’s here to stay. Other cultures or communities may also claim to be contributing to similar tradition but none has been as successful & long lasting as Adda for Bengalis.
Returning to the essence of Adda for Bengali people... Is it only popular among the youths belonging to the so-called "middle-class intelligentsia"? Or is it another term for gossip? As I see & read more about it, it seems to be an ageless tradition. As with everything, Adda has also evolved. Urban Addas for teenagers can also be looked as hangouts. Topic & quality of discussion may not be very intellectual but at least the tradition continues. 

Few questions around Adda bamboozle me. Do they do Adda because they have time or they keep time to do Adda? It is conversations that drives these meetings or is it desire to meet which drives these conversations? Is it because almost every Bengali has an opinion on everything or is it because they really gain something out of it? I don’t know the answers but it’s clear that Adda generates arguments and arguments are good for democracy. The great political thinker Thomas Carlyle had described/defined democracy as "THE COLLECTIVE WISDOM OF INDIVIDUAL IGNORANCE ". I’ll leave it to that :)
One place in Kolkata has been particularly known for its endless Adda sessions. The Coffee House at College Street has been termed as the breeding place of several political and cultural personalities and movements. Many people come here just for the sake of Adda and just being a part of the long talking sessions. Several talented and illustrious persons from different streams have been thronging this renowned Adda for a long time. The history of the Coffee House at College Street can be traced to Albert Hall, which was founded in April 1876. Later, this co-operative society - Coffee Board decided to start a coffee joint from the Albert Hall in 1942. In 1947, the Central Government changed the name of the place to "Coffee House". Place became a meeting place for poets, artistes, literati and people from the world of art and culture. In 1958, the management decided to shut down the Coffee House, but it was re-opened the same year, after professors of Presidency College and Calcutta University rushed off a special petition to the government to save the heritage place.
In general, if two or more people see the same thing from the same viewpoint, there's nothing more to say. If there is nothing left to say; wouldn't Adda loose its charm? I hope this tradition continues. It may not benefit every individual participating in it but it definitely benefited Bengali community & our country. Although there isn't any conclusion to these Adda conversations, it does generate awareness. Moreover, if there ever was a conclusion, wouldn't it end the conversation and wouldn't it end the “Adda”?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

First Impression

Being married to a Bengali girl for 2 years doesn't make me an expert on Bengali culture, history or cuisine. This blog is merely an effort to present an outsider’s inside point of view. Don’t know why, I had this eccentric desire to write about this stuff for several months. So, why now?  I don’t know. As they say, better late than never. I hope this blog brings better awareness of this wonderful culture to India & to the rest of the world.

Before I met Amrita, Bengali culture to me meant nothing more than a community of fish loving people and C. R. Park represented the “land of chubby cheeks” :) Well, both these believes still prevail but there is much more to it than what meets the eye. Now when I reflect, I wonder how I ended up falling in love with a Bengali girl when I never preferred or was rather ignorant of their culture & believes. It’s an interesting story but this blog isn't about love story, is it? So let’s stick to the topic. There are so many things I want to write about. How do I start? Having spent several days in Chittaranjan Park, let me start from there. “This place is different”.

I belong to Delhi, born & raised here. I have been to several localities & neighborhood but this place is different. At first, C. R. Park looks just like any other up town area. Blocks of houses, endless cars, hawkers on the streets, shops, temples and so on…  Is it really different? Look closely and you will find the difference. Where else in Delhi will you find a 24/7 carrom board corner on the street, where else can you exit a temple and step into a fish market, where else will you find Durga Puja madness, where else can u still enjoy kullad (clay cup) tea. From the way women wear sarees to its cuisine, place is different.  My curiosity to know more about this place led me to history. Yeah, I know, history is boring. But I had to find out the why & how of this uniqueness.

C. R. Park was established in 1960s. Back then, it was known as East Pakistan Displaced Persons Colony, which was created to provide shelter to displaced Bengali people. The colony was founded with about 2400 plots going exclusively to migrants from East Bengal. Progressive, cosmopolitan yet deeply rooted, this place is continuously evolving. To understand flavor of C.R. Park, we have to go back to the mother ship: Bengal. I promise to come back to present, for now it’s important to understand its origin. Gopal Krishna Gokhale once said – “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”. Bengal has been pioneer to so many things: First capital of British India, first railway in India, first tram car, first telegraphs line in India. It is the origin of India’s national anthem & nation song. List goes on…

This is just a start. I will continue to toggle between past & present to present Bengali people & culture through my eyes.