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”?