There are many things unique to Kolkata like the invoking of millions of Goddess Saraswati in January, the mesmerizing Ma Kali either in Kalighat or in the quite solitude of Dakhineswar. We still rue about the wonderful but dwindling Chinese community and their excellent cuisine, the once vibrant but now almost non- existing Anglo-Indian community (remember Leslie Claudius, Ronny Moore or at least Leander Paes ?… or the Aparna Sen movie, “36,Chowringhee lane” (?), the old world charms of erstwhile Lighthouse or Globe, hand-pulled rickshaws, morning trams in the shadowy tracks of Kolkata Maidan, quintessential Bengali sweets, multiple eating joints offering varied cuisines and suiting all pockets, love for literature manifested in various Lit-fests and Book fairs, theatres, movies and craziness about music and Indian football’s biggest derby.
But nothing surpasses the ‘Adda’. There cannot be any translation of this Bengali word. The closest in English they say is Chat or Gossip. But in reality, nothing comes within 1000 miles of the term “Adda” to match its spirit and connotation.
Sometimes it seems that the ” raison d’être ” for living in Kolkata is Adda! Of course, the adda is common to all Bengalis living in any corner of the globe… just remember the beginning of the Jhumpa Lahiri novel “Namesake” or the Golpark adda described by Amitav Ghosh in “Shadow Lines”. But, nothing is comparable to Kolkata’s Adda. Culture is the zest and zeal that helps the soul of a Bengali to come to terms with life and that is best manifested in the cravings for the adda. The best part of this quintessential aspect of Bengali culture is its diversity and inclusiveness.
Any damn subject on the earth can be discussed and anybody present in the adda, a friend, or a complete stranger, can take part so long he or she is tuned in. The diversity and the magnitude is to be heard to be believed, it could be anything from the origin of “phuchka” to the art of Van Gogh or the symphonies of Mozart or films by Buñuel. And sometimes the knowledge of participants are amazing, to say the least. The two invariable components of “Adda” were tea/coffee and cigarette and thankfully the second component is now on a steady decline.
The ‘adda’ can take place anywhere, in public parks, in a tea stall, in college canteens and also in specific restaurants, in clubs, adjoining areas of a famous shop or road crossings, in drawing rooms, in a bus or within moving suburban trains. However the most famous and designated places of adda are coffee houses. There are two famous coffeehouses in Kolkata, one in Central Avenue and the other one in the crossing of College Street and Bankim Chatterjee Street. Though the former was frequented by luminaries like Satyajit Ray, Chidananda Dasgupta, and their ilk, but the later one in College Street is the most famous and the iconic one. The image of a coffeehouse that conjures a Bengali mind is in fact the second one which is frequented by people from all walks of life…from students to singers, famous literary personalities to acknowledged intellectuals, from unemployed to the celebrities. In earlier days, there were resting places over the sidewalks adjacent to main doors of houses which were called “roacks” and people sitting there for adda were known as “rockbaj”…this subsequently became a derogatory term, because of antics that accompanied most ‘addas’ in such joints. The place of adda for each group is called “thek” and normally regulars start flocking in their respective theks on scheduled hours as if by conditioned reflexes!
There are also downsides of addas and the standard of all addas are obviously not one and the same. But on a general scale, it is said that standards, now-a-days, are on a decline save and except addas in canteens of famous colleges and institutions and also addas among intellectuals confined to invitees only. The most scathing attack on Kolkata’s adda culture was made by the London based author Neel Mukherjee. Here are excerpts from his book “The Lives of Others” for our digestion:
“It consists of long sessions of conversations…. Bengalis try to give it a high intellectual gloss, believing that it is the soul of life and productive of great breakthroughs in the arts, science, politics etc., but don’t be fooled – it’s a classic Bengali idleness, a way of wasting…one’s life in procrastination and ridiculous self-importance.”
Maybe one day some young filmmakers would take up the “Adda” as his/her subject and use Manna De’s legendary coffeehouse song as its motif. Anyone listening….??
Abhijit Mukhopadhyay was born in Patna and brought up in Kolkata. He is a Fellow member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and got a post graduate degree in Commerce and a diploma in Management. He is passionate about travelling and travelled across the length and breadth of India. He has also extensively toured all five continents of Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and Latin America for professional and as well as personal reasons.
Primarily he writes in his native language Bengali but occasionally also contributes to English blogs online. His stories and poems have been published in many printed magazines in Noida and Delhi. Mr. Mukhopadhyay’s travel stories have also been published by “SANANDA” and “DESH” Patrika from Kolkata. He is a concurrent resident of both Delhi and Kolkata.”