Tuesday, May 06, 2008

An 'Adda' A Day

Kolkata is a city with a strong sense of community. One example is the concept of 'para' (neighbourhood) where there's much bonhomie among the residents. The other example is 'adda'.

'Adda' is a Bengali expression for a chat or an informal conversation among a group of people. Although it seems like a mere name for a rather commonplace activity, 'adda' is considered typical to the Bengali ethos and is a favourite pastime of Kolkatans. Many famous Bengalis – politicians, national leaders, writers, artists, journalists etc – think of the 'adda' with a fondness reserved for reminders of their struggling years. The common Bengali considers it an essential part of the daily routine.

In a typical 'adda', the topics range from national politics to Rabindranath Tagore's Nobel Prize medallion to football to good old-fashioned gossip.The participants could be anybody - literary stalwarts, politicians, retired-from-work senior citizens, intellectuals, students or the gainfully unemployed. Evenings are particularly 'adda'-friendly as there's nothing quite like a spirited 'adda' to unwind from a day of work. Tea or coffee, along with snacks like shingara (a local vegetable filled pastry, like a 'samosa') are necessary lubricants for adda-hoarse throats. This factor invariably determines the venue of the 'adda'.

India Coffeehouse on College Street is counted as THE place to witness or participate in an 'adda'. What sounds like the hum of a few 'addas' from outside the coffeehouse, turns out to be the rumble of many opinions when one steps inside. There is vociferous opining about 'the system', expert opinions, diametrically opposite viewpoints and bruised egos. Conversations frequently turn into heated arguments, but never into physical fights as adda is essentially an intellectual discussion.

Other places where one is most likely to see 'addas' in full swing are Nandan, Rabindra Sadan and Rabindra Sarovar, besides the many college canteens, street-corner tea shops, offices of the local intellectuals and even living rooms in homes. 'Addas' take place even in the Durga Puja pandals (or venues of Durga Puja celebrations). A book fair is an intellectually conducive atmosphere to 'doing adda', as Kolkata prides itself on its citizens' artistic, intellectual and literary leanings.

More recently, 'addas' have assumed online entities on egroups and networking websites where the homesick non-resident Kolkatan could indulge in his passion for 'adda'. Interestingly, some member profiles even list 'adda' as a hobby.

For the chatty Bengali, the idiom probably goes, "Two's company; three's an adda".

(An edited version was published in the May 2008 issue of 'At A Glance')