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Demise Of The Bengali "Adda"

Demise Of The Bengali "Adda"

February 20, 2012

Every Bengali has a passion for "adda" - a lengthy and often heated debate.

The proverbial Bengali is known by certain unmistakable racial characteristics such as living on a diet of fish-curry, rice and sweets, travelling incessantly, passionately following football matches and cricket tournaments, loving the arts, being lazy, making a lot of plans and never acting on them …the list goes on. One of these is the indefatigable love for ‘Bangali Adda’ a term roughly translating to community chat sessions and including discussion and debate and brain-storming, all rolled into one. The quintessential Bengali can even forego his favorite meal and virtually survive for hours, on cups of tea or coffee punctuating that what he loves most of all - talking on anything and everything under the sun.

Whether or not a Bengali has wealth to boast of, he always has something to say. Whether or not he has solutions to problems, he always has an opinion. Topics for the adda are wide-ranging: from religion to politics, from football to space missions. The range could include philosophical issues, India’s fiscal deficit or even Japan’s nuclear program. At times, though not very often, some local adda can be idle gossip about whether a certain celebrity is really romantically involved with another. Satyajit Ray's "Agantuk" has a discussion on this with the character played by Robi Ghosh asking "Rabindranath ki adda diten?"(did Tagore ever engage in adda?)

The discussions are generally held in a spirit of openness with ideas flowing freely between diametrically opposite poles, with involved parties giving due consideration to what others have to say before responding. However, this does not mean that the sessions do not get heated. More often than not they do. Decibels rise as people get more and more emotionally involved in the issue at hand and it is not unusual for them raise their voices and even pull up their sleeves in an agitated gesture that is potentially threatening although it almost never comes down to blows.

The venue of the adda could vary depending on the context and milieu: the community tea shop or the “rock” of a house (a term used to refer to an elevated unroofed portico), the office or college canteen (a Spartan version of the modern cafeteria). In Kolkata, ‘Coffee House’ located strategically on the famous College Street, has a far-reaching reputation of being an exalted venue of Bangali adda where great minds (writers, journalists, scientists, philosophers, theatre artists…the list is endless) congregate day after day, week after week, to have relaxing or stimulating conversations and with fellow Bengalis over cofee and little savouries from the frugal menu that has not changed since the days of its British origins.

But the picture I am painting here is that of a bygone era. It is fast fading as a pleasant memory. What I am here to lament is the slow but inevitable death of the Bangali adda. It is not that Bengalis do not get together and talk today or will cease to in the future but the defining characteristics of what the Bangali adda was are gradually dying out under the ceaseless attack of modern life and work. Much as we Bengalis want to cling onto our glorious pasts, the fact is those 4 hour workdays do not exist anymore-they have been replaced by 10-11 hour workdays. The breakneck culture of the day makes it impossible for the Bengali ‘babu’ (a term loosely used to refer to a government employee, the beneficiary of a coveted job which allowed him to come home from work at 3 pm) take a relaxing siesta, have a cleansing bath, wear a kurta and a “pyjama” (not to be confused with night clothes), slip on a ‘hawai chappal’ and walk over to join the adda group to which he belongs. I say ‘belongs’ in order to emphasize on the sense of identification and pride associated with this membership that could even build up a resistance in individuals to take a transfer if his job so required.

As with any memory, there is much romanticization of the adda of old as if what has been eroded has left a vacuum that was not filled. In reality, the concept of adda and gossip is as alive as ever and will always be with technology like the internet allowing it to expand its scope beyond geographical boundaries. However what is steadily dying out is the languid late-afternoon community gatherings and the face-to-face meetings as Twitter, chat rooms and text messaging take their place.

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  • Krittika Sen
    Krittika Sen
    26.02.12 04:59 PM
    that was an excellent article.. i have had that doubt too.. if Rabindranath was such a bengali, did he engage in adda?? :P The bengali adda will never die as long as bengalis like us keep it alive :)
  • Alokito Chowdhury
    Alokito Chowdhury
    24.02.12 12:21 AM
    Very true..sometimes without even being aware of the fact we do things just for this hanging out that we proudly call "ADDA". Bengalis who live abroad now and don't have many close friends to have a mojadar adda online bangla chat room could be a very nice place which I personally enjiy very much!!
  • Sunil Deepak
    Sunil Deepak
    21.02.12 06:49 PM
    Made me remember my long never-ending discussions with friends, and the strong bond that had created between us (even if we were far away from Kolkatta and none of us was bengali)!
  • Arnab
    21.02.12 01:06 PM
    I would beg to differ on this,I still don't think the "Bangali Adda" is on a demise.Change is constant and undoubtedly "Bangali Adda" has undergone lot of changes in all these years, but it is still very much intact.The venues might have changed from Coffee House to CCD, from College Square to Maddox Square, from Gariahat to City Centre but the "adda" still lives! I will completely disagree to the fact that Bengalis had more time 30 years back and they all had 4 working hours a day!! That is a ridiculous statement to make! Please get your facts right!
    Even today there are many who work for 12 hrs a day for 5 days but meet their Bengali friends for an adda session on the weekends, they can be anywhere in Mumbai, Bangalore,Delhi or Hyderabad and I dont need to mention Kolkata obviously.So I feel the Bengali Adda is still there and will be there always.In case you want to have a taste of it, meet the younger generation in your city and you will get your answers
  • matheikal
    21.02.12 11:13 AM
    No wonder Amartya Sen wrote 'The Argumentative Indian.'

    The pace of life now, the egotism that has come to be an integral part of life, etc will draw phenomena such as the adda to the grave.
  • Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
    Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
    21.02.12 08:49 AM
    Lovely post! It took me back to my days studying in Joja at IIMC when every meal in the hostel was adda time. Most furiously debated, of course, was the mysterious origin of that day's main dish - the food being so bad no self-respecting Bengali/Punjabi/Tamil was willing to concede the strange watery concoction that the cook tried to pass off as fish curry/chhole/sambar :)

    And yes, the coffe house at College street - ah!
  • Writerzblock
    20.02.12 02:50 PM
    Delightful read, SS! Feels like a different world altogether.. makes me .. almost sad!!
  • Jyotishka Ray
    Jyotishka Ray
    20.02.12 08:01 AM
    Lovely post. Can i make one more observation as to why Adda is on the decline? I really do think that the demise of Bangla as a language is also partly the reason.
  • subhorup dasgupta
    subhorup dasgupta
    20.02.12 07:27 AM
    A lovely post, Susmita! The modern life has done all it can to take the Bengali out of the Adda, but it has failed to extract the Adda from the Bengali. Your post, like the peculiar tanginess that Bengalis bring to blogs and online discussions, testifies to it.

    The beauty of Adda perhaps lies in the fact that it has no other motive than broadening one's mind, sharing viewpoints, understanding the world around us, and of course, sharpening one's mind. I am so reminded by your post of the classic sequence from the first Feluda movie where the encyclopedic Shidhu Jyatha (Harin Chattopadhyaya) explains to Feluda (Soumitra) that he has kept the windows of his mind open. The tragedy of our times is that such minds are no longer valued. The term encyclopedic now really means good at web search!

    An observation that I found missing was that in spite of the babu-ana lost to the new-economy double-income 60-hour work-week, Bengalis still manage to meet up, after work (late nights) and on week-ends, I know about Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi, for pure adda.

    My view may be jaundiced by my being Bengali, but I have a feeling that this comment thread will prove me right.
  • Rajpriya
    20.02.12 06:20 AM
    Can NRI (You can feel but not see) Adda be likened to Bengali Adda?

    "Decibels rise as people get more and more emotionally involved in the issue at hand and it is not unusual for them raise their voices and even pull up their sleeves in an agitated gesture that is potentially threatening although it almost never comes down to blows".
  • Devasmita Chakraverty
    Devasmita Chakraverty
    20.02.12 06:10 AM
    Wonderful post Susmita, made me very nostalgic. Growing up outside Bengal, I have seen similar adda congregations with smaller Bengali groups. Gone are the days when we accompanied parents to their friends' place (before the era of the telephone) unannounced on Sundays for hours and hours of adda. I have seen similar adda sessions in communities on Orkut and Facebook (Calcomm being one of them). I wonder if it the same as face-to-face adda. However, given the era we live in, this is perhaps the best we shall get. Long live Bangali adda !

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