We live in an age when people are alienated from each other thanks to the fast increase in the use of intercommunication gadgets. They include online networks comprising mindboggling apps. Smart phones play a dominant role in these cyber wonders. In such a state, the need for get-togethers with physical presence is also destined to diminish. Yet the sub-continent in South Asia has kept the tradition of 'addas' alive. According to many, 'adda' is an early form of today's chatting online. At the community levels in the sub-continent, this exclusive form of get-togethers is fully alive --- especially in the greater Bengal. The region comprises Bangladesh, and the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. However, 'adda'-loving people are also found in Assam, Odisha, parts of northern India and Pakistan.
Depressingly, the nature of these 'addas' continues to change as the invasion of newer cyber communication tools becomes aggressive by the day. The changes in the form of 'adda' come in many types. Some of these informal sessions of gossip are now centred on national politics, social disintegration or wholesale decline in values. These typical topics surface at the 'addas' composed of middle-aged and older people. The educated younger generations in their 'addas' remain mainly focused on sports and the entertainment world. The current affairs and national politics are also given some space here. The university campuses have also their own 'addas'. Participated by both graduates and undergrads, these 'addas' are not male-dominated, like seen in the earlier times. A considerable number of young female students also actively participate in these gossip sessions.
A notable aspect of today's 'addas' is the dominant presence of smart phones. With 'addas' raging in full vigour, a few of the younger participants are found busy talking with their Facebook friends in low voice. Although they do this furtively, the discovery of them being engaged in digressive and sideline talks detracts from the ideal atmosphere of an 'adda'. The menace of side-talks at vibrant 'addas', in fact, spoils the sessions of leisure talks. In the face of stiff resistance by the participants, prolonged smart phone uses are witnessing a fast drop at 'addas'.
In the distant times when people were completely free of the science's gift of information technology, 'addas' used to be filled with the same liveliness as we find today. Those were unalloyed and undisturbed in nature. Many people confuse an 'adda' with a session of serious talks. Actually, these gossip sessions are filled with all kinds of informalities. The Bengalee 'addas' do not have specific places for getting together, no particular speakers, no definite topic or topics to talk about. The whole atmosphere is filled with casualness; an 'adda' doesn't start at any specific time, nor does it end at any certain hour. Moreover, the number of presence doesn't follow any compulsory requirement. 'Addas' do not need any prerequisite for quorums. On days, only a handful of people are found present at an 'adda'. On others the venue is filled to the brim. Nobody knows why. 'Addas' in Dhaka, Kolkata or Agartala can take place at the anteroom of a house. They can also be shifted to an open roof of a participant's home, a restaurant or beside a pond or river. The quintessential feature of a Bengali 'adda' is the liberty enjoyed by its participants. Since there are no roll calls and requirement for registration, all interested people known to the earlier participants or members are welcome here.
Well, there are some unwritten rules which are abided by the 'adda' people. In elite Bengalee 'addas' obscene topics or ribald humours are strictly discouraged. These crass leisure times are reserved for the lowly people, especially the working class. However, debates and heated arguments are part of a lively 'adda'. In the end, the proverb 'all's well that ends well' prevails and the bitter mood leaves space for a happy ending. Normally, the nature of the 'adda' venues eventually emerges as being different. It encourages one to talk in a casual manner. One can cite the instances of the Bangladeshi poet Shaheed Quaderi and scholar Khaled Chowdhury. Quaderi's typical style of speaking dominated by Dhaka's urban dialects and slang would draw people to the literary 'adda' sessions in droves. Quaderi reigned Dhaka's 'addas' as an uncrowned king for around four decades.
Although there is a customary stress on avoiding stiff subjects and skirting any socio-political tilt, people return from 'addas' being rich with wisdom and lots of clues to knowledge. All these experiences are gathered in an atmosphere of unspoiled leisureliness. At a typical 'adda' one's right to speak out is held in high esteem. And anyone can weigh in while others converse.
It's true 'addas' are passing through real bad times in Dhaka and other cities. The 'adda'-loving youths of the past are mostly found engaged in materially gainful activities. On the contrary, elderly people completely free from livelihood-related engagements desperately search for places to spend their pastime. The situation was different in the 20th century --- both in Dhaka and Kolkata. In the 1950s and 60s, the 'adda' culture reached its peak, with about half a dozen 'addas' bringing poets and prose writers, artists, film makers, and even sportsmen, to venues scattered across Old Dhaka. These places ranged from the Beauty Boarding, Mirander, Rex to some other restaurants. Apart from these, the offices of Saugat and Samakal literary journals finally became haunts of 'adda'-loving young writers. The tradition of idle gossiping engaged in by the literary stalwarts in Kolkata dates back to the 1930s and 40s. Younger writers would also be welcomed to these gossip sessions in full warmth. Among the Kolkata-based 'addas', the ones centred round the 'Kallol', 'Saugat' and 'Kali-Kolom' journals used to be considered the major ones. These gossip sessions are credited with helping Kazi Nazrul Islam, Jibanananda Das, Buddhadev Bose, Premendra Mitra and many others emerge as major literary figures in Bengal. Budhhadev Bose would host a post-evening 'adda' at his residence 'Kabita Bhaban'. This 'adda' mainly revolved round Bose's poetry journal 'Kabita'.
What many people do not know is Rabindranath Tagore's fascination for 'addas'. The great poet's gossip sessions would remain limited to a select few from his friends and admirers' circles. In these 'addas', Tagore would appear in his element with the lighter side of his life at full play. Shedding the subjects dealing with serious issues of literature and politics, Tagore would let the humorous side of his self dominate the mood of these 'addas'.
In a situation witnessing an acute dearth of ideal and classical 'adda' venues, these gossip sessions began to be infiltrated by features and elements alien to the general people. This situation has prompted many, the youths especially, to pass time with Facebook friends by giving statuses, 'likes' etc --- and chatting. They can't be blamed. Humans want to express themselves; in particular their views on myriad types of issues. The youths' urge to express themselves is commensurate with their basic nature. They have been compelled to take resort to the online outlets. So we see nowadays Facebook-based 'addas' in the form of chatting. The traditional 'addas' in greater Bengal are not raucous as seen in the pub-based ones in the West. This difference stems mainly from intrinsic preferences. Bengalees by nature are reflective, and feel at ease at 'addas' in a homely atmosphere. Unfortunately, alien customs have started creeping into our innocuous gossip sessions.
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