The Financial Express

'Addas' in post-pandemic Dhaka


-FE file photo -FE file photo

Now that the dreadful Covid-19 is on its way of receding fast, people in almost all sectors have started to piece together the fragments of their lives. Almost all of them have received jolts of varying degrees during the corona pandemic. Few have thought life would begin returning to the normal so early. As a corollary, large numbers of them remain cautious about resuming their earlier style of outdoor activities. But a few of them are desperate to get back to their pre-corona lives of hectic activities, moving as they want, and joining pastime and leisurely sessions. Standing out among these sessions, especially those centring round idle gossip, are the ones participated by the elders, normally known as 'murubbis'.

These elderly 'addas' have been an integral part of Dhaka neighbourhoods since the early days of modern urban Dhaka. These sessions of idle conversation punctuated by mild debates on political or social topics, and now the success or otherwise of the vaccination campaigns, are invariably held in the afternoons. The venues range from a 'muhalla' club, the roof of an affluent local, the bank of a pond or a quiet lakeside. In theory, these 'addas' have to be held in the open. Restaurants or enclosed spaces are normally discouraged except in inclement weathers.

After the presumed exit of the Covid-19 ferocities, these sessions attended by the elderly have started regrouping at their previous venues. But depressingly, many of their long-time and senior members haven't returned to the 'addas'. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken them away, making the members grief-stricken. The gossip sessions, despite the spirited efforts put in by the relatively younger members to bring back the sessions' old mood, appear to have lost their earlier spirit. According to sociologists, it's quite natural to encounter this drop in the age-old high spirited mood of these sittings. This is not unique to Bangladesh. All the countries having these 'addas' as part of their culture are set to miss their appeal for quite a long time on occasions. It might be termed this time a part of the fallout from the corona pandemic. These 'adda' venues include those in the sub-continental old cities like Delhi, Kolkata or Lahore, West Asia's Baghdad or Istanbul, and North Africa's Cairo etc.

Like in the cities mentioned above, the otherwise innocuous gossip sessions have intermittently had to experience sudden breaks. Those were mainly caused by external and hostile interventions. In the case of Dhaka, the 1971 occupation period jeopardised 'addas' and all open sittings for nine long months. Out of the fear of being interrogated by the occupation army's intelligence officials, many 'adda' members fled the city. Others joined the Liberation War. The gossip sessions began once again in full vigour in Dhaka, which was then the capital of an independent country. In the pre-independence times, Dhaka was noted for its political 'addas'. Those would be organised at unassuming residences, those situated on Dhaka's outskirts, newspaper offices or derelict houses. Leaders and workers of both conventional democratic parties, then under the watch of the Pakistani dictatorship, and the underground left parties, would attend those meetings. These sessions, however, had no similarities with the neighbourhood-based 'addas'. But on occasions, they, too, had to cross rough waters.

To speak forthrightly,it was the more than one year's corona shutdown and the stringent health guidelines which considerably detracted from the warmth of Dhaka's gossip sessions. The dreadful pandemic has taken many away from this world. Given this convoluted post-pandemic situation, it might take months for the informal and relaxed sessions to get back in place.


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