The Financial Express

Of literature, 'adda' and creative bonhomie

Shihab Sarkar | Published: August 29, 2019 20:52:58

Of literature, 'adda' and creative bonhomie

Creative activities like writing, painting and, even, movie making go hand in hand with informal get-togethers or gossip sessions. Composing music and its performance also have a place at these casual events. All these are different from the academic discourses. The tradition of indoor literature-based gossiping at specific places in the greater Bengal is quite old. In the earlier days, not everyone was permitted to express their views at these sessions. Only a few revered persons would speak like giving sermons, while the others listened in submissive silence. This form of gossip witnessed a break with its century-old style after the entry of modernism in the arts. Originally, it had started with the era of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. Thanks to their preeminent position in Bangla poetry, both of them deserved a special place at these sessions. However, the honour of conducting a gossip session unanimously went to Tagore, when he was in his seventies.

A youthful and flamboyant Nazrul followed Tagore. After his meteoric rise as a poet of youth and rebellion and a song-writer, a few years before his slipping into a psychological abyss, Nazrul was viewed as the spokesman of youth. Duration of this phase was brief though. By the 1930s, the Kolkata-based Bangla literary landscape featured over a dozen of informal gossip sessions, generally known as 'adda', a Bangla word. The reason the arts-based 'addas' began sprouting in Kolkata mainly lay in the large city's being the centre of several literary journals. The city of Kolkata in the first decade of the 20th century through the 1920s and the 1930s witnessed the regular publication of a number of literary periodicals. Those included  Probashi (founded and edited by Ramananda Chatterjee in 1901), Sabujpatra (first published in 1914 and edited by Pramatha Chowdhury), Pragoti ( 1926, edited by Ajit Dutta), Kavita (1935, edited by Buddhadeb Bosu) and a lot of others. A section of Kolkata-based Bengalee Muslim writers felt neglected in the city's literary scene. Later they brought out Monthly Mohammadi in 1903. It was edited by Mohammad Akram Khan. The journal moved to Dhaka in 1949, after the creation of Pakistan. A dominant feature characterised all the Kolkata-centred journals in the period of 1920s-1940s, beginning from 1901: The journals were monthly.

Another feature was eventually most of the literary periodicals' offices turned into hangouts for both celebrated and aspiring writers. All of these magazines one day discovered that separate literary platforms had been formed centring them. Thus they were able to create their respective groups of writers. As a result, specific journal-based hangouts or 'addas' also came into being. The Dhaka chapter of Bangla literature, periodicals and the writers and readership began taking shape in the 1950s. Despite belonging to the mainstream Bangla arts, from the 1950s onwards Dhaka became the centre of creative output produced by the writers, musicians, playwrights and film makers of the then East Bengal, later East Pakistan. The land emerged as the independent Bangladesh after a liberation war in 1971 against the West Pakistan-based rulers. Kolkata is now the capital of the West Bengal state of India. Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh. Due to being two different entities, the 'addas' of the two cities were supposed to be of separate natures. But they did not grow that way. In respect of the basic nature, they have demonstrated many similar characters.

The difference that has kept the two cities' gossip sessions different from each other related to the venues. In Kolkata, the 'addas' would take place at the offices of literary journals. Dhaka had yet to see enough publication of periodicals. Except a handful of them which shifted to East Bengal in the 1950s --- notably Saugat, Mohammadi etc, Dhaka had to wait a few years to see the publication of journals purely produced in East Bengal. This belated start of journals had a typical impact on the evolution of periodical and magazine culture in Dhaka. As the Dhaka-based writers, painters and others got used to restaurant-based gossip sessions, the 'addas' in general did not enter the journal offices. Only a few like 'Saugat' and 'Samakal' invited the then young writers to their offices to pass leisure-time. The urge to sit together and engage in literature and the broader arts-based discussions and debates began growing stronger by the day. Meanwhile, the freedom-loving writers were able to locate half a dozen restaurants ideal for long-time 'addas'. The owners of these eateries and cafes were generous enough to allow the young poets and prose writers to occupy a couple of tables from morning to late into the night.

At the arts-based informal discussions, not everyone participates in noisy talks. Universally, it is seen that only a few people express themselves assertively, comment on others' work or provoke controversies. The rest take part in the 'addas' routinely. But they, nonetheless, enjoy the often-chaotic and emotionally charged sessions. On the other hand, a few others hardly open their mouth. They love to see others talk. These mostly reticent 'adda'-participants remind many of the great modernist Bengalee poet Jibanananda Das. By nature, he used to avoid crowd and gatherings. But he could not resist the pull of 'addas'. Thus he would be found present regularly at the gossip sessions at the iconoclast writers' platform 'Kallol'. This 'adda' was dominated by poets and prose writers like Kazi Nazrul Islam, Buddhadeb Bosu, Premendra Mitra, Achintya Kumar Sengupta et al. As expected the most vocal of the writers at the Kallol 'adda' was the Rebel Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. He was followed by Budddhadeb Bosu, who used to bring whiffs of fresh air of creativity-effusing literary knowledge and information. Despite being enviably rich with creative scholarship and poetic gift, Jibanananda was hardly seen expressing himself fully.

The poet's awkward presence at 'addas' at the highbrow periodical 'Porichoy', published by Poet Sudhindranath Dutta, was finally filled with bafflement and bitterness not experienced by him anywhere frequented by poets and novelists. Jibanananda did not continue his presence at the 'Porichoy' get-togethers upon feeling slighted.

Compared to the Kolkata scenarios in the 1930s-1940s, when its literature and the different branches of arts have visibly attained maturity, Dhaka in the 1950s had just begun making small leaps. New publishers came up, young authors strived to bring out books, and the publishing hub at Banglabazar in Dhaka found itself turning to creative books professionally. In a decade, a number of literary societies were formed in the city. They were based not as much on ideologies as on mutual compatibility. In fact, the Dhaka literary scene in the whole 1950s found two guardians leading them --- Hasan Hafizur Ranman and Sikandar Abu Zafar. After editing and publishing the journal called 'Ekushey February' (1953) which paid tributes to the 1952 language martyrs, Rahman became a patron of local aspiring writers. On the other hand, Sikandar Abu Zafar, a senior poet of the 1950s, entered the scene with a different identity: Editor of the monthly journal 'Samakal'. Soon after the journal's publication, Zafar welcomed young writers of the time to his 'Samakal'-based 'adda' which would be held almost every week. At the office of 'Saugat' edited by the legendary editor Mohammad Nasiruddin, poet Hasan Hafizur Rahman organised another gossip session with the participation of dozens of poets, novelists and short story writers. A large audience would attend the 'adda'. This 'adda' was a little formal, as the authors were required to present their creative works there. Later, learned critics would make comments on the literary pieces presented at the event.

The 'Saugat' and 'Samakal' sessions were the two major get-togethers held at the offices of two renowned journals of those days. Poets and prose writers like Shamsur Rahman, Shaheed Quaderi, Al Mahmud, Borhan Uddin Khan Jahangir, Alauddin Al Azad, Syed Shamsul Haq, Saiyeed Atiqullah and a lot of others were produced by these 'addas'. At the same time, Dhaka's proverbially famous restaurant-based 'addas' used to be held at a number of hangouts in the 1950s. They included Beauty Boarding, Capital Restaurant, Riverview Cinema Café, Mirandar --- all located in the Old Dhaka. In the 1960s, Rex near Gulistan cinema and Sweet Heaven and Gulsitan in the same area dominated Dhaka's literary 'addas'.

Amazingly all these get-togethers were dominated by Shaheed Quaderi, the indefatigable 'addabaj' and the scholarly Khaled Chowdhury, a living legend. Apart from his erudition, Shaheed Quaderi's ready wit and humour would draw dozens of admirers to the places where he was present. Shamsur Rahman, Syed Shamsul Haq et al would occasionally visit the Quaderi-dominated restaurants. In the days of writers lodged in their respective cocoons with little informal exchanges of feelings, one can only feel nostalgic about Dhaka's literary 'addas'. In fact, few literatures can reach their vibrant maturity without hangouts. Modern American literature might not have assumed the present shape without San Francisco's City Lights book store.



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