Adda, that wonderful Bengali society: agenda less discussions that cannot be classified as idle gossip, not argument, not crib sessions, but all these and more. There has not been a single Bengali of stature who has not been an avid “addabaj”, and the adda has served as both the research and development and the test marketing stage for matchless creativity—from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to Tagore’s poetry, from Ghatak’s films to Jamini Roy’s art.
Addas were a form of brainstorming, very similar to conferences. As the discussions heated up, cups of coffee vanished and the atmosphere hang heavy with the acrid smoke of cigarettes. The adda helped release thoughts that lay dormant beneath a veneer of seriousness. There emerged ideas that resulted in the beginning of an epic or that sow the seeds of a novel in the mind of its recipient. The case of the famous fictional character Ghanada created by Premendra Mitra is the best example of what an adda can end up with. This gentleman Ghanada was known for his tall stories. He always had stocks of them up his sleeve. He lived in a mess and, if treated to regular cups of hot tea and snacks, could narrate any number of stories to keep his audiences spellbound. His imagination could put to shame any sci-fi writers and he had the ability to coin new words and phrases at the drop of a hat, complete with the background history of how they came into existence.
Adda, has travelled far and wide across the world. By the 4th century BC, it had already reached Athens, where Socrates established himself as the leading addabaj . Athenians obviously were not as smart as Bengalis, so they accused the ex-stonemason of corrupting the youth and condemned him to death. A picture of Socrates’ adda can be drawn from Plato’s writings.
In recent years, the dynamics of adda has changed, which is quite natural since we are now living in a digital native generation. In fact we see that the Bangali adda is gradually dying out under the ceaseless attack of modernism, social networking, and yearly performance appraisals at work. The number of addas have significantly gone down, courtesy Facebook. Nowadays, we see that even Bengalis have accepted a capitalistic tool for doing adda J, no more ganging up at the “rock” (elevated portico) of a house or a walk to the nearest Indian Coffee House.
Having said that, I have faith that Adda will survive this era of social networking—it survived the invasion of Alexander and the raids of Borgis (raiders from Central India) in the past.