The Indian State of West Bengal is rich in culture, traditions and, therefore, history. Bengalis are intelligent, creative, passionate and mostly well read people. I give a glimpse of the Bengali culture here, called ‘adda’ which I grew up on and which is so familiar to me. Oxford dictionary defines adda as an ‘informal conversation among a group of people.’ Actually, it sounds so diluted an explanation!
The high point of the Bengali adda is a large congregation of family members on any and every occasion, where all kinds of activities happen over humongous degree of chit chatting. The subjects range from politics to restaurants, food to books, authors, education and theatre.
Adda is incomplete without cultural activities such as singing, playing instruments, reciting poems, book reading, playing board games like ludo, carrom, cards, etc. The quality of the participation is normally above average. And one can gain a lot from these vocal display of art and culture.
Loud chatter by adults, laughter, arguments and ruckus created by children are the hall marks of these sessions. And they go on till cows come home. Yes, adda is addictive indeed.
The noise levels on these occasions are incomparable. Sometimes, on a Sunday afternoon, the adda chatters permeate from many houses, disturbing the peace of some who like their siesta. A disruption of adda ensues, of another vocal kind, with many curious eyes, big and small, watching from different windows. The disruptor stands on the by-lane with dishevelled hair, crumpled kurta (top) and pyjamas, flailing his arms as his anger erupts, voice resonating through the nondescript lane, while the embarrassed or irritated peace makers stand on the verandah or balcony, as the case maybe, trying to quieten down the agitated neighbour from a safe distance.
It is just not the sound, but the palate is also an equal partner. It is given that an adda needs to be accompanied by a steady stream of deep fried Indian snacks like pakora (vegetable fritter), shingara (deep fried pastry with savoury filling), luchi (deep fried flat bread made of flour) with typically bengali style potato curry, bengali sweets and endless cups of tea. Those women, who are the hostesses, definitely are at the receiving end. Even if they do mind the labour, I haven’t seen them expressing it.
Now the group needs to be large enough for an adda to really take off. Bengalis by and large are well networked within the family. The family usually consists of the extended family as well. Uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, children and the elderly, all participate with great gusto. So the numbers may add up to 10 and may go up to 20 or 25.
I have primarily been a part of these adda sessions with the family in Kolkata during my summer holidays from school and with friends in Delhi at planned and unplanned adda sessions.
Adda has various hues. Other than the impromptu occasions such as some relative on a vacation staying over, or comes visiting, or is passing by, they must happen at some function like a wedding, a birthday and in the midst of or after festivals.
During my visits to Kolkata, adda was a common feature. Every other day, the entire extended family would sit together after lunch or dinner and get on with the adda. It was kicked off with playing ludo which soon got out of hand, with one team accusing the other of cheating. Then it went on to singing and discussing politics over cups of tea. Many woke up with acidity in the morning, because Bengalis are known to have weak stomachs, but it never was a deterrent.
Another instance is Bijoya Dashami, which follows immediately after the Durga Pujo.
In Bengali traditions, Durga pujo is believed to commemorate Goddess Durga’s visit to her natal home with her children. The festival is preceded by Mahalaya, which is believed to mark the start of Durga’s journey to her natal home. On the tenth day, which is Dashami, the Durga idols are immersed in the rivers, with proper rituals being observed. With the departure of Durga, the celebration of Bijoya Dashami begins right after the bisorjon (immersion of the idol), with people hugging each other and distributing sweets.
There is a whole lot of camaraderie which follows, where social visits are paid to all near and far ones, family et al. The social visit turns into an adda at some house or the other, when many families visit the same house at the same time. The hosts lay down a sumptuous spread of food and sweets, amidst chatter and laughter. Every family is visited upon and thus, at times we are the visitors and at times we are the hosts.
By the time the social rounds are done, an adult ends up adding at least two kilos in weight and with an upset stomach. But it’s a never ending treat for children and we were no exception. I used to look forward to these occasions as a child and never missed any of them, fighting sleep as well as exhaustion.
As I grew up, these sessions lessened due to paucity of time all around. When I moved out of my city, it dwindled even further and all of a sudden I lost touch with adda.
As I grow older, I miss those days of carefree banter, meaningless laughter, tight hugs, surrounded by affection, love and warmth of those who really cared for you. Simple, carefree days of bountiful of affection. No one, anymore, asks for an update sincerely, no one gives me unsolicited advise and no one feeds me till I am ready to burst. I miss those times.
Time, they say, waits for none. It certainly took a toll on my adda sessions and I remember them with every occasion that comes by. Whether it is Holi, Durga Pujo or a chance visit of some relative or friend passing through.
I also realise that the adda made me feel secure amidst those who were part of my growing up years. If I could, I would revisit those days all over again.