Noted British philosopher Bertrand Russell had once described social gossip as comprising “two or three people, usually like minded, discussing anything under the sun and completely ignorant of time, cause and effect.” What Russell had meant by “social gossip” is very close to the favourite past time of the Bengalees, namely adda. In fact this inimitable trait among Bengalees to participate in addas has often been the target of criticism. Many believe that this trait has made Bengalees, a lazy comunity. Kolkata’s adda has been made memorable in many Bengali films such as Ray’s Agantuk or songs like “coffeehouse er sei addata aj ar nei”. Social gathering and festivals like Durga puja in Kolkata are incomplete without adda
The Durga Puja held by the Sarkar family in Beliaghata has achieved fame; because of the celebrations as well as the adda spreading over all the five days. Bidhubhusan Sarkar was a landed aristocrat and a close friend of Bidhan Chandra Roy. He owned bheris that covered hundreds of acres in south 24 parganas. His descendent, Pradip Sarkar, a professor in Political Science was a councillor of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation between 1985 and1990. Clad in spotless dhoti and punjabi he was the perfect Bengali bhodrolok and had invited me to his house during the Durga Puja. It was really a pleasure to participate in the adda sessions.
Generally all the family members even those who stayed abroad or elsewhere in India made it a point to be present during the festival. Both men and women formed small groups comprising their contemporaries and took part in the sessions that began after lunch. Antakshari and remeniscining the past were two favourite topics at these sessions. Those who won in Antakshari had to treat others. Short stories, essays and novels published in the Bengali annual numbers during the Autumn Festival were discussed and debated upon. Though the family was deeply involved in Congress politics anything related to political issues and backbiting was a strict no-no. The sessions were really refreshing. During the session cold drinks and sherbets were served at regular intervals to keep the adda going.
The adda sessions of Ghosh Family on Vivekananda Road were also quite interesting. This particular adda hovered around music. Alok Ghosh, their elder brother who died a few years ago was a singer whose domain was pre-Rabindranath Bramho songs composed by Satyendranath, Jyotirindranath and Hemendranath- the three elder brothers of Rabindranath. The younger brother is a celebrated Rabindrasangeet exponent who sings Tagore songs in Sanskrit. Girish Chandra Ghosh, the founder of the family was a trader during the time of the East India Company. Their Durga Puja is more than 200 year old.
The adda session in the house of the Roychowdhury’s in Bakulbagan is again unique. Here too, the groups are chosen according to the age. Their forefather, Sarat Roy Chowdhury was close to CR Das and his son Dr PK Roychowdhry was the mayor. Nakshtra Roy Chowdhury was a well known teacher and his son Somak is a famous astro physicist. Nakshatra’s cousin Pradip Roychowdhury was a famous art collector and many well known people including Satyajit Ray used to come to meet him. The adda sessions revolved around varied topics including politics, games, music and culture. A small booklet containing poems, short stories written by the family members was published on the occasion. The sessions continued late in the evening before the cultural shows began. A drama was staged by family members.
It is also very interesting to attend the adda sessions in Belur Math in which senior monks participate during the Pujas. As the Ramakrishna Mission (RKM) centres are closed during the pujas monks from all over the country come to the Math to attend the festival. Many monks with serious demeanor who rarely smiles are seen cracking jokes and gossiping in lighter spirit. Swami Nityaswarupananda, founder of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Gol Park was a disciple of Maa Sarada. He used to go to the room of Swami Abhayananda popularly known as Bharat Maharaj and they talked for hours on contemporary politics and even short stories or novels by some contemporary litterateur. From topics of mundane life they began discussing Advaita philosophy. Also they spoke on the early history of RKM or the city at their time.
Any write-up on the city’s adda will be incomplete without a reference to the adda sessions that take place in Maddox Square in south Kolkata during the five days of pujas. The adda sessions go on till the wee hours. People of different ages form small groups and chat throughout the night. Young boys and girls from distant areas like Salt Lake and beyond come to Madox Square just to participate in these thrilling addas.
The sessions that used to be held in every locality – “ rok er adda” in Bengali parlance- is a matter of the past because of the busy schedule of the people, particularly the youth. Hopefully addas sessions during the Durga Puja will continue for many ages to come for what is Puja in Kolkata sans adda?