The pleasures of growing up in a Bong joint family! Forever surrounded by Kaku, pishi, dida, cousins, so much pampering and conversations all around, storytelling, reading out to each other. I never lacked conversations growing up, till date nothing hooks me more than a good conversation. I miss those good old days, those conversations. Most of all I miss my kaku – a master story teller, a great conversationalist, in whose room every evening would gather his friends and conversation would flow on art, literature, music, politics or football over cups of tea, moori makha, padad bajha or chop. There would be friendly banter, heated debates, enlightening dialogues with music playing in the background on the gramophone. My mom, and sometimes my pishi would heartily participate in the discussions. As a kid then I would sometimes peep in, take bite from my kaku’s plate. Though I couldn’t make sense of much of the conversation, I could feel charged atmosphere, the excitement around. Such was the magic of good conversation or Aadda!
The quintessential Bengali Aadda, that can be loosely translated as the art of conversation or discussion, probably emerged over a century ago when Bengali gentry (or bhodrolok) would congregate to discuss various issues ranging from art to politics to changing weather. Aadda, Coffee Houser Aadda, had a certain snob value about it. Prominent writers and thinkers would gather at a Coffee House talk about various existential and intellectual issues. Then there was Aadda in a drawing rooms or a living rooms, like the one in our family house. Aadda, where boys of the neighbourhood gather on a staircase or parapet (rock), called Rockbaj Aadda, is considerably low brow. You wouldn’t want to be caught by your parents being part of Rockbaj Aadda.
But no matter where the Aaddabaj (connoisseurs of Aadda) would gather, the spirit of Aadda, the free flow of conversation that was often intellectually stimulating, defies all definition. Usually a small group that could range from 3 to 10 people, Aadda could be dominated by one person or run into heated debates. It has been often said that these aimless Aaddas led to the downfall of Kolkata, once the intellectual capital of India. Maybe, or maybe Bengal fell from grace because Aadda lost its spirit somehow!
Aadda sessions in my kaku’s living room came to end with his untimely demise. I left home a few years after that. In college and university, we had our variants of Aadda, often literary discussion or idealistic talks about love and life ahead. Then real life happened, while struggling to fit into the real world, I did enjoy many animated conversations with my newfound friends over cups of coffee till wee hours. But people kept getting busier, drifting apart, conversations turned to long phone calls, online chats and somehow that spirit was lost. There was partying, there was pubbing and there was clubbing at the cost of a good conversation. Even families glued to their phone and social media forgot to talk.
Today, suddenly out of nowhere the world is inflicted by a novel virus that has pushed us indoors, shuts down pubs, clubs and malls. The term social distancing is suddenly in vogue. With nowhere to go we don’t have sassy pictures to post on social media, and the virus jokes and alerts are kind of getting on our nerves. While COVID is disrupting our lives, playing havoc with our schedule, maybe it’s giving us a chance to reconnect with our family and friends, revive the art of conversation. So why not use this family time as an opportunity to reclaim the magic of Aadda!