A tale of literary adda | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 22, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 22, 2010


A tale of literary adda

We left the university almost three decades back. At this age I feel that there can be nothing better than a weekly adda or a session of gossiping. Work hard to earn money, eat, help the needy and gossip. Don't harm anyone, don't backbite --- and gossip to your heart's content. No experience can be more delightful than gossiping with your near and dear ones.
Literature was my passion even when I was a child, but it became my life and death when I was studying intermediate at Dhaka College. Adda came along with it. We might have gossiped even in our higher classes at school in the playfield, before and after classes and during the tiffin period. We might have talked about politics, literature, sports and cinema. In 1971 school was closed for nine months and we spent our time in the village reading, listening to Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra and gossiping. We gossiped with relatives and friends. We talked about our liberation war, the sufferings of our people and the future of our motherland. I used to play a lot too. Cricket, football and chess. Did a lot of free hand exercise as well. From a tall and lanky 110-pound weakling, I turned myself into a tougher 130-pound youngster in only nine months! All this to prove to my mother that I was ready to join the Mukti Bahini and fight for my country. (My present weight? Nearly 200 pounds!)
At Dhaka College we gossiped in the canteen. There were chops and cutlets to eat and tea to drink. Literature, politics and sports were our favourite topics. Mohammad Rafiq, the poet, was our favourite English teacher. We watched with envy as he chatted happily in the teachers' room. Abdullah Abu Sayeed was our favourite Bangla teacher. He edited Kanthashwar as well as the Dhaka College magazine. As a budding writer I occasionally visited his home and participated in the adda there.
At Dhaka University I was a seasoned addabaj. We five or six classmates spontaneously formed a group and gossiped to our hearts' content. We were together everywhere in the department corridor, in the seminar, on the Arts Faculty lawns, in the neat IBA canteen and the irresistible Madhu's canteen. It was an 'all boys' group. Girls were more practical and spent their time usefully. We talked to them sporadically. They were not supposed to gossip for hours together. We had a great time for six long years two years more because of session jams. When we look back we find that our greatest pleasure at DU was the company of our favourite teachers and, of course, our adda. An hour with your favourite young lady is as thrilling as an hour with close male friends. You need both in life. Girls will agree that a soulful young lady can be as lovable as a good boyfriend.
By that time we knew a thing or two about all famous literary addas. We had learned about Sukumar Roy's Monday Club (affectionately called Monda Club by the participants because a lot of sweets were eaten during each session), Sudhin Dutta's Parichay adda, Buddhadev Bose's Kabita Bhaban adda and Dhaka's Samakal adda. I went to the Samakal office a number of times during my student days. Sikandar Abu Zafar was no longer alive and Ismail Mohammad alias Udayan Chowdhury sat in his chair.
Sadly we bade adieu to DU and started our work life. But how could we bid farewell to adda? Adda was necessary to fight the melancholia that ruled our hearts. Why were we melancholic? Because we were getting old. So? We wished to remain twenty five or eighteen for the rest of our lives. We wished to live for a thousand years. How could we die leaving our dear ones behind? So, we and sorrow became synonyms. We gossiped with like-minded colleagues in the office. A beautiful, intelligent and affectionate young woman from Marine Drive in Mumbai joined our group and talked literature, aesthetics and politics for hours together. Who said girls couldn't shine in adda? I grew very fond of her. When she left Bangladesh after a couple of years, I was even more melancholic. (She appears in some of my recent Bangla stories as a very witty and soulful young lady.)
We gossiped in the evenings at Senorita in Shahbag during the eighties and early nineties. Then for a few years there was no after-office adda for me. The late Anwar Ahmed poet, storyteller and little magazine editor introduced me to the Aziz Supermarket adda at Shahbag in 2003. For several years at a stretch I enjoyed the adda at Gonomudran and Pathak Samabesh immensely. Aziz Market has more than a dozen floors. You get everything there books, eatables and handicraft items. Soon I hope to follow Ahmed Sharif Sir and have an adda at home once a week.
At Aziz Market I came to closely know a lot of my favourite writers, artists and cultural activists. I became very friendly with people like the immensely talented Abid Anwar and the popular and utterly likeable Samudra Gupta. Some of my teachers who are themselves prominent writers used to join our adda at times. We used to eat a lot too. Occasionally we would meet friends whom we had not seen for a long time. The whole week I used to wait eagerly for my Thursday Aziz Market adda.
My latest adda is on Friday morning at the Food Court 'island' near Dhanmandi Road No. 5. As usual I formed the group in September 2005 and its members now number nearly fifty. I have been affectionately chosen as the Speaker of the adda 'parliament'. We sit after completing our morning walk. Sometimes we have breakfast. Succulent parathas, bhaji, booter dal, fried eggs and beef. Most of the time we have an endless supply of tea, cigarettes, water, chips and singaras. We are all there writers, former student leaders, former sportsmen, journalists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, future parliamentary candidates and businessmen. At a time twenty members turn up regularly. We defend William Shakespeare when someone criticizes him with superficial knowledge during the month of his birth. We likewise defend Rabindranath Tagore or Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. We talk about the future of our country as well as the world. Adda divides our sorrow and multiplies our happiness. Since the prime minister's husband's residence is located near our adda, she would enquire (as Opposition leader in 2005-2008): 'It is raining. Are they still gossiping?' We would tell her staff 'Tell Apa that we are not only gossiping but keeping watch on her and her house as well. No one can harm her as long as we are here!' Apa would smile at her younger brothers a harmless group of patriotic gossipers.
Only adda gives us the strength, to quote Shamsur Rahman, to say 'Stay away!' to death.

Junaidul Haque writes fiction and works for an airline. He has published four volumes of short stories and two volumes of columns.

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