Friday, December 29, 2006

The Need for "Adda"

The other day when I couldn't happily surf for new stuff hither and thither because of the slow internet, I began sorting through a whole lot of pages I'd bookmarked for possible blogging ... and then over the months forgotten.

Thus I re-encounted and re-enjoyed this article by Navtej Sarna which appeared in the Hindu back in March: there's plenty in it all writers would recognise ... the insecurities, the panic when confronting a blank screen, the desire for a talisman ... but above all, it seems to me that it's about the need for community among writers.

Sarna recalls the adda that Sacred Games author Vikram Chandra (left) used to organise for Indian writers in Washington DC:
The main event of the adda were the readings by the somewhat subconscious just-published or unpublished writers leaning against the wall amongst comfortably old leather sofas and entrapped in the sophisticated decadence of red wine. But the spirit of the evening was hidden in the sub-text. Most of the audience was made up of people who wanted to be writers; many had novels at various stages in their minds, or on their computers. A careful glance around the room would reveal tentative literary ambition and silent envy of the published gods. A desire to seek help with a recalcitrant manuscript usually overcame a natural tendency to shroud the pending masterpiece in secrecy. Inevitably, the writer of the evening would be asked — When do you write? Evenings? Early mornings? In long hand or on the screen? Is it autobiographical?... Sometime the red wine would help foment more private conversations in which the writers in the making would then exchange every possible idea about the writing process, searching for the secret mantra that would finally end the painful search for elusive words for a blank screen and result in a completed book, publication, fame... In one such weak moment I recall telling an- investment- banker-during- day- budding- novelist- by-night that I could write a novel only on a computer screen and a short story only with a fountain pen, and the scratchier the nib, the more time I had to find the right nuance.
Adda is a word I hadn't come across before. Clearly it means something like talk or discussion but it wasn't until I read this defintion in an interview with one of my favourite litbloggers, Huree Babu (of Kitabkhana), that I appreciated the nuances of the word :
In Bengal, we grew up with the idea of the “adda” versus the podium: the “adda” was an informal, but often intense and lengthy discussion that could take place anyway–at the university, on the open lawns of the Maidan, at the local tea shop, a friend’s house. The podium was where the official speeches and the formal arguments were made; the adda was often the place where multiple opinions came into play, where you could go back and forth and discuss several aspects of a book or its author, where there was constant feedback, and constant challenge.
(And interestingly, he describes litblogs as being a type of adda!)

I found more about Vikram Chandra's Washington Adda in this interview on Sonia Faliero's blog:
It's really valuable. It's nice to have a community, even if it's a fractitious one, where people are fighting. ... It's sort of like what in the film industry is called the biradri. ... And the filmi biradri is an interesting one. They bitch about each other, they backstab. But finally, it's nice to have that environment where you are at home and there are other people concerned with the things you're trying to do. So you can have an ongoing conversation with them, not just in the sense of hanging out and talking to each other, but also through the nature of your work. I like that. It's fruitful.

A few years ago, in the late 1990s, my friend Anuradha Tandon and I started this thing called Adda. The whole idea was that once a month we'd meet at (the restaurant) Goa Portuguesa and invite a bunch of people, and someone would lecture, read or do a performance. What was amazing was how fast and vibrantly it took off. Pretty much after the first time we had to do it by invitation only. Some really amazing collaborations came out of that.
Lessons for here?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The “adda” was an informal, but often intense and lengthy discussion that could take place anyway"

Er.. shouldn't that be "anywhere" ?