Photo by NiceProspects-Prime
During the monsoon (Bengali: barsha) in Kolkata, my spirits always soar, with the help of many a familiar monsoon verse, away into the ethereal realm of newly-washed tree tops swaying above the concrete clutter and the cool caress of the damp breeze carrying a whiff of wet earth.
Inside, people sit and work. Or chat. Maybe we welcome barsha because it is the best time for “adda”, the Bengali term for the conversation, reminiscing, analyzing and joking that we all love over endless rounds of hot drinks. When you cannot go out because of the rain, what better thing than to sit for hours with friends?
The holy temple of adda is the Indian Coffee House on College Street. The Presidency University is Kolkata’s apogee of learning and contributes to the name of this street along with the nearby University of Calcutta. Presidency was founded in 1817 by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and David Hare among others, and has the likes of Swami Vivekananda, Subhash Chandra Bose, Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen in its alumni.
It is also the alma mater of Sunrita Sen, a journalist now in Delhi, but with strong links to her home city. “Each time I go back to College Street it looks the same,” she says. “Scores of shack-like bookstalls lining the footpath, benches piled high with second-hand text books and the quick-study guide books; and the invaluable ‘old books’ are there too, although you really have to search for those nowadays. I while away hours browsing for a rare find.”
Down a side lane and up an old, grungy staircase, the Indian Coffee House has an ambiance and menu that seems unchanged in a century or more. “I love the bearers with their chappals (open slippers) and fancy white turbans, the high roof with suspended ceiling fans, the chatter from the tables and constant hail-fellow-well-met,” says Sunrita. “It’s a place that doesn’t change over ages, an adda place for students from the two universities across the road, writers, poets and ordinary folk, all of whom want to spend their time doing what Bengalis do best: discuss and argue things to death.
“Adda is a very Bengali pastime that can be very intense and must go on for hours. The chat is about politics, art, films, literature, the latest gossip, endless topics, endless talk, the closest of friendships. Hours just disappear in clouds of smoke – from coffee and cigarettes – and the occasional plates of Kabiraji cutlets (mince cutlets deep-fried in a frothy egg batter).”
TRVL is a peer-to-peer booking platform – earn a commission on every booking you make. Learn more now!