Adda with Ray

Tarun Goswami

In an interesting scene from Satyajit Ray’s Agantuk (The Stranger) the long lost uncle, Manomohon Mitra picked holes in Ranjan Rakshit’s claims that adda was an ‘invention of the Bengalis’. He chose to remind him of the tradition of dialogues of ancient Greece; Socrates and Plato indulged in discourses over politics, philosophy, art and literature at the ‘highest level’ and Mitra, an anthropologist, dismissed the adda sessions of contemporary Bengalis as “empty twaddle” instead of being a cerebral exercise.

Not many people know that Ray, a man of few words was a frequent visitor at such an adda or “productive discourse” as was described by Manomohon Mitra, the role essayed by Utpal Dutta in Agantuk.  Kalipada Banerjee, a chemist by profession was the nerve centre of such an adda held every Wednesday, at his residence on Shakespeare Sarani. Kalida was no less than a living encyclopaedia and mind you this was at a time when there was no Google search engine and internet. The adda venue with a simple seating arrangement comprising desks and benches for those assembled, resembled a classroom while Kalida sat on a chair. The sessions stretched between 6 and 9 pm in the evening every Wednesday. Like the Monda Club or Monday Club set up by Ray’s father Sukumar and his friends like Prasanta Mahalanobis and Amal Home, a participant would read out a paper following which discussions were held on it. Kalida would often supplement the discussion with little nuggets of information which were often simply brilliant. However, unlike Monday Club the refreshments were limited to tea, that too without milk or sugar and cream cracker biscuits, served twice. Both old and young from various walks of life took part in these long academic discourses with equal enthusiasm.

This columnist was present in such a session where Kalida was expounding on Indian classical music and its links with the Upanishads. At the end of the lecture, Ray said “You are really brilliant.” It is often said that Ray penned the character of Sidhu Jyatha in his Feluda stories after Kalida. His interest in science particularly chemistry was also induced by Kalida and later found reflection in the character of Professor Shonku, another memorable creation of Ray.

Once, at a particularly interesting session Ray had drawn comparisons between Western and Indian cinemas. On another occasion this columnist had read a paper on Bertrand Russell at the adda; Kalida surprised everyone by saying that Russell had played the role of a matron in a Hindi feature film, Hum Hindusthani directed by IS Johar – a little known fact. Readers will be delighted to know that it was in Kalida’s adda that poet Shakti Chattopadhyay wrote his famous poem, ‘Jete pari kintu kano jabo’.

While in Presidency College, Ray often visited the house of Pratap Chandra Chunder whose rich library was definitely an added attraction.  Chunder, an avid reader of history books and those on films was an erudite man and Ray spent long hours discussing about Hollywood films. While working in an advertising firm, Keymer Ray, Radhaprasad Gupta popularly known as Shantulbabu and Judhajit Mukherjee used to visit the Coffee House on Chittaranjan Avenue where they met Kamal Kumar Majumdar. The adda went till late in the evening in the early 1950s. Majumdar was a scholar in French literature. “While Majumder gave vent to his views on anything from the sensibility of Mallarme (French poet and critic) to the voluptuous rotundity of the jala (clay pot) Ray provided the counterpoint to Majumdar’s verbal pyrotechnics with his clarity of thinking, sharpness of wit and total sensibility.” Gupta had shared many happy moments with Ray. “We talked about the diction of advertisement for hours together. We were both avid reader of Life Magazine. Manik was a great illustrator and his sketches were appreciated by all,” he had said.

“We talked about films and when Manik proposed to make Pather Panchali, we all congratulated him. He spent hours with Subrata Mitra, the cinematographer of Pather Panchali. We were often joined by Harishadhan Dasgupta who was the assistant director of Renoir and veteran cinematographer, Ramananda Sengupta.  Harisadhan’s house on Southern Avenue house became our adda’s central point and often Salil Chowdhury who stayed close-by joined us. Salil, Suchitra (Mitra), Hemango (Biswas), Hemanta (Mukherjee), Subhas (Mukhopadhyay) and George (Biswas) used to come to come to our adda. Manik avoided discussions on politics. Salil read out the poems he wrote and Suchitra and George sang duet songs. In such addas, Manik was primarily a listener and the adda sessions went on and on for several hours,” he had reminisced. Parimal Roy who was one of the close associate of Ray recollects Kamu Mukherjee and Soumitra Chatterjeee were frequent visitors to Ray’s house. Mukherjee, known for his ready wit and pranks had great expertise in selecting sites for outdoor shooting. Viswa Guha Thakutara, who had acted in Ray’s films, said “Manikda was the centre of attraction in any adda. He listened to everyone and then made his comment. It was a life time experience to take part in any adda attended by him.”