What is a thek? Simply put, it’s a joint (though not the kind you may have smoked in college!!), a place where like-minded people informally get together for a common purpose. The purpose can be a questionable one, such as drinking, drug use or gambling; or it can be a benign form of socialization. Thek has been a common term in the street parlance of Bengali culture (and occasionally in colloquial Hindi as well) since around the 1970s, when my generation in India came of age. While I’m not quite sure about the provenance of the word, it’s not impossible that it evolved from the word “discotheque”, a form of entertainment that also became popular about the same time.
Needless to say, it is the socialization aspect of thek that is at the core of this site; and in this context, it is integral to another word: adda. Unlike thek, adda is a uniquely Bengali concept (why this is so is a matter of complex anthropological inquiry, beyond the purview of this introduction). The word loosely translates as a kind of informal chit-chat. An adda has no predetermined topics, no apparent logic of progression, purpose or time limit; conversations change course arbitrarily, seemingly unrelated topics come and go and time seems to halt in a perpetual present. Often sporadic, adda can happen virtually at any place; but if the same individuals frequent a specific place with some regularity (everyday, every weekend, once in a while) for adda, then that place qualifies as a thek. In short, a thek is a recognized venue for adda. It can be a bar, a clubhouse, a living-room, a porch, even a street-corner; but most preferably, it’s a tea-stall or a coffee-house, primarily because tea or coffee (along with cigarettes, for some) is indispensable for most addas. Especially prevalent among Bengali youth, the practice of adda isn’t age- or class-specific, though it is customary for the patrons of a thek to belong to a particular age-group and class.
What does one achieve from going to a thek for adda? Except that it helps one to relax (which is an overused argument, anyway), I don’t believe any Bengali knows a reasonable answer to this question; yet most would almostinstinctively accept an invitation to an adda. Too much investment inadda is often criticized as unproductive idling, which it indeed is. And yet, historically, immensely productive adda isn’t oxymoronic at all. The famous thek of the Calcutta Coffee House on Kolkata’sCollege Street is a case in point. Writers, artists, filmmakers, activists (especially those of the leftist ilk) and the like have gathered there for generations, and some of the most notable contributions in those fields have germinated in the vibrant exchanges, discussions and debates held there day after day, for years. Therefore, no matter how bizarre it may sound, adda is arguably a crucial component of Bengali cultural discourse.
In light of this discursive role of adda, its gender dynamic at an outdoor thek must be mentioned. Until the last decade or two, with the exception of a handful of venues like the Calcutta Coffee House and college cafeterias (called “canteens’ in India), an outdoor thek had been frequented almost exclusively by males. When mygeneration was young, for a young female to sit in a roadside tea-stall and chat with her male friends was to raise a whole lot of eyebrows. Those days are all but hazy memories, at least in a big city like Kolkata, and that’s good news indeed.
I have lived abroad since the late 1980s, but have always resumed adda at familiar as well as new theks on my regular visits to Kolkata. Therefore, soon after I considered having my own space on the Internet, the concept of thekprovided the primary impetus to make my space both personal and public. So here it is. Grounded in a bit of nostalgia, this site is a virtual thek. But it differs from the conventional thek devoted to adda because it has a specific purpose: to promote critical understanding of art and visual culture. I envisage this as a productive platform where artists, designers, art writers, culture critics and the like from anywhere on the planet can share ideas and make new contacts.
One part of the site has my personal stuff: my essays and other writings, images, and blog; while the other part is open to friends, acquaintances, even strangers (who, once part of the thek, wouldn’t be strangers any more). Artists are invited to offer their images for display in the Gallery, along with their vitae and contact information. They can also advertise their exhibitions or other efforts in the Bulletin. All this is completely free of charge (though, if participation swells in the future, the site’s maintenance may require a nominal one-time uploading fee, just like people at a thek often chip in for tea or snacks). Anyparty interested in someone’s art should contact the artist directly, since I am not interested in financially profiting from such transactions (this policy will never change). Art writers and culture critics are welcome to contribute articles in the Essays/Reviews/Reports, and anyone is free to propose topics on theDiscussion page for dialogs and debates. Finally, all are expected to provide feedback on the ongoing effort to upgrade and improve the site.
Well, then, welcome to Globalthek!
Sunanda K Sanyal