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Bengali artists bring their culture to the Front Range

The+Colorado+Literary+and+Cultural+Society+conduct+their+monthly+meeting+on+April+24%2C+2016.
The Colorado Literary and Cultural Society conduct their monthly meeting on April 24, 2016.

The Colorado Literary and Cultural Society conduct their monthly meeting on April 24, 2016.

The Colorado Literary and Cultural Society conduct their monthly meeting on April 24, 2016.

Deepan Dutta, CU News Corps Reporter

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On a bright Sunday afternoon in late April, more than a dozen members of the “Colorado Literary and Cultural Society” gather at a clubhouse of a condo complex in Aurora.  First things first, lunch is served: jasmine rice with chicken curry, egg masala, and traditional daal, or lentil soup.

After everyone has had their fill, the meeting officially starts with host Amitabh Rakshit explaining to members the purpose of the Society, its history, and the process of sharing their art.

The Society is a collaborating group of Bengali writers, poets, artists and musicians from all over the Front Range.  Group members meet once a month to share and discuss their creative work, as well as to strengthen cultural bonds in the region’s growing Bengali immigrant community.  Established in 2012, the group has grown steadily since its inception and publishes selected contributed works to Aspen, an annual self-published magazine.  The group is made up of first- and second-generation immigrants from Bangladesh and East India.  Contributors range in skill from budding artists seeking an audience, to award-winning literary heavyweights.

The location of the meeting moves to a different member’s home each month, and the host usually organizes and conducts the session while providing ample food and refreshments.  There is no established leadership structure in the group and no set rules for membership.  However, there is an expectation that all in attendance, including those who are there merely to observe, offer feedback to contributors so that a lively discussion can take place.

The process of sharing begins when a contributor is called on to get on the ‘hot seat’ and present their work to the audience, after which they are offered praise and critique, with an emphasis on encouragement and constructive criticism.

The Society’s meeting on April 24 is led by contributions from younger members of the group.  First up is Pradipta Bhakta, recently arrived from West Bengal, who reads a travelogue she wrote about wandering around a small fishing village near Kolkata, on India’s Eastern border with Bangladesh. In Bengali, she describes her experiences as she walks long, windy dirt roads, encountering lively fishermen and shopkeepers. She provides rich detail to the sights and rhythms of everyday life in that small, vibrant corner of the world.

Up next is Cynthia Kalam, a substitute teacher who moonlights as a freelance poet, recites several selections of English poems she plans to publish later this month.  Her writing is deeply rooted in love and loss, with intense brooding and sensual imagery twisting through each stanza.  One of her poems, titled “Starfall,” begins:

We gazed absently out the windows of the train car

And the landscape slices by, the bleeding sunset an open wound.

It weeps and fades like us into satin and rust

And we’re left staring at the face of a bloodless white moon.

The final member of the younger contingent is Rahat Ibn Rafiq, a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at CU Boulder, attending his first meeting of the Society.  Initially nervous about presenting his work to the audience, he eventually takes the hot seat.  He presents two selections, a Bengali story written in stream of consciousness, and a short story in English titled “The Ship,” about a young man who longs for a dream that seems forever out of reach.

After each contributor finishes speaking, the members offer their reflections.  The writers are encouraged to continue publishing their work, and to seek wider avenues in mass media to reach a larger audience.  The writings will be shared to the Society’s e-mail newsgroup and may be published in Aspen at year’s end.

Contributors continue to share their work through the afternoon and evening.  As night falls the members take their leave, and the Society adjourns until May.

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Explanatory Multimedia Reporting from CU Boulder Journalism Students
Bengali artists bring their culture to the Front Range