Toronto is one of the major cities of the North America where thousands of Bengalis live in. From Bengali populace point of view, Toronto is most probably second to New York in the American zone. Like the Bengalis of NY, Torontonian Bengalis do have vibrant community activities among which literary initiatives are also worth mentioning. Other major cities of Canada where Bengalis thrive much are Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and Edmonton. And it is our pleasure to observe there are tens of other cities also in Canada where there are people who hail from the Bengali origin.
Every now and then there are events in Toronto Bengali community that try to focus on Bengali culture. Similar events are also seen in other cities of Canada. Maybe, literary events are less in number, but literary circles are no less to count. Maybe, most of the circles are causal or informal, but their interests in literary aspects also draw attention of the acquaintances. It's true that only a few of those initiatives engage Bengalis of the other parts, let alone non-Bengalis. As a result, multicultural people living in Canada may know very less about the literature and literary figures of Bengal, in a broader sense. But we may be happy that mostly every year there is a book fair in the community, and events on celebrating the life and works of Rabindranath Tagore or Kazi Nazrul Islam are also not very uncommon phenomena.
Greater Toronto Area which is generally known as GTA and the smaller cities surrounding it do have a good number of Bengalis. Brampton, Guelph, Milton, Hamilton are also peopled with Bengali-speaking enthusiasts. In Kingston, Oshawa and London there are Bengali people too, maybe they are not yet that capable to organize programs of their own. Some statistics opine that more than one hundred twenty five thousand Bengalis live in Canada and the number is more than seventy thousand in Toronto alone. Among this huge number of expatriates, a great number is educated among whom literary activists are also worth mentioning. And it must be noted that in many of the cities there are people who do have back home literary background.
Every year when the Ekushe BoiMela or Kolkata Book Fair comes up, a good number of writers from Canada fly for Dhaka or Kolkata as they aspire for new books to come into light. After their return, we also find some publication ceremonies, small or big. Keeping the invisible distances in mind between the Bengalis of Bangladesh and West Bengal, we can boast of a literary figure named Mizan Rahman (1932-2015) who had been a lighthouse to the community. We can assume that we have in Canada at least one poet who is considered a major one of modern Bengali poetry, at least one writer who has been awarded with the Bangla Academy Award for Liberation literature, two recipients of Bangla Academy Syed Waliullah Literary Award, conferred on the expatriate Bengali litterateurs only, and some more awardees of other non-government prizes for their contribution to Bengali language and literature.
The Canadian Bengali community may pride on the number of Bengali writers they have, some of whom contribute in English also. There are poets and novelists, short story writers and non-fictionists as well. There are journalists and commentators also who use their pen for both Canadian and Bengali issues. And thus a huge volume of literature is also produced by Canadian Bengalis every year.
True that, the litterateurs mostly hover over the contexts that they had back home, but new writings on Canadian contexts are also coming up. We have already some novels focusing on the North American expatriate Bengali life. Or at least one Bengali book on the first citizens of Canada is also in our hands. Many poems we do have now that portrays the Canadian people and society, nature and landscape. Non-fictions on Canadian Bengali life is of handful amount by now.
With the bright sunlight, clouds also juxtapose. What mostly saddens is the difference between the communities of Bangladesh and West Bengal. Both the communities mostly share the same langue and cultural origin, but there hovers an invisible distance. The other very significant is that many of the writers don't know each other. Unfortunately some of them never either want to know. Most of them have tried little to reach other's writing, for sure, even after the inconceivable connectivity of social network websites. There are a few also who consider themselves as 'Brahmin' or 'Ashraf' based on their back home media connections, though they have possibly never dived to learn if anyone of the city has ever gone through their stuff. There are some who try to get media coverage in Dhaka or Kolkata news portals and cherish over their own writing. Many of them even don't dare to give a protest status on social media on the killing of a writer on Dhaka streets, let alone join any protest demonstration rally or meeting organized in safe country called Canada. Seeing their indifferent or negative activities, the city commoners who don't write but do have an inclination to reading other's writings, very often feel disappointed about the true mindset of the writing community. Their sadness get extended when in this small community a writer doesn't read other writer's books but speaks of nuisance words about his/her writing on hearing his/her getting a prize.
Whether you believe it or not, the fact is that in Toronto and the adjacent cities there are more than sixty writers who are published, meaning having at least one book at least to their credit. What number will that be if we can count all the published writers from the Bengali origins including both Bangladesh, West Bengal and other parts of the world living across Canada? How many writers are there who don't have books but very frequently pens poems or stories or some prose piece? Yes, it will exceed another century, no doubt. And any Bengali can be happy seeing most of them dedicated to their own language, literature and culture. After even their strife, mostly for survival jobs, they don't cease to writing in using the alphabet that they have heard since their early hoods, that they have loved more than their own blood. They do have the competency to express their feeling in words which is not merely juxtaposition of merely alphabet, but touches the minds with their meticulous expression and for which they are termed 'literature' in a true sense.
Subrata Kumar Das, a Bangladeshi writer living in Toronto and the initiator of en.bdnovels.org