Prose and poetry with a cup of coffee
Nasr Dastgir

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Red Shift Coffee Lounge has quickly become a hub for literary fans in the vicinity of Gulshan. Home of the Saturday morning literary brunches and possibly the only bookstore in the neighbourhood – supported by Charcha books – visitors are beginning to see Red Shift as a centre for art and expression rather than an ordinary cafe.

The Red Shift literary brunches started in October with Dhaka Tribune as its media partner. Each week, a new special guest is featured showcasing their latest literary work or leading discussions on a particular topic. The most recent session was led by writers Ikhtisad Ahmed and Neeman Sobhan, both of whose latest works are being published by Bengal Lights Books.

Ikhtisad Ahmed's book, “Yours, Etcetera” is a thought-provoking and engaging short story collection that discusses compelling protagonists' journey through narrations that are a blend of socio-political satire and clever humour. Neeman Sobhan's poetry collection, “Calligraphy of Wet Leaves” conveys the writer's love of places where she has lived – primarily Italy – and how the old and the new unite to form new narratives. Both writers read excerpts from their respective books for the literary brunch audience.

“While the two authors have very different writing styles, they also share things in common. For one, both have fascinating histories.” Ikhtisad Ahmed gave up a career as a human rights lawyer to concentrate on writing full-time. Raised in Dhaka and residing in London, the Dhaka Tribune columnist's critically acclaimed writing credits include the poetry collections "Cryptic Verses and Requiem," and the plays The Theatre of the Absurd and The Deliverance of Sanctuary.

Based in Italy, Neeman Sobhan teaches at the University of Rome, La Sapienza. For almost two decades she wrote a weekly column for the Daily Star, with an anthology of her columns called “An Abiding City: Ruminations from Rome” published in 2002. Her poetry has appeared in various international and national magazines while her short stories have been included in numerous anthologies, including "From the Delta: Fiction from Bangladesh" and "Arshilata: Women’s Fiction from India and Bangladesh," both edited by Niaz Zaman.

Another interesting aspect that unites the two writers is the inspiration behind their latest work. Both authors expressed their desire to step out of their respective comfort zones and try something they had never attempted before. As Ahmed explained, “I knew who I was as a poet and I knew who I was as a playwright. I didn't necessarily know who I was as a prose writer, and I decided to write short stories as a way of discovering who I was and what my prose would look like before I tackled a novel. As writers, we need to be sure of ourselves and what we are doing and short stories taught me how to do that.”

Similarly, Sobhan wanted to challenge herself. “My engagement with language was there right from the start, and I love working with words. For prose, words need to be in the best order; for poetry, the best words need to be in the best order. It's more stringent and I love that challenge. I'm always writing and I've written reams of poetry and this book is a very slim scratching of the surface.” She continued, “I've gone from writing non-fiction to fiction then to poetry, and ironically poetry is my first love. Until now I hadn't published any poetry because I always thought of writing poetry as something private and personal. So I kept pushing it aside until I was persuaded by writer Aamer Hussein and also Sudeep Sen to publish them.”

The Red Shift literary brunches enjoy bringing writers with disparate styles together and this occasion was no different, with Ahmed's satirical and critical descriptions standing alongside Sobhan's sensual and emotional verses. The coming weeks of the literary brunches will see the launch of Zayna Mahmud's novel on December 12 and a discussion with Mujib comic creator Tonmoy on December 19 – once again showing the range of diverse topics presented at the brunch sessions.

So make the Saturday literary brunches a regular part of your calendar and never miss out on sessions with fantastic writers, stimulating discussions and useful insight on an array of subjects. To find out about upcoming guests and topics of discussion, keep reading the Dhaka Tribune.

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