Any Bengali would be overwhelmed with nostalgia at the mention of the infamous "Colonel" series but little is known about the writer of the series who was a unique voice amongst the Bengali writers.
Born on 14th October 1930
Syed Mustafa Siraj's pen was always grounded, he always spoke about rural Bengal and its ordinary people. Most of his characters, plots, descriptive tropes were centred on the majestically beautiful rural Bengal. This was the antidote of the artist in Syed Mustafa Siraj.
Hailing from a very modest household in Murshidabad, Siraj chose to surround himself with Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit books during his childhood. He was hugely inspired and influenced by his mother who was a poet. During his juvenescence, he entangled himself with leftist politics and theatre.
He became involved with a group called Aalkaap where he played the flute and taught folk dance. It was during this period of time that Syed Mustafa Siraj travelled the length and breadth of rural Bengal. After a journey similar to Che Guevara, Syed Mustafa Siraj came to the solemn decision that through his writings he would reflect the sentiments of this part of Bengal teeming with natural beauty and simple persecuted people.
"I essentially explore man's relationship with nature and try to demonstrate that whereas trees, rivers, rainfall, etc live out their own course without obstructing any natural or human cycle, man tries to direct the course of nature by building dams across rivers or curb the freedom of his fellow beings in sundry ways." These were his exact words when he tried to explain the ethos of his writing.
Syed Mustafa Siraj did not indulge in the romanticism or mysticism of rural Bengal. He understood that those enchanted red soil carried tales of suffering and hardship. This realisation made him a realist writer, something which is evident from when one engages with his works.
His style of writing was so terse and meandering that it was difficult to get it translated to other languages. This is the reason why most non-Bengali readers are unaware of his works. Although in recent years, there have been successful attempts to translate his works.
Syed Mustafa Siraj commands a huge corpus of literature. He has authored 300 short stories and 150 novels. However, his famous Colonel series won him a dedicated fan following, especially young readers. This series talks about the adventures of an ex-colonel hunting down criminals and culprits in spooky and exotic backdrops surrounded by various dangers.
Initially, he wrote Colonel for adults but at the request of the editor of Anandamela magazine he started writing Colonel for children too. Apart from this, he wrote for a number of popular Bengali magazines such as Shuktara, Sandesh, and Pokhiraj. These were magazines that had massive circulation among Bengali households. He would mostly write stories for children in these magazines. For the longest time, he was associated with Anandabazar Patrika.
It was a skillful job to appeal to the tastes of a young reader without employing any tropes of fantasy, mysticism, or romanticism. This is the very reason why Colonel is enjoyed by both adults and children.
It was his magnum opus Aleek Manush that won him the Sahitya Akademi. This story also emphasised rural Bengal especially Murshidabad, where Siraj was born. In Aleek Manush, Syed Mustafa Siraj talks about the different cults within the various Muslim communities of Murshidabad. It was in 2012 that the eminent writer breathed his last. He continues to live on through his stories which have been immortalised by various radio shows and podcasts which recreate Colonel stories with various dramatic effects.
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