On 19th March 2020, the Internationally acclaimed folklorist and poet Dr. Ashraf Siddiqui passed away at Apollo Hospital. He was critically ill for over a month.
A secular humanist who enriched 20th century Bangla literature by his writings. In the decade of 1940s, he emerged as a promising young poet. During his career of seven decades, he composed around five hundred poems. In addition, he wrote innumerable short stories, novels, children’s literature and also engaged in academic research on folklore of Bangladesh. During his career, he wrote seventy five books and numerous journal articles.
Set against the backdrop of the Bengal famine, his poem Taleb Master (1948) established him as a poet of the masses. Golir Dharer Chheleti augmented his literary reputation as a short story writer. The national film award winning Dumurer Phool, directed by eminent film maker Subhash Dutta was based on this story.
Dr. Siddiqui is greatly admired for his contributions towards preserving the oral Bengali folk culture. He cataloged the tales and riddles in the written form. His books Lok Shahitttya, Bengali Folklore, Our Folklore Our Heritage, Folkloric Bangladesh and Kingbodontir Bangla are primary text books of folklore researchers of South Asia. He successfully introduced the folk tales of Bengal to the global audience through his writings such as Bhombol Dass, The Uncle of Lion, and Toontoony and other stories. Bhombol Dass was published by Macmillan in 1959. It was not only a best seller in the US, but was also subsequently translated to eleven languages. Robidranather Santiniketan, Paris Shundori were written in the early 1970s and they are still popular among general readers today.
He won a number of prestigious awards including Ekushey Padak for literature in 1988, Bangla Academy Puroshkar for children’s literature in 1964, and the UNESCO award in 1966. The last one was then the highest award of the state on literature in 1966. Also received Daud Award for his book on folklore.
Siddiqui was born in Nagbari village of Tangail on 1 March 1927. He was educated in Santiniketan, Dhaka University. Then his second Masters and PhD. in folklore was from Indiana University, U.S.A.. He taught in various government colleges including Rajshahi College, Chittagong College, A M College of Mymensingh, Dhaka College and Jagannath College and also at the University of Dhaka. He also served as the Director of Kendrio Bangla Unnoyon Board, Chief Editor of District Gazetteer and Director General of Bangla Academy, a position that he retained for seven years. He held a number of honorary positions. Those include Chairman of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha, Chairman of Bangladesh Press Institute and President of Nazrul Academy and Nazrul Institute. His lasting legacies are the Bangla Academy’s Ekushey Boi Mela and national Boishakhi Mela which was subsequently transferred to Shilpakala Academy. He played a key role in establishing Kabi Nazrul University in Trishal and articulated the demand for transforming Jagannath College into a university.
His mortal remains were kept at Bashundhara & Dhanmondi residence for offering homage by his admirers & relatives. The Namaz e Janaza (burial prayers) held at Dhanmondi Shahi Eidgah Mosque after Zohr prayers & buried at Banani graveyard at Dhaka.
The sad demise of eminent literary figure left behind his family members, & friends in mourning. But his great legacy in the form of books, social work & educational services will always remain immortal. May God bless his soul.