Ashraf Siddiqui is one of those who enriched Bangla literature of 20th century. In the beginning of 1940s he emerged as a promising young poet. Within a short span he straddled in different branches of literature with great ease. For almost seven decades he composed more than 500 poems, wrote a number of short stories, novels and engaged in serious research on folklore of Bengal publishing innumerable articles in books and journals.
Dr. Ashraf Siddiqui grew up in a village where jatra, shong natok, palagaan, puthi path were common practices in his extended family. The young Siddiqui was an avid attendee of these night long performances and day long he used to imitate them with friends and families. By the time he was in Grade VII, his poems began to get published in magazines such as Sawgat and Purbasha. Kishore Siddiqui collected some local riddle and sent them to Rabindranath Thakur. In reply Rabindranath sent his blessings to Siddiqui. Such blessings of Tagore must have played a role in creating Siddiqui the poet.
Like any other Bengali surplus farmer's family, Siddiqui's parents also wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer. But he responded to his creative literary urge, defied the mould that his family had cast for his career and went to Tagore's Shantiniketon to study Bangla literature. Growing up in a vibrant rural cultural environment and the influence of Shantiniketon instilled in him secular humanist philosophy. In 1947 Siddiqui had to return to Tangail from Shantiniketon due to communal violence that broke out in the wake of the partition. He was restless and emotional. A newspaper report of a toll teacher committing suicide with his entire family for not being able to cope with hunger moved Ashraf Siddiqui tremendously. He composed his immortal poem Taleb Master. Siddiqui became a prolific poet and published five books of poetry: Taleb Master o Onnanno Kabita, Kuchboron Kannya, Bishkannya, Shaat bhai Champa and Uttarakasher Tara. Golir Dharer Cheleti established Siddiqui as a short story writer. Based on the story eminent film maker Shubhash Dutta made Dumurer Phool, that won a National Film Award.
In the late 1950s Siddiqui went to the US to do his Master's and PhD. It is amazing to note that the rigours of academic pressure could not deter him from engaging in creative writing. He successfully introduced the folktales of Bengal to the global audience through his works such as Bhombal Dass: the Uncle of Lion and Toontoony and other Stories. One of these works was published by Macmillan. Bhombal Dass was subsequently translated in eleven languages.
When Siddiqui returned from the US after finishing his PhD, he got himself deeply involved in collecting folk tales, transforming them from oral to written form. In the process he headed organizations like Kendriyo Bangla Unnoyon Board, District Gazetteers and Bangla Academy. He kept on publishing books like Lokshahittya, Folklore of Bengal, Folkloric Bangladesh, Our Folklore Our Heritage, Kingbodontir Bangla etc. Many of these books are basic text books for folklore researchers of the subcontinent. Critic Abdul Mannan Syed lamented that Siddiqui's institutional involvement since 1968 were important for the nation. In the process Bangla poetry missed out on the rich melody that Siddiqui created in his early life.
Siddiqui is now 88 years old, but his mind is the same as an 18 years old youth. Even today he gets excited when he comes across a creative work, be it a poetry or folklore. Ashraf Siddiqui wants welfare of everybody and desires that every Bangladeshi becomes complete human being by instilling in him or her rich Bengali heritage and culture.
The writer is the daughter of Dr. Ashraf Siddiqui.