Syed Mustafa Siraj [ 14 October 1930 – 4 September 2012 (82 years)] was an eminent Bengali writer. In 1994, he received the Sahitya Akademi award for his novel Mythical Man (Aleek Manush), considered his most lauded work. In 2005, his short story “Ranirghater Brittanto” was made into the film Faltu by Anjan Das. He wrote around 150 novels and 300 short stories. He is the creator of the detective character Ex-Colonel Niladri Sarkar aka “Goenda Colonel”, the Detective Colonel.
Syed Mustafa Siraj was born in a village named Khoshbaspur in the district of Murshidabad in 1930. He grew up in a home with a strong literary background surrounded by books and familiarity with several languages including Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. His mother who wrote poetry was influential. In his youth he was involved with Leftist politics and was active with the folk drama group Aalkaap for six years (1950–56) where he played the flute and was a teacher of folk dance and drama. He traveled rural West Bengal including the districts of Murshidabad, Malda, Burdwan, Birbhum and also performed in Kolkata. In those days, he used to perform whole nights and sleep during the day. These experiences would influence his later writing.
One day he got tired of this life and felt he had a wider life spreading around him. He turned to writing poetry and short stories. Later he came to Kolkata and entered the world of serious writings and immediately became famous for his short stories. “Inti, pisi o ghatbabu”, “Bhalobasa o down train”, “Hizal Biler Rakhalera” and “Taranginir Chokh” brought fame for him. He joined a Bengali daily newspaper and worked as a journalist for years. He wrote around 150 novels and 300 short stories. His short stories “Uro pakhir Chhaya”, “Manusher Janma”, “Ranabhumi”, “Rakter Pratyasha”, “Maati”, “Goghna”, and “Mrityur Ghora” immediately attracted Bengali readers and intellectuals.
His first novel is Neel Gharer Nati (1966), it is about a village performer forced into the profession by her father, it received critical acclaim. His best known novel is Mythical Man (Aleek Manush), which won the Sahitya Akademi Award (1994), the Bankim Puraskar, and has been translated into eleven Indian languages. He also won the Narasimha Das Memorial Award for his novel Amartya Premkatha (1988). His novels Nishimrigaya (1970) and Krishna Bari Fereni (1980) have been filmed in Bengali. Other notable novels include Trinabhumi, Kingbadantir nayak, and Uttar Jahnabi;Trinabhumi was translated into all major Indian languages. His short stories “Mrityur Ghora”, “Rakter Pratyasha”, “Goghna” and many others have been translated into different Indian languages Hindi, Urdu and Tamil.
He is the creator of the detective character “Goenda Colonel”, the Detective Colonel. Ex-Colonel Niladri Sarkar is the hero who finds the culprit or killer. The stories are very popular earning Siraj a dedicated fan following. From children to old people, there are huge number of readers who are fond of Colonel Niladri Sarkar. A retired Colonel – Niladri Sarkar – is the eccentric sleuth in Syed Mustafa Siraj’s stories, narrated by a lazy journalist, Jayanta, who accompanies him on his missions. The colonel is a butterfly collector and ornithologist, smokes pipes and has a Santa beard. He is also jovial and likes quoting Bengali proverbs & nursery rhymes.
Siraj did not start his career writing for children until later in life. His reputation was built on writing novels & short stories for adults. He started writing for children to respond the huge demand for that genre in Bengali.
Not much of Siraj has been translated into English. In 2004, Delhi University professor Nivedita Sen translated some of Siraj’s popular stories written for children that featured the detective Colonel Niladri, the collection is called The Colonel Investigates. In 2012, Sen translated Die, Said the Tree and Other Stories, a collection of 10 short stories. In 2005, Aleek Manush was translated as Mythical Man.