Syed Mujtaba Ali
|Born||13 September 1904|
|Died||11 February 1974 (aged 69)|
|Nationality||British Indian (1904-1947)|
|Education||PhD (comparative religious studies)|
|Occupation||Writer, journalist, travel enthusiast, academician, linguist|
|Parent(s)||Khan Bahadur Syed Sikandar Ali (father)|
Amtul Mannan Khatun (mother)
|Relatives||Syed Murtaza Ali (brother)|
Syed Mujtaba Ali (Bengali: ; 13 September 1904 - 11 February 1974) was a Bengali author, journalist, travel enthusiast, academic, scholar and linguist. He lived in India, Bangladesh, Germany, Afghanistan and Egypt.
Ali was born in Karimganj in the District of Sylhet of Assam Province. His father Khan Bahadur Syed Sikander Ali was a sub-registrar. He traced his paternal descent from Shah Ahmed Mutawakkil, a local holy man and a Syed of Taraf, though apparently unrelated to Taraf's ruling dynasty, the descendants of Syed Nasiruddin. Ali's mother, Amtul Mannan Khatun, was a Chowdhury of Bahadurpur, an Islamised branch of the Pal family of Panchakhanda. Mujtaba was the youngest of three brothers. One of his brothers was Syed Murtaza Ali.
Mujtaba Ali passed the matriculation exam from Sylhet Government Pilot High School and intermediate exam from MC College. He went to Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan and graduated in 1926. He was among the first graduates of the university. He studied for a brief period in Aligarh Muslim University. Later, he moved to Kabul to work in the education department (1927-1929) as a professor. From 1929 to 1932 he went to Germany with Wilhelm Humboldt scholarship and studied at the universities in Berlin and later in Bonn. He earned his PhD from the University of Bonn with a dissertation on comparative religious studies on Khojas in 1932.
Ali then studied at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo during 1934-1935. He taught at colleges in Baroda (1936-1944) and Bogra (1949). He briefly lived in East Pakistan before he moving back to India in 1949. After a brief stint at Calcutta University in 1950, he became Secretary of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and editor of its Arabic journal Thaqafatul Hind. From 1952 to 1956 he worked for All India Radio at New Delhi, Cuttack and Patna. He then joined the faculty of Visva-Bharati University (1956-1964) as professor of German language and later of Islamic Culture. He lived in Calcutta till early 1972. Following the Liberation of Bangladesh, he moved with his family to Dhaka and lived there till his death in 1974.
After the Partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947, Ali went from India to the then East Pakistan. He was one of the first to call for Bangla as East Pakistan's state language on 30 November 1947, at the Sylhet Kendriya Muslim Sahitya Samsad. He was a prominent activist and supporter of Bengali as the national language of East Pakistan. In 1948, being the principal of Azizul Huq College, Bogra, he wrote an essay, 'The State Language of East Pakistan', which was printed in Chaturanga of Kolkata. During that time, the West Pakistan Rulers tried to impose Urdu as the only state language of East Pakistan while Bengali was spoken by most of the people. The government of Pakistan demanded an explanation. But Ali resigned and moved to India.
The mother tongue of Ali was Sylheti but he knew 15 languages - Bengali, French, German, Italian, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit, Marathi, Gujarati, Pashtu, Greek and English. Alongside Natya Guru Nurul Momen and Jajabar (Binay Mukhopadhyay), Ali was one of the trail-blazers of a unique category of Bengali writing. 'Ramya Rachana' in the Bengali language, an anecdotal story-telling - often based on real-life experiences - became immensely popular, mostly because of the attractive writing style of Ali. 'Deshe Bideshe', the story of his journey to and experiences in Kabul during his brief stint as professor in a college there is one of Ali's best works. Panchatantra is a collection of thoughts and short stories (some already published in 'Desh' magazine) of his days in Europe, Cairo and Baroda.
In 1972, after the liberation of the country, Ali returned to Bangladesh. He died on 11 February 1974. Extracts from his literary works are included in the curriculum of school level, secondary, higher secondary and graduation level Bengali Literature in both Bangladesh and India, particularly in the states of West Bengal and Tripura. He was awarded Ekushey Padak in 2005 by the Government of Bangladesh.