Guwahati: Following the demise of Ratna Ojha, considered as the father of Assam’s street play movement and the man who directed the first street play in the state, Kokaideo, on January 17, 1971, the people of Assam have undoubtedly lost its guardian in the socio-cultural scenario.
Ratna Ojha breathed his last at his residence in Guwahati at 1 am on Tuesday following a brief illness. He was 88.
An ardent opponent of Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), Ojha was seen personally visiting various protest sites in the city, especially the Assam Engineering Institute playground in Chandmari and Latasil playground, among others, to register his protest against the Centre’s move on CAA till recently. Wheelchair-bound Ojha’s presence and speeches at protest sites in various parts of the city encouraged the masses to raise their voice democratically against the CAA.
Almost a day ahead of his demise, Ojha appeared in a leading news channel of the state and spoke on the possible ill-effects of the contentious act. This undoubtedly reflected his commitment and love towards the Assamese society and his future.
A veteran cultural activist, writer, dramatist, actor and former vice-chairman of Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra, Ojha wrote some of the most prominent and evergreen street plays of Assam such as O Phool O Phool Nufula Kiyo, Amak Ejon Asomoya Lage, Tini Banam Tero, Biyog Bhaona, Sign Board, Putular Bhaona and Adalot, among others.
He also wrote and acted in numerous number of puppet plays, cartoon plays, teleplays, child plays, radio dramas, etc, over the years. He also published Rong Birang, biography of Phani Sharma, way back in 1965. Gahbbor was his first play group he formed.
He wrote his first one-act play, Guljar Club, in 1952. At the age of seven, he acted in his first ‘Yatrabhinay’ at Barpeta.
An admirer of the country’s cultural icon, Bhupen Hazarika, Ojha was the assistant director in films like Loti Ghoti, Pratidhani and Chik Mik Bijuli, among others, which were directed by the bard himself.
Ojha also acted in Loti Ghoti and Chik Mik Bijuli. He gave dialogues to films like Bhagya and Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai. Ojha gave lyrics to films like Bhagya and Upor Mahala. As a playback singer, he was associated with films like Chik Mik Bijuli.
Apart from highly-acclaimed trilogy Gobhor, Urbor and Kobor, produced by his theatre troupe Gobhor Natyagosthi, Ojha introduced cartoon theatre in the entire Northeast region.
Born on December 5, 1931 to Padmaram Ojha and Chintabala Ojha at Dalahati area of Barpeta district, Ojha was the cultural secretary of Cotton College Students’ Union in 1953.
After completing his graduation in 1955 from Cotton College, he joined Barpeta Government High School in 1957 and Barpeta Juroram Pathak Girls’ School (1959-1961) as a teacher.
As a journalist, he was associated with Dainik Shantidut (1955-57), Bhudan Jagya (1957-58), The News Star (1981-83), Sadiniya Batori (1983-85). He was also associated with Guwahati Doordarshan Kendra (DDK) as its news editor (1984-85), NF Railway, PRO of BRPL (1979-81).
He was chosen as the president of Asom Natya Sanmilan on May 7, 1995. In 1996, he became the president of the organisation for the second term. From 1992-99, he was associated with Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra in Guwahati as its vice-chairman.
Ojha was also associated with various mobile theatre groups of the state, especially Rupkonwar, Mancha Konwor, Radhikadevi and Kohonoor etc. His role as theatre director in these prominent mobile theatres of the state was really praise-worthy.
As a novelist, Ojha authored a number of novels. Apart from this, he also wrote more than 35 stories and a number of poems over the years.
Honoured with prestigious Natyasurya Award in 2005 for his significant contributions in the field of theatre, Ojha was honoured with titles like Naat Mukut, Shilpi Ratan in Barpeta. For his contributions for the development of Assamese cinema, the department of cultural affairs of the state government felicitated him in 2007.
He was also awarded with Barpeta Siromoni Award on March 3, 2018.
Meanwhile, the state government has decided to give full state honour to the departed soul and the body will be cremated at Navaghara cremation ground on Tuesday evening.
People from different sections of the society have already conveyed their condolences following the death of Ratna Ojha.
Meanwhile, chief minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal, has condoled his demise. In his Twitter message, Sonowal wrote: “Saddened to learn about the demise of eminent dramatist, litterateur and social activist Ratna Ojha. With his death, Assam loses a great personality, whose contribution towards our socio-cultural heritage will be forever remembered. My hearfelt condolences.”
Assam finance and health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma; president of Assam unit of the BJP, Ranjeet Kumar Dass; Congress Legislative Party leader Debabrata Saikia; press adviser to chief minister of Assam Hrishikesh Goswami; director of Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra Surjya Kanta Hazarika; social activist Mira Borthakur; MLA Hemoprova Saikia and many others also visited Ojha’s residence on Tuesday and paid tributes to the prominent Assamese theatre artiste.
In a press release, Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) and some other leading socio-cultural organisations of the state have also sent their condolence messages.
Condoling the death, veteran journalist, writer and social activist Kanak Sen Deka has termed it a loss to the entire people of Assam. “We have lost one of the flag bearers in the socio-cultural scenario of the state. Whenever we wanted to know anything related to country’s cultural icon Bhupen Hazarika, it was Ratna Ojha who had all answers ready with him relating to Hazarika,” Deka recalled.
Leading singer Manisha Hazarika recalled Ratna Ojha’s close association with Bhupen Hazarika.
Terming the death of Ratna Ojha an irreparable loss to the society, adviser of All Assam Students Union (AASU) Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya spoke on how Ojha led the anti-CAA protests in Guwahati.
Leading artiste and cultural activist Prabhat Sharma has also condoled the death of Ratna Ojha and said, “I met Ratna da in Barpeta. I followed him immensely in my life. He used to sing Borgeet too.”
Ojha leaves behind is wife and three daughters, besides relatives, admirers and students.