Monday, 18 June 2012

Pocha Ojha: An epoch-maker

Ramlal Sinha

Treading a few steps away from the usual path trodden by most of his likes, an ability to blend his own creative arts with what he has inherited from a number of gurus, his happy-go-lucky lifestyle, especially when young and his ability to withstand controversies of all hues with a brave front and determination have contributed their bits to help Braja Kumar Sinha, or Pocha Ojha as he was better known, linger for a very long spell in the Manipuri rasakirtan mandap. In the process, he has created a gharana or shaili of his own that remains a hallmark on the horizon of the Bishnupriya Manipuri version of kirtanango. In a discipline where Ojhas Sukhdev, Dango, Salia, Chapta, Braja Ballab, Khaimoni, Ramsingh, Ramgopal, Nilo, Kalasena Rajkumar and others have been dazzling as bright stars, the likes of Ojha-poet Senarup, Ojhas Pocha, Godoi, Kartik, Sunani, Mohan Chand and a number of others emerged with the true Bishnupriya Manipuri flavour of rasakirtan. They rescued the form from the clutches of Bengali and Brajabali so as to make it available for the non-elite audience of the community, who received it with much appreciation and applause. This is why Ojha Pocha, one of the few frontrunners among the modern genre of ojhas (gurus) who successfully gave birth to the true Bishnupriya Manipuri version of rasakirtan, has been immortalised among members of the community. His numerous songs keep reverberating across the length and breadth of wherever his fellow community members reside. 

Pocha Ojha, as he is popularly known in his community across India and Bangladesh, is a name known to all and sundry in the community as well as among those familiar with Bishnupriya Manipuri culture. Born to Jadav Sinha and Juthi Devi on June 14, 1937 in Singla, undivided Cachar district (now Karimganj), Braja Kumar Sinha studied till to class VII and did his basic training for LP school teacher, a profession from which he retired after a long stint of 33 years. His hobby horse, however, was quite different from teaching. 

A born artiste, Pocha Ojha had a family ambience where his father and uncle, late Bijoy Sinha, were Manipuri Kirtanango singers who had the habit of rehearsing and teaching their poruas (students) every evening, regardless of season. If fact, words like off-season are alien to people who pursue Manipuri rasakirtan as their hobby — any time of the year is suitable for refining the art. Pocha Ojha, therefore, learnt the basics of kirtanango songs and related matters from attending his father and uncle’s rehearsals every evening at his home, much before he began formal training in the art form. He later began formal learning of kirtanango songs from his gurus in Bengali and Brajabali (or Brajabhasha) like everyone else did at that time. 

Pocha Ojha’s debut in the rasakirtan mandap occurred when he was just 22 years old. In his maiden performance in a gurukirtan (odhivas), it so happened that the first pala (the spell of a troupe of artistes) couldn’t make an impact due to a heavy shower. During the second spell, young Pocha as the main singer kept the audience spellbound as the rain came to a halt. Those of the vishnabas (devotees) who were of a contemplative mind interpreted the very incident to imply that the young singer could woo the rain god and performed his best in the mandap. Since then, he never looked back and continued to scale new heights and woo newer and newer audiences in Assam, Tripura and Bangladesh. Playing second fiddle to alternative media mogul Gokulananda, Pocha Ojha and a few other singers comprising a particular genre had to toil hard by composing songs in their mother tongue themselves and performing them in rasakirtan mandaps. They were translators as well. 

They had to supply songs for themselves and other singers as the situation demanded. An almost total conversion of the songs from Bengali and Brajabali to Bishnupriya Manipuri could never be a cakewalk for singers or poets of any stature. Poet-singer Senarup, Pocha Ojha and others did what the ojhas prior to them should have done. Of course, poet Gosthabehari had started the venture much before them, albeit in piecemeal form. Singing rasakirtan, however, is not the only identity of Pocha Ojha. He had his contribution to basak (padakirtan) too. He scripted many a song in basak, gostholila and khubakesei, besides folksongs. 

His position within the community was always understood and appreciated by the Bishnupriya Manipuri people. The Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Mahasabha conferred the Gitaratna Award along with Silchar medal on him in 1956, when he was very young. In 2007, the Jagarani Mancha of Guwahati gave him the Gitiswami Award in recognition of his works. 

On May 18, 2010, Pocha Ojha breathed his last bringing to an end a great epoch. He was one of the pillars of this phase in Bishnupriya Manipuri songs, standing with the likes of Ojhas Senarup, Kartik, Godoi, Gauro Gopal and others. But since then much water has flown down the Singla and the Barak without much progress in the movement of total adoption of Bishnupriya Manipuri in the rasakirtan mandap. Will Pocha Ojha’s disciples pay a befitting tribute to him by carrying the movement forward from where he had left? Time alone will tell. 

Courtesy: Seven Sisters Post
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