Guwahati, Aug. 13: One of Assam’s great storytellers in print and on celluloid, Bhabendranath Saikia, lost his battle with cancer here this morning. He was 71.
Saikia, a Padmashree winner, had been admitted to the Guwahati Neurological Research Centre Heart Institute on July 23. Family members, including his wife and his Texas-based cardiologist daughter, were by his side when the end came.
His other daughter, also based in the US, is expected to arrive here tomorrow with his elder son-in-law, who will perform the last rites.
The chairman-cum-managing director of the heart institute said Saikia died of multiple-organ failure at 10.05 am. His condition worsened on Monday, when he developed an acute septic condition.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi led the state in mourning. “In his death, the state has lost a genius. Saikia was the doyen of Assamese cinema, a great literary storyteller, an academician and a fine gentleman,” he said.
Gogoi and his wife Dolly later visited the family’s residence.
The government declared a half-holiday today. At the initiative of the Eastern India Motion Picture Association, all city cinemas cancelled evening shows.
The funeral procession, scheduled to start at 2 pm tomorrow from his residence, will first wind its way to Sankardev Kalakshetra, of which Saikia was the vice-chairman. The hearse will then proceed to Jyoti Chitraban studio, Rabindra Bhavan, Cotton College and finally to the Nabagraha crematorium.
Born on February 20, 1932 in Nagaon, Saikia earned a Ph.D in physics from London University in 1961. He obtained a diploma from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, the same year. He was a reader in physics in the postgraduate department of Gauhati University and the chief editor of Prantik, a fortnightly Assamese magazine, and Sofura, a monthly magazine for children.
In his last years, Saikia was involved in his dream project Aarohan, a child welfare trust.
Saikia was as adept at making realistic films as he was at writing stories about human experiences. He won several literary awards. All seven Assamese films made by him — beginning with Sandhyaraag in 1977 — won the Rajat Kamal for best regional film. He also directed a Hindi film, Kalsandhya.
Apart from film and literary awards, Saikia was honoured with the Sankardev Award.