Tribute Manna Dey’s genius continues to live on through his songs
that were a celebration of his versatility, eruditionand musicality.
Carnatic vocalist Aswathi Thirunal Rama Varma talks about his tryst with
the singer and his music
Pain is one of the most universal of all human emotions.
There are different kinds of pain. Each kind of pain is distinct and
unique. Homesickness is a brand of pain that is usually experienced only
by people who have lived far away from their country and their loved
ones for a long time. In the 21st century, air travel and the internet
have made this ordeal much less acute than it used to be earlier for
many. But if one wishes to experience the Total Agony and the gut
wrenching pain of being away from home, the intense nostalgia created by
recollections of the motherland that one has left behind and the
desperate longing to be back home again….without even stepping out of
one’s bedroom…one simply has to play the poignant song ‘Aye Mere Pyare
Watan…’, sung exquisitely by Sri Prabodh Chandra Dey. (1 May 1919 - 24
October 2013). Affectionately known as Manna Dey, he occupies a rare and
special place in the history of Indian music that very few others do.
adept at singing classical, raga based songs such as ‘Poocho Na Kaise’,
‘Laaga Chunri Me Daag’, ‘Lapak Jhapak’, ‘Tere Naina Talash Karoon’ and
‘Kaun Aya Mere Man Ke Dware’, modern songs with a Western tinge such as
‘Aao Twist Karen’ or Qawwalis such as ‘Yaari Hai Imaan’, Manna da was
really and truly a multi faceted genius.
I had grown
up listening to a great amount of Hindi film music and loved all the
male voices a lot, be it Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Hemant
Kumar, Talat Mehmood or Manna Dey. The music created by these amazing
artists was intimately interwoven with the actors on whom the songs were
picturised on screen.
Thus Mohammed Rafi’s star
shone bright with amazing songs picturised on stars like Dilip Kumar,
Dev Anand, Guru Dutt, Johnny Walker and Shammi Kapoor. Mukesh sang a lot
for Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. Kishore Kumar started his journey
singing only for himself and Dev Anand initially but went on to become
the preferred voice of virtually all the male actors who came after
1968, starting with Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan.
The fate of artists like Hemant Kumar, Talat Mehmood and Manna Dey were different, for a lot of reasons.
Manna Dey could go toe to toe with the best of them, he did not have
the good fortune to become the permanent voice of some mega star, unlike
the ‘Big Three’ did. Because of this, he was often given only songs
that were so difficult or raga based that the producers felt that only
he could sing them. This typecast him as a “serious” singer, though he
would belt out catchy numbers like ‘Dil Ka Haal Dune Dilwala’, when
given a chance to do so.
Another tragedy was that
many casual listeners didn’t actually Know that HE was the one who had
sung a song like say, ‘Zindagi’, from the film
. They would automatically presume that it was sung by Kishore Kumar,
just because it was picturised on Rajesh Khanna! There are quite a few
lovely Manna Da songs that are mistakenly attributed to Rafi and others
too bymany listeners. By the mid 1980s, my contact with Hindi film music
began to wane quite rapidly and I was content to listen to the
recordings of songs that came before. The “Big Three” passed away,
leaving thousands of music lovers heart broken. I hadn’t heard much
about the others who were still around and presumed that they must all
So imagine my surprise when I came to
know that Manna Dey saab was going to give a live concert in Bombay. It
was just my good fortune that I happened to be in town that day. The
concert hall was less than 25 per cent full. A few others sang a few
songs and the orchestra was very simple and basic.
some time Manna Da himself appeared on stage. Without any pause, he
plunged into the beautiful song ‘Tu Pyar Ka Saagar Hai’ from the film
. The effect was Electric! I discovered the meaning of how a musical
phrase could “go straight through one’s heart!” His voice had grown
significantly richer and heavier during the 40 years that had elapsed
between the original recording and this live performance that I was
blessed to attend. By the time the first stanza had finished and he
started the line ‘Khaayal man ka paagal panchhi, Udne ko beqaraar…’ I
simply couldn’t hold back the gush of hot and unexpected tears that was
streaming down my faceIt wasn’t just nostalgia but something that the
man had, which could get the audience to do whatever he wished, be it
burst into tears, whoop with joy or tap one’s feet and clap happily
along with him.
Even at that point I never imagined
that I would get to meet the great man and spend some precious times
together with him. After hunting for around six years, a friend finally
got me his telephone number and I fixed an appointment and went and met
him. He lived alone with his wife Sulochana whom he affectionately
addressed as “Shulu”.
I have never come across
another couple so completely and profoundly in love with each other as
they were, even after five or six decades of marriage! With the demise
of his wife, his life had virtually ended and I never managed to see him
But despite his physical absence, his genius
continues to live on and his songs…..be it the philosophical ‘Zindagi’
from the film
or the playful ‘Mud Mudke Na Dekh’ from
or his monumental rendition of Harivanshrai Bachchan’s ‘Madhushala’ …
continue to add immeasurably to our lives. May his soul rest in peace.
the honour of organising a concert by him at Thiruvananthapuram when he
was 85 years old. Afterwards, I attended several concerts by him in
various cities all over India and used to keep in touch with him and his
lovely wife. I discovered that Tagore was one of his greatest heroes.
discovered his mix of admiration and envy, where the admiration far
outweighed the envy when it came to the brilliance of Hemant Kumar in
composing the music for Rabindra Sangeet. I discovered that he liked
milk chocolates more than dark chocolate and was quite fond of Kitkat! I
had the pleasure of introducing him to the music of a few other greats
whom he had missed, like Pandit Channulal Mishra of Banaras. Though he
was quite gruff and abrupt on the outside, he was one of the finest men I
have ever met, in reality....simple, direct and utterly
(The Hindu, 26:10:2013)