Manna Dey

I had three musical influences in my very early childhood. My father was  forty when I was born and naturally had a sense of music that leaned on the likes of K L Saigal and Pankaj Kumar Mallik. For him Hemanta Mukherjee singing “Prangane mor shirish shakhaye” in the nasal tone was more acceptable than when the singer found a vocal rendition style that was his own. My Tagore influence clearly comes from my father. My mother, who even at this old age is a good singer, on the other hand counted Nazrul Islam, Rajanikanta Sen, Atulprasad Sen amongst her favorite composers. Listening to a weekly radio program every Sunday I realized, quite early in life, the inadquacy of range and repartoie of these composers compared to Tagore. The third member of our family was clearly my favorite person. My maternal uncle was staying with us in the industrial town, a couple of hundred kilometers west of Calcutta, because of his employment with Reckitt-Coleman. He used to work in shifts. This was perfect for me as I could have his company during the daytime, which more than made up for my father’s absence during that period. Perhaps because of his age, my uncle’s music choices were far more contemporary. It was my uncle who introduced me to the legend of Manna Dey

Far too young to understand the inner thoughts of any lyrics, it was Manna Dey’s voice and the orchestration of his songs that caught my fancy. How else can one explain a kid making pathetic attempts at rendering “Amar bhalobashar rajprashade” – but that was the first Manna Dey song I have recollections of memorizing and singing. This small town where we stayed – Burnpur – had an yearly cultural festival we looked forward to and participated in with boundless enthusiasm. Bongo Sanskriti Sammelan it was called. The festival had a generous skew towards music and offered two platforms for performances. One was free for all, open air, called Muktangan and the other more premium – named Abritangan – ensconced in a covered area. It was in one such Bongo Sanskriti musical programs in the Abritangan that I had the opportunity to experience – for the first time in my life – Manna Dey perform. It was truly performance as opposed to merely singing, a trait Manna Dey held on to all his works where he embodied the feelings of the song in the most dramatic manner. Social media was a few decades away and performing artists those days connected with their listeners and fans by the only way possible – a plain vanilla dialog. The audience would shout and Manna would strain his ears and say “jowre bolun, shunte pacchi na”. Finally when he heard he would either sing the request or – as I remember him admonishing a requester in one case for an inappropriate request – say “chup be”. That day was also when I realized he had a mind blowing repertoire of Hindi songs as well. The program went on late in the evening and my mother had dragged me out when Manna Dey was singing “laga chunri mein daag”. Those days they would install loudspeakers outside the venue as well and I could hear the end piece  tarana even as we walked back towards home

We all grow up and take to newer likes, often swapping  the ones of the past with shinier fascinations we pick up along our chronological progression. Manna Dey however continued his walk alongside me. Sitting in distant lands, far away from the towns and cities I grew up in, farther away from friends, his “coffee house” moved me to tears. In my lonely journeys to serve my profession, holed up in hotel rooms, I discovered golf-ball size lumps in the gut listening to his soulful “bowro eka lagey ei andharey”. Over glasses of alcohol and chatter of friends, someone would invariably sing out “na na na, aaj ratey ar jatra shunte jabo na”. I learned to choose between the many different sub genres that Manna Dey created in his own body of work. His fun songs, sung with a totally different timbre of voice than his serious ones, his classical based songs that I took to much later in life and then those that I really thought he should have avoided, like Tagore songs. His marriage of timbre and mood of a song to a celluloid character very effectively made him Uttam Kumar’s younger and light-mood voice. His songs from films like “Antony Firingee” and “Sanyasi Raja” will remain etched in the annals of time immemorial. Singing playbacks, Manna Dey would breathe life into the songs by assuming the character of the actor – be it the inebriated Uttam Kumar or a romantic Soumitra Chatterjee or the flippant Mehmood

Perhaps it was a bit prophetic that Manna Dey’s Hindi songs towards the later part of his career had a south-Indian-accent mimicry to it. That can squarely be put down to the Mehmood-effect. Whatever be it, I think Kishore Kumar summed it up quite well when he lamented that compulsions of the script required that Manna-da get “defeated” in the singing duel of “ek chatur naar”. Perhaps it is also a prophetic continuation of this accent that Manna Dey would be spending his autumn years in South India, in the lovely city of Bangalore not too far from where I live. Four years back he sang at a public event in Bangalore. My mother and I went to listen, knowing that such opportunities will trickle down as the singer ages. Another veteran, Ameen Sayani, compering the evening introduced and welcomed Manna Dey on stage and the man walked in straight and immediately corrected Sayani saying “I am not eighty eight. I am eighty nine years old. Sorry, young”.  As if prove his point, he immediately went on sing ” aja sanam madhur chandni mein hum” accompanied by a twenty something lady. At around eleven in the evening the mindless Bangalore curfew kicked in and someone walked up stage and mumbled the news to Manna Dey. Forgetting where he was, Manna Dey retorted loudly, “Keno? Iyarki naki!”. Composing himself to an appropriate language he looked down at  the police officer, who was standing at the closest exit, and said, “another thirty minutes. You also sit down. You will enjoy the music. This one is for you”. And he sang “aye mere zohra jabeen”. Age is simply a chronological phenomena, nothing to do with the mind and spirit, I was convinced that night

The genius turns ninety three today. It is superfluous to wish a man full of life that he be happy on this day – he is the eternal fountain of musical joy destined to delighting generations of the past, present and future

Is it even possible to do a Top Ten (plus one bonus track) for such a genius? At the risk of being shouted down with a “Chup be” by the man himself, here is my attempt. Won’t you leave a comment with your own favorites?

  1. Chaar deyaler moddhe nanan drishwo ke
  2. Ami jamini, tumi shoshee hey
  3. Oi mahashindhur paar hote
  4. Hoyeto tomari jonno
  5. Jwalao akashprodeep swranto e hemonto shondhaye
  6. Kaun aya mere man ke dware
  7. Aye mere pyare watan
  8. Na chahiley jare paowa jaye (this is the only one of his Tagore renditions I like)
  9. Ami tar theekana rakhini
  10. Coffee House
  11. Ek chatur naar (Was this a Manna song or a Kishore song? Was this a “song” to start with in its classical definition?)
Leave a comment


  1. 1. Aami jamini tumi shoshi and Bihag jodi na hoy raaji.
    2. Keherva noy dadra
    3. Boro eka laage
    4. Hoyto tomari jonyo
    5. Chand dekhte giye
    6. Amar bhalobashar rajprasade
    7. Aami tar thikana
    8. Lalita oke aaj
    9. Sei to abar kache ele
    10. Jodi kagoje

    My top 10 (actually 11… couldn’t pick 10).

  2. Beautifully written! Why don’t you do more of reminiscences of this genre?

  3. Atalanta

     /  October 25, 2013



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