Last of the great quartet falls silent

Dey began his career with Tamanna in 1942,working as an assistant to S D Burman.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | New Delhi | Published:October 25, 2013 2:11 am

Jitna yaad aata hai mujhko,

utna tadpaata hai tu

Tujh pe dil qurbaan,

Aye mere pyare watan.

1961. In cinema halls across the young nation,this Salil Chowdhury composition,part of the cinematic adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwala,moved audiences and won hearts. The pathos in this simple ditty put Manna Dey on a pedestal and,over half a century later,the number remains a fixture at every patriotic celebration.

Prabodh Chandra Dey,fondly called Manna Dey,owner of the golden voice of the Indian music industry,breathed his last at Bangalore’s Narayana Hrudayalaya in the wee hours of Thursday.

“He stayed 150 days in the hospital,” Manna Dey’s son-in-law Gyan Ranjan Deb said.

The body was kept at Ravindra Kalakshetra until noon,after which it was cremated at Hebbal crematorium. Dey was 94,and is survived by his daughter Sumita and son-in-law.

“This man was matchless in style and versatility. We have not just lost a great musician,we have also lost a wonderful individual,” said Ameen Sayani,the veteran radio personality who worked closely with Dey for years.

“Even when he sang a sad number such as Poochho na kaise maine rain bitaayi,a song that seems to come from the very core of a man steeped in sorrow,Manna Dey did not sound broken… he got the precise feeling absolutely right,” Sayani said.

In an interview to this reporter in 2009,Dey had said,“Whenever I feel like listening to something soothing,I play Koi sagar dil ko behlata nahin and other romantic songs by Rafi. I loved his voice.”

And Mohammed Rafi himself once declared,“You listen to my songs,I listen to Manna Da.”

Dey,the singer of immortal tracks such as Kaun aaya mere man ke dware,Zindagi kaisi hai paheli,Sur na saaje kya gaoon main and Laaga chunari mein daag,was the last of the great quartet — along with Rafi,Mukesh and Kishore Kumar — that dominated the golden era of Indian film music.

Born into a Kolkata family of charted accountants and academics in 1919,Dey was studying to be a barrister when his uncle,the singer and actor K C Dey,took him under his wing. This did not please Dey’s father,who did not allow his son to enter too deep into “an unpredictable field” until after he had finished college.

Dey began his career with Tamanna in 1942,working as an assistant to S D Burman. He established himself as a singer over the next decade or so,but it was in 1953,with Salil Chowdhury’s Do Bigha Zameen and Mausam beeta jaye with Lata Mangeshkar,that Manna Dey really arrived.

Savita,wife of Salil Chowdhury,told The Indian Express on Thursday evening,“He would always come to the house and say Salil babu,aaj kya gaa rahe hain? His presence and passion was just so fantastic. Dada was also a great foodie,and absolutely loved the shorshe machher jhol (fish curry with mustard) that I made.”

Savita sang several Bengali and Hindi duets with Dey and travelled with him for concerts. “Once Salil made me stand in the bathroom to sing my part of a song to get the echo effect,as technology wasn’t so good back then. And Dada sang from the studio. Dada couldn’t stop laughing that day,and kept saying,‘Salil,you are a genius’,” Savita said.

The Salil Chowdhury phase in Manna Dey’s music was followed by the Shankar Jaikishan phase,in which he sang E bhai zara dekh ke chalo (Mera Naam Joker) and Pyar hua iqrar hua (Shree 420),replacing Mukesh as the voice of Raj Kapoor.

Dey’s music — carried to millions of homes across the country by All India Radio — charmed both the legions of ordinary music lovers and the connoisseurs of his art. “There is just so much versatility,” said the legendary composer Khayyam,with whom Dey worked in Shola Aur Shabnam (1961).

“What Mannasaab has left behind is a legacy of some of the finest songs ever created,which will be remembered fondly for years to come. He could sing a song like Aye mere pyare watan with the same ease and dexterity with which he delivered numbers such as Aao twist karein (Bhoot Bangla) and Ek chatur naar (Padosan),” Khayyam said.

Dey is known to have accepted both the latter songs — among the greatest happy hits of all time — after his friend R D Burman insisted he sing them.

“There was no way I could think of singing Aao twist karein. But Pancham persuaded me yet again,just as he had done with Ek chatur naar. The song is sung even by the younger people of today. My reward is today’s children singing my songs,” Dey had told this correspondent.

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