Imaginary encounter with a maestro

Of legends: Manna Dey performing in Bangalore  

It’s always been on my bucket list to meet the singer Prabodh Chandra Dey better known by his stage name Manna Dey. But fate never allowed it. This year, October 24, was his fifth death anniversary, and I woke up with the thought of doing an imaginary interaction with him. I have only known his songs. Mostly Hindi film hits but some other Indian languages too. I was clueless about his personal life. Was he an introvert or extrovert? A mild tippler or teetotaller? What kind of food he like? Allow me my flight of fantasy. Here goes…I spotted him in 2011 at the Music World store on Park Street, Kolkata, the city of his birth.

He was sifting through CDs from the Bengali music section. S.D. Burman, Salil Choudhury, Suchitra Mitra, R.D. Burman, and even his own songs in a five-volume box set.

Musical ties

The store staff didn’t recognise him, but I did. I was overjoyed but didn’t want to embarrass him. So I whispered into his ear, “I am a music journalist who has had a lifelong ambition of interviewing you.” He glared at me with suspicion. And then he asked me who composed ‘Aye meri zohra jabeen’ from Waqt (1965). I said it was Abdul Ghafoor Breshna from Afghanistan.

The ice was broken. Next we were at Silver Grill nearby with small pegs of whisky, ice and picking on a mix of Chinese Manchurian and Schezuan delights. I began. “Your biggest hits were with Balraj Sahni. ‘Zohra jabeen’, ‘Aye mere pyaare watan’, ‘Tujhe sooraj kahoon ya chanda’, ‘Tu pyaar ka saagar hai’...” Manna-Da responded, “You guys have this new phrase today. But Balraj and I have been like brothers from another mother much before you kids coined it. Come to think of it, Raj Kapoor saab gave Mukesh Bhai, who I love a lot, sad songs. But gave me duets with Lata-di (hums ‘Aaja Sanam’).”

I asked him, over a second round of drinks, why everyone associated him with classical-based songs when he sang everything under the sun. Unruffled, he responded, “These music critics have bracketed me. They don't know the difference between the sun, moon and stars. At least you know something. Keep this box set of my songs.”

The night was still young. But Manna-Da was through with the drinks. I suggested we go to Peter Cat restaurant, best known for its chelo kabab. He laughed, “It’s costly. I don’t get music royalties on time.” I suggested beef steak at Oly’s Pub. He refused as too many weirdos hung out there.

Old time’s sake

Instead we went to KFC around the corner. Manna-Da was in a good mood. Over a burger meal, he said, “I love Kolkata. I have spent a lifetime here but nobody recognises me. They recognise Louiz Banks and some young fellow called Pritam who is working on a film called Rasogulla.” I corrected him, saying the movie was called Barfi. “Too sweet,” he replied.

We decided to head to Someplace Else, the famous nightspot at the Park Hotel. We walked, he talked. “Kolkata has had great live music. Here on Park Street there were Trincas, Mocambos, Blue Fox. For Rabindra Sangeet, there’s Santiniketan.”

We reached the hotel. The well-known band Hip Pocket was playing Dire Straits, Doors and Doobie Brothers. Only one person recognised Manna-Da. She was dressed in Kanjeevaram silk. The legend was delighted.

“Usha Uthup, what a pleasant surprise,” said Manna-Da. The two of them got on stage and sang ‘Aaja Sanam’, ‘Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi’ and ‘Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua’. And one should have been there to see how they rocked. Thank you, Manna Sir, for this immortal though completely imaginary experience.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 1:49:22 PM |

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