{ Page-Title / Story-Title }

Article Bengali

Tabla player Dipankar Acharya revisits fond memories of Manna Dey on his 100th birth anniversary

Acharya, who played with Dey since 1980 in various films and stage shows in and outside the country, shared a few anecdotes, offering glimpses into Dey’s life outside the recording studio and stage.

Roushni Sarkar

Legendary singer and composer Manna Dey, originally known as Prabodh Chandra Dey, recorded over 4,000 songs in both Hindi and Bengali in his career spanning over five decades.

A recipient of Padma Shree and Padma Bhushan both, Dey lived a long life and worked with the best of the music directors of both the industries, including Hemant Kumar, SD Burman, RD Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan, Anil Biswas, Sudhin Dasgupta, Nachiketa Choudhury, Naushad, OP Nayyar, Kalyanji Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Golam Mohammed. Simultaneously, prominent artistes, including Lata Mangeshkar and Haimanti Shukla rendered their voices in his compositions as well.

This year marks the birth centenary of the prolific artiste. Renowned tabla player Dipankar Acharya, who played with Dey since 1980 in various films and stage shows in and outside the country, shared a few anecdotes, offering glimpses into Dey’s life outside the recording studio and stage.

In Acharya’s own words:

Dipankar Acharya

Manna da was based in the then Bombay and used to come to Calcutta during recordings. During those days, Radhakanta Nandi used to play with Manna da. We were junior artistes then and hardly used to get opportunities. However, gradually, more recordings began to take place in the Technician Studio, HMV Studio, India Lab simultaneously and it was not possible for Radhakanta da to play in all of them at once and hence, I started getting opportunities and my journey with Manna da began. From then onwards, I shared stage with him for the last 15 years of his career.

Manna da was number 1 when it came to adda [Bengali term for discussion and gossip]. He had innumerable stories to tell us.

Once we were travelling to Bolpur with Manna da, along with various other musicians for a stage show. We all know that often Bauls embark on the trains to Bolpur from Howarh and sing to earn meagre amounts. Though they hardly used to get the opportunity to get into the first class compartment, one entered that day and Manna da got fascinated with his ability to sing the high notes.

10 classical film compositions in Manna Dey's voice: Birth anniversary special

Manna da kept on praising him and eventually asked me to call him inside and request him to sing a few more songs. I called him inside. Quite naturally, the Baul had no idea how Manna Dey looked like and hence, he did not recognise him. The Baul sang one more song, garnering Manna da’s admiration. He kept on asking him how he managed to maintain his voice across the seasons and honoured him with a hundred rupee note.

Then the Baul got more enthusiasm to sing. This was the year of 1998 and one of his songs ‘Amae Ektu Jaega Dao Maer Mondire Bosi’ from the album Maa Amar Maa became a huge hit. I accompanied him on the tabla in all the songs of the album. The Baul started singing that song in his own style, distorting the tune and infusing the style of Baul songs. Manna da could not take that anymore and immediately asked him to stop, unable to bear with the distortion.

Then I asked the Baul, “Do you know who is the singer of the song you just sang?” He replied, “Manna Babu”. I asked him whether he knew him and he replied that had never seen him. I pointed to Manna da and told him that he was sitting right in front of him. Bemused, the Baul immediately prostrated before Manna da and asked for his forgiveness.

Manna da had a hard exterior, but was tender like a child inside and was a great foodie. My wife is a good cook. Once, she made Naru (homemade laddoo) for Manna da and gave it to me to carry it for him while we were travelling for a stage show in the suburbs. By this time, he had shifted to Bangalore from Bombay to stay with his daughter. Manna da was supposed to finish the programme and then travel to Bangalore on a flight the next morning.

Before the show began, all of the artistes, including Arati Mukherjee, who was supposed to sing before him, were sitting backstage. I took the opportunity and secretly gave him all the Naru to Manna da. He was ecstatic to receive those as he would hardly get them in Bombay. He did not eat them then, but carried them instead. We all went back home after the programme got over. The next evening he called me up and as I asked him whether he reached safely he said, “We will talk about those things later, first, hand the receiver to your wife!”

Manna da got so emotional to have the sweets that he almost cried while expressing gratitude to my wife, saying: “Before you it was only my mother who used to feed me Naru.”

Manna da was often strict on us. He had an intimidating personality and would lose his temper every now and then. But at the same time, he was soft inside and only people very close to him would get to see that avatar of him. He could have easily forgotten about my wife, but he made sure to acknowledge her personally.

Most of Manna da’s songs were written by the renowned lyricist Pulak Bandopadhyay. In 1987, I accompanied Pulak da and music composer Mrinal Bandopadhyay to Manna da’s home for the rehearsal of a song. The song was 'Tomar Barir Samne Die Amar Moron Jatra Jedin Jabe' [The day my last journey will pass by your house]. As soon as Manna da heard the lines, he got furious and reprimanded Pulak da, “What kind of a song have you written? Is this a song? Talking about dead body and all!” Not only did he refuse to sing the song, but also screamed at him saying, “If I sing this song your boudi [Manna Dey’s wife] will throw me out of the house!” I could see Pulak da blushing in embarrassment and Mrinal da in an utterly confused state.

Manna Dey, the man who lived for music – Birth anniversary special

Eventually, he did not sing the song. Later, the song was forcefully included in a film called Tumi Koto Sundar (1988) and was sung by Kishore Kumar. Incidentally, the song became hit and Kishore Kumar died in the same year.

Manna da sold his huge house in Bombay and stayed with his daughter till the last days of his life in a rented house in Bangalore. I have so many fond memories of him that I can spend a whole night talking about him.

Dipankar Acharya and a host of artistes will celebrate the birth centenary of acclaimed singer on 1 May in Mahajati Sadan, Kolkata.