The Sound of Soul

Inim­itable and un­for­get­table, Manna Dey’s voice was the sound­track of our lives

India Today - - OBITUARY - By Shan­tanu Moitra Shan­tanu Moitra is a mu­sic di­rec­tor.

Idon’t want to write a tra­di­tional obituary for Pra­bodh Chan­dra ‘Manna’ Dey, be­cause though he may have left us now, his voice bid us good­bye 30 years ago. That, to me, was when he died. Yet, in those 30 years, there has not been a sin­gle day, in my car, in my home or at my work place, where the voice of Manna Dey has not ac­com­pa­nied me.

My first ever mem­ory of him is vivid. It was 1980, I was in Class VI and it was at the Chit­taran­jan Park Durga puja pan­dal in Delhi. I was very short and I couldn’t see him very clearly as I was at the back, hemmed in by a crowd. But his voice boomed at me. The song he sang was ‘Laaga Chu­nari Mein Daag’. I did not know then, be­yond the fact that my par­ents of­ten played his songs, who this great voice be­longed to. But it stayed with me. The irony of it struck me years later, when I was com­pos­ing the mu­sic for the movie Laaga Chu­nari Mein Daag, and I was of­fered the chance to use the orig­i­nal tune. I re­fused. “I will not touch God,” I said. I worked only with the essence of it.

I had spo­radic in­ter­ac­tions with Manna Dey over the years that be­gan when a Ben­gali film I had di­rected mu­sic for won four na­tional awards. I didn’t re­ceive one, how­ever. Man­nada con­veyed to a lo­cal news­pa­per how dis­ap­pointed he was. I called him up to tell him that his dis­ap­point­ment was greater than any award for me. We chat­ted for an hour on the phone. Over the years, we spoke of­ten. He told me, “I wish you were older so we could have worked to­gether”. He was like that. Peo­ple say he was frus­trated, an­gry and dis­ap­pointed but he wasn’t. He wanted to work with ev­ery­one. He wanted to be rel­e­vant across gen­er­a­tions. He was frus­trated when his health let him down be­cause he was essen­tially a boxer. To have the will, to be young at heart, and to be let down by your body, up­set him. When I was work­ing on the song, ‘Shukriya Sa­trangi Jadugar’, to cel­e­brate 100 years of cin­ema, I had Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhon­sle singing the open­ing lines. I wanted him there too, so I called him. But he couldn’t get out of bed.

His at­ti­tude to life was that of a war­rior. He had a great sense of hu­mour. It is jar­ring to think of him hav­ing passed away at­tached to a ven­ti­la­tor. That was not him. He is the kind of per­son who should have lived for­ever. As a na­tion, we are very good at analysing our flaws but very bad at re­al­is­ing our strengths. I hope that Manna Dey’s voice is stud­ied be­cause it is the great­est text­book left to us.

It is said of him that his clas­si­cal train­ing was an ob­sta­cle in his play­back ca­reer. I have been in­flu­enced deeply by this. To­day in the mu­sic in­dus­try we are all too used to dis­cus­sions about whether a tune is hummable or whether it can be a ring tone. Ev­ery­thing needs to be quick to con­sume and easy to mar­ket. None of Manna Dey’s tunes was quick, fast or easy. Even to­day you can­not hum his great­est songs. But this does not mean they were not great. My great­est les­son from Man­nada is don’t dumb down your art. If you can com­pose it well, then any song will be­come ac­ces­si­ble.

I strug­gled with this dur­ing Pari­neeta, and I con­stantly kept him in my frame of ref­er­ence, think­ing to my­self, what is it he must have gone through to keep his mu­sic true to what he wanted it to be? When Man­nada sang, you should have seen him. He had no doubt in his head that this was how it was to be done. How to make in­ac­ces­si­ble art ac­ces­si­ble. That was Man­nada’s

great­est con­tri­bu­tion.

FAWZAN HUSAIN/­di­a­to­day­im­

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