Mohammad Rafi once told journalists “You listen to my songs. I listen to Manna Dey songs only.” In an era when melody was king, Manna Dey was one of the brightest stars in the firmament. In the 1950s and 1960s, he competed with the likes of Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Talat Mehmood and Hemant Kumar — and held his own. Though never accorded the kind of status he deserved, Manna Dey, now in his 80s, continues to enthral fans with his silken voice trained in the classical tradition by maestros including his paternal uncle, the legendary K.C. Dey. This is the story of Manna Dey from his own lips.
In Memories Come Alive, translated from Bengali by Sarbani Putatunda, Dey recalls his journey in life from his family home at Simla in North Calcutta to Bombay, where he lived for most of his professional years, to Bangalore where he is now settled with his wife Sulochana. The book is a ready reckoner of the success story of this great singer who acknowledges the role played in his life by various people starting from his mother to his favourite ‘Babu Kaka’ to his wife and hosts of great composers, singers and lyricists. He has no qualms in attributing his success to the joint family in which he lived and to the blessings he received from the great classical ustads who inspired him.
While all the six chapters in the book make for very good reading, the parts where Dey acknowledges how he was inspired by R.C. Boral, Pankaj Mullick, Timir Baran, Khemchand Prakash and K.C.Dey (whose word was always final for Manna) are enthralling for the music lover. For those not familiar with Pankaj Mullick, Dey narrates how the company slogan accompanying the publicity for his records went: “Is your favourite Pankaj Mullick or Bing Crosby?”
The singer also brings out the pain he experienced when his uncle, K.C. Dey, chose to make Rafi sing a song that he wanted to sing himself. To add heartburn to injury, Manna Dey was asked to teach Rafi the tune when the latter came for the recording. He was crestfallen but when Rafi started singing the number in the studio, Dey conceded that his uncle was right in his decision. “I could not have sung the composition better than Rafi,” he writes, adding, “at least, not at that time.”
After his uncle, Manna Dey talks about the influence S.D. Burman had over him, narrating anecdotes about the great composer’s sense of humour. But he also admits that the role played by Shankar Jaikishen in shaping his career — by making him sing romantic and a wider ranger of songs — gave a tremendous boost to him and his career. Dey writes that Shankar, like nobody else, understood and appreciated his versatility and composed songs keeping that in mind. The result of that association was great hits with Lata Mangeskar — Tere bina raat from Awara, Yeh raat bheegi bheegi, Aaaja sanum and Jhoomta mausum mast mahina — and solos like Tuh pyar ka sagar Hai and Dil ka haal sune dil wala.
Another composer Dey recalls very fondly is Salil Chowdhury. He also gives a lot of credit to Madan Mohan and Kalyanji- Anandji, among others, in shaping his musical journey. He writes that when he sang Kasme vade pyar wafa, Lata came and acknowledged his singing personally.
Dey writes how he finds Asha Bhonsle more versatile as a singer than her sister; how Rafi felt after being displaced by Kishore Kumar as No. 1; why Talat Mehmood’s giving up on playback singing remains a mystery and many other delightful bits. His tributes to lyricists are fondly recorded and he narrates the contributions of Majrooh, Sahir, Shalendra, Hasrat and others in writing songs especially for him.
He has a special word for Raj Kapoor, whose ability to extract the best from an artiste, was, according to Dey, his hallmark. An anecdote about how the actor danced while he was singing Ae bhai zara dekh ke chalo illustrates this point.
The bonus with the book is a CD of some of Manna Dey’s greatest songs. The last few pages of the book are thoughtfully devoted to Manna Dey’s entire list of songs. This is a must read book for all music lovers.