Thursday, June 13, 2024

In the fullness of melody. . .

Manna Dey (1919-2013)
The adda at Coffee House truly, decisively came to an end with Manna Dey’s passing yesterday. Six years more and he would have qualified as a centenarian. And yet it is safe to suggest that Manna Dey lived a full life and now that he passes into the ages, he joins all those other singing luminaries whose lives drew to an end before his. For Indian music, indeed for music across the subcontinent, Manna Dey’s death is officially a coming down of the curtain on what remains in the memory as a golden era in the creation of Bangla and Hindi melody.
Mohammad Rafi passed away a long time ago and, before him, Mukesh. Talat Mahmood departed in the late 1990s. There was Kishore Kumar before him. Shyamal Mitra, Shatinath, Hemanta and Manabendra too are reminders of the glory that was Bangla music, in the movies and outside them. Mahendra Kapoor, of the generation after the illustrious ones, is gone too. Suraiya does not live any more; and Shamshad Begum fell to mortality not long ago.
And now that Manna Dey goes the way of all flesh, it is his mellifluous yet sad number we recall — ei to shey din tumi amare bujhale. It is that depressing moment in time when the winds carry forth the strains of aami niralaye boshey bedhechhi amar shorono been. Gone is the moment when through the melody of anklets, through the sight of sheer feminine beauty in all its grace, you could sing with Manna Dey, inebriated like, hajar taka’r jharh baati ta raat ta ke je din korechhe.
Manna Dey’s artistry was all-enveloping, comprehensive to the nth degree. Always in love with music, and religiously so, he saw his horizons begin to expand under the tutelage of his uncle Krishna Chandra Dey and then that unrivalled ruler of melody land, Sachin Dev Burman. Sachin Karta kept him waiting, in agony, even as he sought other artistes for his compositions. The wait helped, for when it ended Manna Dey branched out furiously, to become the singer and then the legend that he is today, even in death. Who will not be moved by such Hindi numbers as sur na saje kya gaaoon main / sur ke bina jeevan soona?
Like all great artistes, Manna Dey possessed versatility in plenty. His ae mere pyare watan ae mere bichhrhe chaman tujh pe dil qurban has for decades been a recalling of a lost country for those who have moved away from home. If that is the hallmark of Dey’s patriotic music, there is the energetically romantic in ae meri Zohra jabeen tujhe maloom nehi / tu abhi tak hai haseen aur main jawan. Follow that up with the intensity of devotion to the deity as encapsulated in tu pyaar ka sagar hai / teri ik boond ke pyaase hum.
Manna Dey’s diction was flawless; and it little mattered in which language he was singing (altogether, between 1942 and 2013, he sang as many as four thousand songs). His insistence on perfection characterised his performance. His pronunciation of Urdu and Hindi words and phrases was superb to a point where his listeners almost forgot that his native language was Bangla. Perhaps one of the more significant points about his singing abilities, something he shares with Rafi, is his mastery of the classical inflections of music. If Rafi could make a hall tremble to his madhuban mein Radhika naache re, Manna Dey could in equal measure shake up the corridors with jhanak jhanak tori baaje paayelia.
Manna Dey lived through some of the most dramatic of times, naturally. Born in the year when hundreds of colonised Indians were done to death at Jalianwala Bagh, he was witness to the many changing fortunes of a world he believed could be served by a constancy of ringing calls to music.
Recall Nazrul’s shawono raate jodi shorone aashe morey. Manna Dey takes the song to Olympian heights, wrapping it a near cosmic form.
Not many have been able to equal the grandeur he brought into the song, into his other songs.

Courtesy of The Daily Star

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