A part of me, a little part, has moved on with Manna Dey. He wasn’t the voice of India; that was Mohammed Rafi. Rafi flowed through the veins. Manna Dey tugged. His songs poked.
Each time a great Manna Dey song came along it made me stop and listen. For many moments after that, I’d wonder. Manna Dey’s songs – the best of them – were like rain. They washed me. They cleansed.
Perhaps there’s a multitude out there who felt something similar. Perhaps there are people out there in a confused and angry India who sense they have lost something. Not sure what exactly but with an undefined sense that they’ll die without knowing anything like this again.
Ninety-four is a great age to go. Why would anyone wish to struggle and crawl through another day after having done all that they could. But to go without seeing someone younger and better than you? That must hurt.
I never met Manna Dey; I would’ve asked him about this if I had. What is it about in the end? Do one’s bit and move on? See it improved upon? Feel secure in a greater talent; that your country is in better hands? Oh well. Much will be said and written about Manna Dey. This is what I’ll carry with me.
His song that is an anthem
Yeh Kahani Hai Diye Ki Aur Toofan Ki. Of the hundreds of songs Manna Dey sang, this is the one to wake up the dead among us. It is an outstanding parable of surmounting the odds. It is from 1956’s Diya aur Toofan with marvellous lyrics by Bharat Vyas and music by Vasant Desai, himself a master. All of it becomes relevant when you listen to it.
When the world turns it back on you, when the love drains out of your life, when the atrocities pile up on you – that is the moment you find yourself. You turn inward. You find the light inside you, which dispels the darkness and vanquishes the storm. The song infuses us with life. It empties us of self-pity and fills us with courage.
If there’s just one song of Manna Dey you’ll listen to, this is it. The word ‘great’ is rendered meaningless by the recklessness it is used with. This song is great. It is life-altering.
Other gifts from Manna Dey
Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke. The best Hindi film song on dislocation. The protagonist Balraj Sahni – in the classic Do Bigha Zamin – is leaving his village for the city in search of a better life. The song is sung by others in the village as Sahni passes by. It’s not the hero who sings it.
None of it matters as Manna Dey seeps into your soul with timelessness as he implores: Who knows when you’ll be back. Leave something of you behind. Times change and we may never see you again.
It’s true. Most people who leave never return.
Na Toh Karvan Ki Talash Hai. Is beyond debate the best qawwali in Hindi film history – Roshan [the paternal grandfather of Hrithik Roshan] in terrific form with his music and the unmatchable Sahir Ludhianvi with outstanding lyrics.
The last mile excellence comes with Manna Dey and Mohammed Rafi who exalt the qawwali with the finest singing in this genre. You have to see the film Barsaat Ki Raat to feel the full effects of the entrancing 30-minute qawwali.
It’s about the all-embracing nature of love. It recognises no religious boundaries; in any case all religions have the same thing to say about love. It’s human, it’s divine, and thus the best side of all life on the planet. This is what the qawwali says. Manna Dey and Rafi make it an experience of a lifetime.
Tu Pyaar Ka Sagar Hai. The ultimate detox song. Along with Ae Maalik Tere Bande Hum, this is a searing number that demolishes anger and ego and reaches the core of a person. In the film Seema Nutan is outstanding as the ill-treated orphan who is sent to an orphanage. She rages against the wrongs done to her thus far.
Balraj Sahni is the dignified manager of the orphanage who sings this bhajan one day. It pierces the wall of anger and touches a chord in Nutan. As it does in the hearts of anyone who’ll listen to it. Manna Dey makes it a moment of catharsis. I’ve seen this song make people in alcohol and drug rehabs cry each time it is played.
Ek Chatur Naar Badi Hoshiyar. A marvel from the superbly comic Padosan. The ultimate pick-me-up song. Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar rev it up with full-throated fun as they scheme to win Saira Banu’s affection. It’s an excellent fusion of pop and classical Hindi film music. Highly recommended when you’re down with the flu or any other illness.
The full range of Manna Dey’s classical training comes into play; Kishore [with virtually no training] is a match for Manna Dey and this makes it unforgettable. And yes, Mehmood’s turn as the Tamil music teacher infatuated with Saira Banu etches this on our consciousness.
There’s more to Manna Dey, of course. But you won’t go wrong with these five numbers. Parents in India might want to pass on a bit of him to their children. The Internet makes it easier to access music. A few moments of Manna Dey make life a wee bit more tolerable.
Thank you Manna Dey. Sleep well.