The advantage of being a fairly compulsive book browser, or one of those crazed creatures whose eyes hungrily scan the window display of every bookstore, is that you can sometimes, rather unexpectedly, lay your hands on a gem. And I got my book browser’s prize a couple of weeks ago when I spotted and picked up Probodh Chandra Dey’s autobiography, Memories Come Alive, from among a host of books on display. And if you are wondering who on earth Probodh Chandra Dey is, join the gang. I did not know either that playback legend Manna Dey was named Probodh Chandra Dey.
Dedicated “To all music lovers”, this autobiography by one of the country’s most respected and well-loved singers was first published as Jibaner Jalsaghare in Bengali in 2005. The English translation by Sarbani Putatunda makes it possible for music lovers who do not know Bengali to find out more about the singer who sang evergreen hits such as Yaari hai imaan mera yaar meri zindagi from Zanjeer, Qasme vaade pyaar wafaa sab from Upkar and the unforgettable Ek chatur naar from Padosan, to name only a few.
For long-time fans of Manna Dey and students of music like me, the book has a lot to offer with several anecdotes culled from the author’s vast experience as playback singer, composer, assistant music director and music director for several films. But it is the author’s disarming honesty that makes the book special for me. Take, for instance, his account of his uncle Krishna Chandra Dey’s high standards of professionalism, which he refused to compromise for the sake of his talented nephew. Therefore, in selecting a suitable singer for one of his compositions, K.C. Dey would never favour nephew Manna Dey, at times to the latter’s dismay. On one occasion, Manna Dey was taught a beautiful composition by his uncle, but before recording it, he was instructed to contact Mohammad Rafi for the song. To add to his disappointment, his request to be permitted to sing the composition was bluntly turned down with the admonition that there was no way he could sound like Rafi! The author’s candid admission of envy is no doubt disarming as is his generous admission once the song was recorded—in Rafi Sahab’s voice—that his uncle had made the right choice.
Now that’s a far cry from the very ungenerous remarks some of our current playback greats reserve for rivals and competitors. One celebrity playback singer reportedly declared in an interview that if he could he would ban Pakistani singers from performing here since they were all besura.
Then there are those who insist that there is no need for formal training in music. Contrast all this with Manna Dey’s urge to learn music even after he found success in his career. He was trained in classical music by K.C. Dey, who also took him to Ustad Aman Ali Khan in Mumbai for further taleem. Apart from his work with Indian films, Manna Dey was also a regular broadcaster of classical music from AIR Mumbai. And now that AIR is publishing music from their archives, perhaps music lovers could please second my request to AIR Mumbai: Could it please consider publishing or broadcasting afresh Manna Dey’s classical recordings?
Write to Shubha at email@example.com