Mannadey - On his muse

‘Zindagi kaise hai paheli’, what a riddle this life is sang the great Prabodh Chandra dey – a.k.a. Mannadey (Song from the movie Anand), that was the number the car CD had picked up at random, just as I was ruminating about the vagaries of life…one has to agree, what a great song, tuned by the superlative Salilda. A song that was originally a background song as composed for the movie. Rajesh Khanna after hearing it wanted it to be picturised on him and thus the beach scene was added.

Which of course made me think about and drift to Mannadey’s other great number, a memorable one for us Malayali’s, ‘Maanasa Maine varu’ from Chemmeen (1965), a song that Manndey had to practice over & over before he went on to sing it in his own inimitable style. Mannadey comments fondly about the song, "Even if there is one Malayali in the audience, he will insist that I sing that song"

So what is behind the man and the song? The man is famous, there is plenty of writing about him on the net, Google will provide lots of links including Wikipedia, or try his own website
. How did he get to singing that song (BTW he sang a second Malayalam song later though not great, Chemba Chemba for Nellu), a song that remains in every Malayali heart and one that brings pictures of two stars Pareekutty- Madhu and Karuthamma- Sheela, to our minds, standing on the seashore..or reminds us of the many mimicry artistes who mimicked Mannadey’s accent & rendition, be it at college festivals, on radio or TV…especially the ‘varu’ part.

Mannadey was in Bombay in the 50’s, grappling with Hindi & Urdu diction, struggling to rise above the great threesome of Mukesh, Kishore & Rafi and feeling quite morose. He wanted to leave but did not, he explains

"But you know the real reason why I stayed on in Bombay? I met Sulochana, my wife." Manna Dey's face still lights up when he talks about his wife. "She has been my beacon light. But for her I might not have stayed. She changed the course of my life. She was a master’s student in English Literature from Bombay University. Though she is from Kerala, she has a great love for Rabindrasangeet and that's how I met her on a platform at a Rabindra Jayanti function. She encouraged me that you have to go to the top. She knew what material I was made of."

Mannadey was in charge of a program to celebrate Tagore’s birthday, in 1949. “I taught her the songs we planned for the evening - that’s how I came to know her well. I also taught Talat (Mehmood), Lata and Geeta Dutt - they also came and sang that evening!”Sulochana Dey Kumaran laughs as she remembers, "He taught us Rabindra sangeet for that function. And I remember I was awed by how proficient he was and yet how modest. And when he sang, that awe turned to worship. You know, from my childhood we always had Bengali friends and I used to admire everything Bengali, from the way they dressed, to the songs."

Yes, she is right there, there is a lot in common between the people of Kerala and Bengal, the inclination to rice and fish, the love for hand-woven cotton saris, the love for good music & literature, the sharp interest in politics and personal liberty…The list goes on and from early British days, many a Malayali landed up in Calcutta for gainful employment, staying on there… (Another connection we have - the great Baburaj, of Bengal descent, his father was Bengali).

Mannadey is now settled in Bangalore with his wife, near their daughter
Sumita - close to Kalyan nagar, Banaswadi, and he says the following in an interview with Kerala Calling - Dey reminisced that it was Salil Chaudry, who introduced him to Malayalam cinema. “Ramu Kariat, Vayalar Rama Varma, and Salil Da came to my house. I could not refuse the offer. My wife Sulochana is from Kerala. My daughters are well versed in Malayalam. They taught me Manasa mainae varoo, word by word. It became a smash hit. I could not believe” he said. He adds that he is a fan of KS Chitra & that Chitra’s voice is sweeter than honey, well, well, from somebody like Mannadey, that is one fantastic compliment!!

Back to ‘maanasa maine’, he continues about the same song in a Rediff interview
Many people complimented Dey for not only putting his soul into the song but also for pronouncing the Malayalam lyrics adeptly. "The pronunciation has improved since then as I have been singing it at many concerts," he says, laughing. He remembers the day he went home with a tape of the song after the first rehearsal, and one of his daughters asked him what language it was. It is Malayalam, he told her, surprised. His daughter wouldn't believe him, and insisted that her mother listen to the song and confirm that it was in fact sung in the language of Kerala. Not many people know that Manna Dey's wife Sulochana is a Malayali. "She made sure I got it right," he says, adding on a grin: "Well, almost."

And this about Bangalore & his courtship with Sulochana, from a Hindu Interview

The singing legend laughs as he recalls: "My association with Bangalore is 50 years old. My wife's family lived here and I got married in Bangalore!" The marriage was solemnized at a ceremony held on Kenchappa Road, but not before Lalbagh and Cubbon Park had witnessed the couple walking hand in hand, lost in each another. "I used to love going to the Green House at Lalbagh", reminisces Manna, as he talks about the prize-winning roses his wife took from here and planted at their home in Mumbai. However, he laments that those days are gone and, like a true blue Bangalorean, grumbles about the traffic and crowds
. Manna Dey and Sulochana's bonding with Bangalore had happened way back in 1950s during their courtship days which culminated in the marriage. Sulochana, a native of Cannanore, was based in Bombay where she was a member of the Bombay league club. Music brought them together with Dey frequenting the club to participate in the musical shows and the friendship blossomed into love. For some years, Sulochana's parents were in Bangalore and Dey used to frequently come down to meet her. Finally, they were married In Bangalore at a private function.

There is an interesting story of how he was challenged to sing together with Bhimsen Joshi, he was appalled and wanted to sneak away from Bombay, Sulochana was the one who convinced him to go ahead..

The story behind his duet
with Hindustani maestro Bhimsen Joshi is now part of film lore (‘Ketaki Gulab’ for the film Basant Bahar). In the film the hero (for whom Manna sang) defeats his rival (for whom Joshi sang). “I told my wife, ‘How could I possibly sing with Bhimsen Joshi? He is such a great singer, and I actually have to defeat him! Let’s abscond from Bombay for some time and come back after the recording is over. She said, ‘of course you have to defeat him, you are singing for the hero’.” Manna asked Shankar-Jaikishan for extra time. “So I practiced with doubled vigor, and when I recorded that song, I still remember Bhimsen Joshi telling me I should be a classical singer!” laughs Manna.

The woman behind
- Manndey says there were times when he wanted to quit Bombay. “I wanted to join an ashram and sing bhajans, because I was struggling all the time. But she was so calm and always brought out the best in me.” Perhaps if not for Sulochana, we might have lost Manna Dey to some fortunate ashram! Sulochana, however, has little to say but this - Mrs Manna Dey is reserved, reticent and rather shy. She shies away from publicity so much that she has hardly made any public appearance so far. She fell in love with his incredible singing and their friendship grew so quickly that when he sang she could feel he was singing to her and for her only. Just as they had found each other, Sulochana’s parents shifted out of Mumbai. The two couldn't bear to part. But after a year of separation they got married. It’s been 45 years since they became husband and wife but Sulochana claims with misty eyes that it has been such a wonderful marriage that they were obviously meant for each other. “Ours has been a marriage in which we have had a lot of communication and contentment. Right from the time we met, nothing has marred our relationship,” she says. Though she would never acknowledge it, Manna Dey says with a Taurean reserve that “it was her faith in me that encouraged me to move on in life when my faith in myself was dwindling. There have been times when I wanted to opt out of singing but she always told me ‘remember what you are capable of...”’

They have been together for 45 years, May they live another 40 years, happy in their togetherness….

Both their daughters did not follow in the music line though Sumita has cut a few discs.

50 years from now, Mannadey’s songs will continue to fill our minds &ears….and many a lovelorn Mallu soul would hum

Maanasa Maine varu, madhuram nulli tharu…
nin aruma poo vaadiyil nee, theduvathaare, aare…


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