This is not an obituary. Manna Dey has appeared on these pages in several forms, and twice to emphasise how it took him to reach the age of 90 for the government and the film industry to confer any recognition.
In a recent editorial in The Times of India, the headline called him the Amadeus of India. Not only is there no connection, but even in a tribute we need to compare one who gave so much to Indian music.
I know almost all his major songs, and am partial to his semi-classical songs. I have earlier mentioned that I felt "Pyaar hua iqraar hua" was the triumph of music directors Shanker-Jaikishen and not so much Manna da. I still think so. I have returned to his peppy numbers or the songs from 'Chori Chori' that he sang for Raj Kapoor because Mukesh was apparently not available. He was the second choice, although he was a trained, and in many ways, more accomplished singer.
This is, therefore, about the nature of what we call 'playback singing'. Raj Kapoor often said that Mukesh was his soul, and he did a stupendous job of it. Manna Dey had joked that he was always given songs that were picturised on beggars and boatmen.
Part of it is that despite his classical base, his low notes were brilliant. Unlike Talat Mehmood, there was no quiver in his voice, but there was a quiet, excellently expressed in his tribute to the Mohammad Rafi number in 'Pyaasa': Yeh kooche, yeh neelam ghar... It is unfair to include this here, but it reveals two facets of a song, as well as immense bonding in what could have been rivalry.*
For today, because I have been listening to this in a loop, I choose 'Phir koi phool khila, chaahat na kaho usko...". The scene from 'Anubhav' is a humdrum existence of a married couple where a bud flowering is not seen as some grand love, as the lyrics suggest.
And then there are these lines:
man ka samundar pyaasa hua, kyon kisi se maange dua
laharon ka laga jo mela, toofan na kaho usko
Essentially, why pray to anyone as the mind's sea thirsts and just because waves pile up it does not forebode a storm...
This is less detachment and more the beauty of now.
Manna Dey. A life, a sea.