The legendary singer was a disciplinarian, with a thirst for knowledge and a bold persona
Fondly recalling his nearly four decade long musical journey with the stalwart Manna Dey, violinist Durbadal Chatterjee said Dey was “close to his roots” and had a “soft interior despite strong exterior” and a keen interest in fishing.
“People had a misconception that he was rude and rough. He was in fact really soft inside. If he liked a person he would be very fond of him/her, but if he did not, then he could be rude. He was averse to strangers,” Chatterjee told in an interview. He narrated one such incident to buttress his point.
“We were sitting at his old residence. He was singing accompanied by his harmonium and I was jotting down the notes. Suddenly the door opened and a girl was standing there. Dey rudely ordered the girl to go away, saying he was busy. But the girl showed up again after a few minutes,” said Chatterjee. This time the girl asked for confirmation whether it was Manna Dey‘s residence. Dey gruffly asked her why she was there. It turned out that the girl, an ardent fan, just wanted to touch the maestro’s feet. “As soon as Dey heard her plea, he got to his feet and allowed the fan to pay her respect. He was that humble…only a bit coarse towards strangers,” said Chatterjee.
The vocalist had lent his mellifluous voice in Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Assamese films – a testimony of his love for Indian folk music. But the “son of the soil” was equally at home with the idea of adding a dash of modern twist to the traditional tunes. “He was a very fast learner. Otherwise he couldn’t have sung in so many languages. He had a liking towards Indian folk sounds. Not only did he have a vast knowledge of music, but he advised us to listen to folk tunes and imbibe them into our compositions with a modern punch,” said Chatterjee.
A contemporary of Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh and Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Dey kept track of who was upto what. “We had gone to a function in Howrah (neighbouring Kolkata) and someone had asked him about what he thought of other artists churning out different versions of his songs. He said it’s okay … they are only spreading it. But he added that listeners’ standards had fallen. This was an indirect shot at people hearing remixes of his old songs,” explained Chatterjee.
Performing globally in a career spanning over seventy decades, the “health-conscious” Dey made it a point to adhere to a disciplined lifestyle til the very end. “He used to get up at 5 a.m…finish his ablutions…go for a jog and come back and make tea and then he used to wake up his wife…that was around 7am,” revealed Chatterjee who had often been asked by the disciplinarian to get up early to enjoy nature’s beauties at the crack of dawn.