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A Living Legend

Asad ur Rahman Kidwai

By Manna Dey. Translated from Bengali by Sarbani Putatunda
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2007, pp. xiv 415, Rs. 450.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 12 December 2007

Manna Dey is a legend in Hindi Film Music. The only surviving male singer of the golden era of Hindi Film music, he started his playback career way back in 1942. Memoirs of such a distinguished artiste are bound to be an important addition to the history of this stream, as well as a goldmine of anecdotal information.   The importance of this book is also underlined by the fact that though Hindi Film Music is unarguably one of the most popular components of our popular culture, strangely and sadly there is a paucity of serious literature in this genre. Fewer still are personal accounts of music directors, lyricists and playback singers. We are fortunate to have Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle amidst us, but they have yet to pen their memoirs.   Though the narrative of Memories Come Alive is in a charming anecdotal style, the book largely follows a chronological pattern. Memories of a little boy called Prabodh Chandra Dey, who hated his name. Wondering why he was named Prabodh—‘consolation’ in Bengali, when all his other siblings had perfectly respectable names. Affection came to his rescue, he was a favourite of his uncle Krishna Chandra Dey, the well known singer and composer of the age—known in those politically innocent times as the Blind Singer of Bengal, he used to affectionately call him ‘Mana’ which eventually got corrupted as Manna.   The most gripping bits in the book are right in the beginning in the chapters where he talks about his early childhood and adolescence. These childhood memories of a bygone era are told with relish. Manna was fond of football like most Bengali kids and used to fly kites with a passion. Prankster to the core, he used to revel in shoplifting sweets and swiping pickle jars from the neighbour’s terrace. Music would eventually be his calling, but surprisingly Manna Dey nearly became a famous wrestler. He even reached the finals of the All Bengal Wrestling Competition, but gave it up for the love of music.   Manna was fortunate to have K.C.Dey (or Babu Kaka as he used to call him) guide him in his initial musical journey. The senior Dey ensured that Manna got a solid foundation in Hindustani Classical Music. Manna Dey’s heart however lay in the popular genre. It is rare for musicians and singers trained in the classical genre to admit—like ...

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