“Ae meri zohrajabeen tujhe maaloom nahi...,” Manna Dey’s soft, mellow and loving tone made this song a perfect paean to his wife of many years.
Alas, Manna Dey’s ‘zohrajabeen’ is no more. Only death could separate this enduring couple of Bollywood.
The almost six-decade-old bond came to an end for famous playback singer Manna Dey when his 88-year-old better-half Sulochana Kumaran Dey succumbed to a massive cardiac arrest at her Kalyan Nagar residence in Bangalore on Thursday.
What made the departure more poignant was that exactly a day before her exit, the couple and their near and dear ones had celebrated Sulochana’s 88th birthday on Wednesday.
“Around 2 am, she breathed her last. But just a few hours earlier, we were all part of a family union to celebrate Sulochana’s birthday. Besides cancer, she was also battling old age,” said aggrieveing son-in-law Gyan Ranjan Deb.
Sulochana is survived by Manna Dey, her two daughters Suroma and Sumita. Her last rites were performed at the Hebbal Crematorium according to the Vedic tradition. Besides 93-year-old Manna Dey, his daughter Sumita and Gyan Ranjan, were present at the funeral.
It was Sulochana who had shaped Manna Dey’s career in Bollywood. A native of Kannur or the erstwhile Cannanore in Kerala, Sulochana was a professor of English literature in Mumbai, while her parents lived in Bangalore. She always stood by him lending her support during Manna Dey’s initial years of struggle to establish himself as a playback singer.
Manna Dey’s biographer Rupayan Bhattacharya recalls, “Manna Dey was getting songs for aged cameo or supporting artistes, which hindered his career. He would have given up his struggle had he not met Sulochana, who helped him find a place in Bollywood.”
Manna Dey and Sulochana’s marriage was not a cakewalk as they had to face stiff resistance from his parents. However, he convinced his parents and the marriage was solemnised.
As Manna Dey’s fame rose, he got offers to sing songs in different languages. One challenging offer he got was from the Kerala film industry where he was asked to sing a song ‘Manasa maine varu’ in the classical hit ‘Chemmeen’.
“Being a Bengali, Manna Dey’s Malayalam pronunciation was very poor. Again Sulochana came to his rescue guiding him to sing the song properly. The outcome was tremendous. The song became a great hit and Manna Dey won an award from the Kerala government for it,” said Rupayan.
About ten years ago, the couple decided to settle in Bangalore. Their preferred destination was Cubbon Park, a place they liked the most for its greenery.