Singer Divya on Manna Dey’s Bengaluru years

The voice behind such classics as Pyar hua ikraar hain and Laga chunari mein daag, Manna Dey spent his last years in Bengaluru. Divya Raghavan, who sang and toured with him, remembers him on his 100th birth anniversary

Manna Dey and Divya at a Chowdaiah Hall show.

Divya Raghavan, the Bengaluru singer who toured and performed with Manna Dey for a decade, first met him in 1999 when she was a contestant on the TV music show Sa Re Ga Ma.

The show featured many singers, and Manna Dey had no recollection of her singing when they met later years later in Bengaluru. The meeting, she says was ‘beautiful and happened all of sudden.’ For a decade, Divya performed with him and toured the world for live shows. Manna Dey was 94 when he died in 2007 in Bengaluru.

In an interview with Metrolife on Wednesday, Manna Dey’s 100th birth anniversary, Divya recalls her association with him.

Are there songs he always sang and never missed in any of his concerts?

Most of his classical songs---Pucho na kaise, Cham cham baje payaliya and Zindagi kaisi ek paheli---he would never miss. Of course there were places where the audience would ask him to sing (Harvanshrai Bachchan’s poem) Madhushala and he would. Because it’s lengthy, he would pick and choose stanzas to sing. And wherever there was a Bengali audience, Coffee house was a request which he would sing. We would sing quite a few duets like Pyaar hua ikraar hua, Aaja sanam, and those beautiful numbers he has sung with Lataji. Whenever he felt good about his voice he would sing Tu chupi hain kahan: it’s a very high-pitched song.

What was your experience of performing with him like?

It was a surreal experience, and every performance on the stage was different and something to be cherished. He came from an era when people had all these principles and values. He was particular about time and how his artistes should perform on stage, he would never compromise. He was also particular with organisers and would want things to start on time. He was warm hearted and always took care of all of us, and he was a most loving husband to his wife Sulochana.

Yes, they have a strong Bengaluru connection. They were married in this city.

Yes, yes, they do and despite all those years of marriage, they really were in love with each other, and that was something that amazed me all the time. He was principled and straightforward. With age and his health complications he would sometimes get a little angry but that was really not his nature. He would gladly welcome people and pose for photographs. He was particular about how he appeared, and for that one reason towards the end, when his health failed him, he didn’t want too many people to see him. I think most of us are like that.

Did he miss Mumbai and Kolkata? He must have had his favourite musicians there?

Definitely. Most the time, musicians would travel from Mumbai for our shows. Among the Bengaluru artistes, I performed but on the couple of occasions when I had other commitments, Archana Udupa performed with him.

When did you connect with him ?

A friend of mine into events had his farm house and was a big fan of Manna Dey and wanted a programme. Manna Dey had just moved to Bengaluru and was looking for a singer to support him. My friend Dinesh suggested my name and I went and sang a couple of songs, and he just said, ‘Yes, you are going to be there in this programme.’

Why did he settle in Bengaluru and not Mumbai or Kolkata, where he had spent long years?

He has two daughters, one of them lives in California and the other lives in Bengaluru with her husband, so I think once he retired from the film industry, he wanted to spend time with his daughter. So he sold his property there and moved to Bengaluru.

Did you also sing non-Hindi songs when you performed ?

Yes, we did. Not too many. I would do a few Kannada solos. If the programme was here, he would ask me to sing a few solos in Kannada. I would choose a couple and sing them. He did Bengali numbers on a couple of occasions he did sing his Kannada number kuhu kuhu. Mainly kuhu kuhu. In fact, once, it had been a while since he performed that and he was a little confused about the tune and the lyrics, so I helped him.

What did he love to eat and read?

Being a Bengali he definitely liked his fish, and he did follow a strict diet. He was amused about vegetarians eating only ghaas poos, as he called it. He would also tease me and say how could you be a vegetarian and I would tell him how so many dishes could be made with vegetables. Reading? He would follow politics and watch a little bit of cricket.

Was he tuned in to today’s songs and films?

Oh, he could not tolerate quite a bit of them. You know it is different for people from that era to adapt to but, he I remember him appreciating Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal for their versatility.

It was fascinating as a co-singer to listen to anecdotes he would narrate during the show about lyricists and music directors. People from that generation shared a close connect with all of them, especially as they were rehearsing. Ek chatur naar kar unfolded during the recording and it was not planned. Kishoreda being Kishoreda spontaneously came up with things and Manna Dey responded in his style.

So a lot of the song was spontaneous?

A lot of it, and there were these gimmicks that Kishoreda would suddenly come up with and Manna Dey would say it was quite challenging for him to respond to that.

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