Tum Bin Jeevan Kaisa Jeevan

Those are the opening words of a song sung by Manna Dey from the film Bawarchi (1972), a question that now hangs heavy in the hearts of all Manna Da’s fans.

The morning of 24th October 2013 brought with it the news of the passing of Prabodh Chandra Dey. Popularly known as Manna Dey or Manna Da, the nonagenarian bard is the last of the male quartet that held the sway in the Hindi music industry for decades. Along with Mohamed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh Chand Mathur, Manna Dey had dominated the Bollywood scene since 1950s. Coincidentally, the other three died while they were still in their 50s; Mukesh died at 53 in 1976, Rafi at 55 in 1980, and Kishore, who was the youngest of the four, died at 58 in 1987. Manna Da who happened to be the oldest passed at 94. I remember that when I went to Manna Da’s concert in New Jersey probably in 2003, he had talked about how he outlasted all his contemporaries.

While watching people paying glowing tributes to Manna Da on a TV program , I tried to go back and recollect when it was that I became his ardent fan. The first song of Manna Da’s that had been etched deep in my mind was back in 1967/68. I was about 8 years old when my parents took me to watch Manoj Kumar’s Upkar. I was too young to understand the concept of playback, all I saw was an old man (Pran, who is usually a bad man but now he is a good man!) on crutches singing ‘Kasme Waade Pyar Wafa’. I did not understand Indevar’s great lyrics, but pain and the melancholy got through.At that age, I never used to like sad songs or sad movies because my mother had this habit of crying while watching the movie and I did not like it when she cried. But strangely, I liked this song.

Very soon after Upkar there was Mehmood’s Padosan and the screamingly funny ‘Ek Chatur Naar Karke Shringaar’, the duet by Manna Da and Kishore Kumar. At the end of the song the funny man (Mehmood) with ‘choti’ loses the competition and falls out of the window. I thoroughly enjoyed both the song and the movie. I was still oblivious of who the singer was. But that song was again etched deep in me. Who can forget the famous dialogue in the middle of the song – ‘Ya godha bolna, ya chatura bolna – ek pe rehna!’ I use it quite often on my wife…it is by far easiest way to get her mad. Fun fact – Manna Da initially was not willing to sing Mehmood’s portion, since he thought it was very slap-stick. The music director R.D. Burman and the producer Mehmood could not get him to change his mind. Finally it was Kishore Kumar‘s phone call that made him change his mind and rest is history.

The next poignantly beautiful song that left an indelible scar on my soul was from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand . I was older at 11 and by this time I knew there was someone else who was doing the singing and it was not the man on the screen. Thanks to my KVIIT education (History, Geography & Civics – we studied in Hindi) I even understood the meaning of the song though not the underlying philosophy – ‘Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaye Kabhi to hansaaye kabhi ye rulaaye’. I was such an enthusiastic admirer of Rajesh Khanna that I totally concentrated on him as he ‘sang’, did not give much thought to the actual singer.

I was well into my twenties when I finally made the connection between those numerous songs that I came to love and its singer, Manna Da. The word ‘bard’ is what comes to one’s mind when one thinks of Manna Da. The bards in the days of yore were people who travelled from place to place reciting patriotic, sad, lamenting, romantic and philosophical poetry, singing and primarily entertaining the populace. Manna Da did exactly that, because of the modern technology that brought his voice to every home, he did not have to do the travelling part, but entertain he did to the hilt. Albeit his versatility in every genre is unquestionable, his renditions of classical numbers was really special; a veritable boon to mankind. For almost seven decades people have been enthralled by his voice.

Manna Da’s connection with his audience is full and absolute. ‘Ae Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo’ (Mera Naam Joker) he cautioned, with ‘Nadiya Chale chale re dhara, chanda chale chale re tara, thujko chalna hoga’ (Safar) he exhorted and motivated, with ‘Kasme waade pyaar wafaa sab baatein hain baaton ka kya, Koyi kisi ka nahi ye jhoothheNaate hain naaton ka kya’ and with ‘Zindagi kaisi hai paheli haaye Kabhi to hansaaye kabhi ye rulaaye’ he turned the listener’s attention to the philosophical side of life. To the cynical he said ‘khali se mat nafrat karna khali sab sansar” (Neel Kamal). He had people in tears with his lament of ‘Puccho na kaisey maine raine bitayee’ (Meri Surat Teri Ankhen), fanned the patriotic fervor in them with ‘Aye mere pyaare vatan, aye mere bichhade chaman Tujh pe dil qurabaan’(Kabuliwala) and filled them with melancholy with ‘Maanasa maine varoo madhuram nulli tharoo’ (Chemmeen-Malayalam).
In a career spanning 65 active years Manna Da had sung almost 4500 songs in the various genres. Here is a link to the list of every song that the great man sang ….


To people like Manna Da, awards and rewards are incidental. However, it would not be out of place if some of major ones are enumerated here. Amongst the numerous awards he received are: Padma Shri (1971), Padma Bhushan (2005), two National Awards in 1969 & 1971, two Filmfare Awards, a Filmfare Life Achievement Award and finally the crown jewel – Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 2007.

All those born have to die one day. That is the law of nature, but there are some who slip into immortality and are remembered decades after they are gone. In tribute to this immortal soul I ask you to please close your eyes and listen to this song, preferably through a pair of headphones.


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