So, we were arguing on whether to go to the concert or not, because the tickets were priced quite high. “But, it’s Manna Dey!!, It’s definitely going to be worth it” I told R. After much debate about the costs of the concert, we finally decided to go and booked tickets a week before the show. “ Manna Dey-In the flesh”, the concert was called. Though I have been a fan of his singing for a long time, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this concert. I was crossing my fingers, hoping to hear him sing for at least half the time of the concert without too many ‘fillers’ as is the trend today.
All excited, we were at our seats by 7:15, though the show was supposed to start only by 7:30. Though the curtains were drawn, we could hear notes of instruments being tuned and a voice I guessed was Manna’s. It was a pleasant surprise at 7:30 that even though half the seats were still empty, from behind the curtains, Manna Dey’s voice said, “ I promised I’ll be here at 7:30, I am here. Are you there??”
And there he was, the legend himself, sitting at an old harmonium and all set to start. No one to give long speeches (read irritate),no nonsense MC, no gimmick, he was all set to start the show. But as the organizers would have it, they wanted to do a short interview with him before he started singing. Though he expressed displeasure at not being allowed to start with the music, he agreed to answer a few questions. After the Q&A session, he started the music with “Ae malik tere bande hum” along with another lady with a decent voice by his side. She accompanied him for the duets.
And then started the saga of the 3-hour musical fest that was. With each song, he remembered the music director, the composer and the lyricist, which I thought was a herculean effort. And he mentioned a few anecdotes with each one of the songs. It was like adding a personal touch to each one of his songs.
The musicians who came with him were all one of a kind. You could see that they had been with him for a long time, as they knew exactly what he expected of them. One person played the tabla, another the dhol, one on the piano and one on the bass guitar. But the most interesting of them all was this old man who had like a magic box of odd things, with which he added beats at different times in different songs. He had this set of ghungroo (musical anklets) and then so many other things that I can’t really name. He made these beats that were so much a part of the old hindi film songs that made each song so unique. And the best part was this 85 year old MC who had a very “shayarana mizaj” and kept reciting sher after sher and made fun of all the things that he could set his eyes on and mostly himself, and left the audience in squeals of laughter. Listening to the music however was once-in-a-lifetime experience for me atleast. Few of the songs he sung were, ‘Kaun aaya mere man ke dwaare’, ‘Tu chupi hai kahan, main tadapta yahan’, ‘Yeh raat bheegi bheegi’, ‘Laga chunri me daag’, ‘Ae meri zohre jabeen’ and 'dil ki girah kholdo', among many others. And every one of them, he made sure he sang the complete song.
When asked what he thought were his favorites, he mentioned “Kasme Wade pyar wafa” and “Ae mere pyare watan”, which are my favorites too. My only complaint from this concert was that he didn’t sing these songs. I was anticipating that he would definitely sing them but he didn’t. And they ended the whole thing so abruptly, that there was no time to even request the songs. The audience gave him a standing ovation in the end and applauded for a good five minutes, which no doubt he truly deserved.
This man was so old he had trouble standing by himself after a while. But he sang with this soulful melodious voice, which didn’t show any signs of aging at all. I consider it my honor to have witnessed his singing. It will be one memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Buying music CDs: $
Tickets to a concert: $$
Witnessing a 90-yr old legend sing in-person: Priceless