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Manna in Coffee House Adda

Manna in Coffee House Adda

Manna Dey in Indian Coffee House Kolkata

Manna Dey’s birth anniversary was on the 1st of May. When our author Somashis Gupta visited The India Coffee House in College Street, he met some strangers who were discussing on the legendary singer. Read this story to find out how it went.

“…his greatness was that he was gifted with the ability to adopt any forms.” 

“Why do you say so?”

“Well he was originally a classical singer and….”

These words came to my ears as I entered the Central Hall of India Coffee House in College Street on the 2nd of May. Ah! The group is talking about some musicians- I anticipated and found a vacant table near them. I ordered for a pot of coffee and also decided to treat myself with a Chicken Ala Kiev.

In the meantime, I opened the biodegradable Tugs carry bag to check my purchase from National Book Store. As I was flipping through the pages of ‘Azadi’ by Arundhati Roy, I could hear someone singing ‘shey amar chhoto bon’.

Oh! So they are discussing Manna Dey, I thought. Naturally I was intrigued and turned around. I saw a young girl joining the group. Soon I found myself approaching them, “Are you all discussing about Manna Dey?”

“Yes, would you like to join us?” said a man who looked like the leader of the group. I happily agreed. The others made room for me by moving their chairs. It was a group of three, Nikhileshda a man in his mid- fifties, Moidul was around 40 and Roma who just joined was around 30.

“Yes, so as I was saying, how many singers have the ability to sing as high as D-sharp?” asked Nikhileshda.

“Well I think this was an inspiration from K. C. Dey,” said Roma.

“You mean his uncle?” asked Moidul.

“Not just uncle, don’t forget he was his mentor as well,” advised Nikhileshda.

“What I find interesting about Manna Dey is he went beyond the conventional practice of star system,” I made my first statement to the discussion.

“Yes you are right, I think he sung for almost all the stars, isn’t it Nikhileshda?” asked Roma.

“Yes he was first used by Shankar-Jaikishan as the voice for Raj Kapoor. His sophisticated voice made him a specialist singer and suited the suave,” Nikhileshda confirmed.

“I am not much into Hindi music, but yes I agree with you- I heard songs like ‘Dil Ka Haal Sune Dilwala’. I think it was for the movie Shree 420 released in 1955, and another one is ‘Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi’ in Chori Chori, I guess in 1956,” said Moidul.

“But ‘Bheegi Bhaagi’ is a Kishore Kumar song no?” I asked.

“No that is ‘Ek Ladki bheegi bhaagi si’ from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi. What Moidul is referring to is this song….” Roma corrected and sang this song.

“Wow you sing so well” I appreciated her,

“You all took me to a different aura altogether, now I know what you meant when you said ‘ability to adopt any forms’. I mean from qawwalis and spirituals to folk and Western numbers which he sang in spite of original training into classical. A complete wow factor,” I related with what I heard them saying earlier.

“Nikhileshda, why not some Bengali songs of Manna Dey?” requested Moidul.

“Yes ‘Coffee House’ please,” I requested.

“Do you know the history behind this song?” asked Nikhileshda.

“It was composed by Gauri Prasanna Majumder, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Not composed but written, it was composed by Suparna Kanti Ghosh when he was just 20 and a student of M.Com final year,” replied Moidul.

“Suparna Kanti was living in New Alipore then. One day he was rehearsing a song with vocalist Shakti Thakur when Gauri Prasanna walked in and asked, ‘Where’s Khoka? Oh, inside? Chatting and smoking, is he?’ he used to call Suparna Kanti as Khoka. I presume that is his pet name,” Nikhileshda added.

“And then…?” I asked.

“Suparna Kanti put forward a challenge to Gauri Prasanna. He asked him to write a song about the quintessential Bengali ‘adda’, with particular reference to the world renowned Coffee House,” Nikhileshda said.

“So that is how…” I said.

Moidul interrupted me and said,“What is interesting is Gauri Prasanna rattled off the first two lines verbally, on the spot.”

“What happened next day is even more interesting. Gauri Prasanna’s wife called Suparna Kanti and complained that his kaku(Gauri Prasanna) did not sleep the entire night to write the song. The next morning when it was shown to Suparna he felt it lacked climax and wanted a final stanza.”

Nikhileshda continued after sipping his tea, “Gauri Prasanna flew into a rage and said Now you will teach me how to write a song?’”

“So how did it end?” asked Roma.

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“10 days after their argument, a man came and gave an empty cigarette packet to Suparna which bore the timeless lines that began-‘Shei saat jon nei aaj table ta tobu ache’-and that is how this song was composed,” Nikhileshda replied.

“Why cigarette packet?” I asked.

“Gauri Prasanna was on his way to Bombay, and as he was waiting at Howrah station these lines suddenly came up and since there was no paper he wrote it down in a cigarette packet and sent it off to Suparna Kanti,” Nikhileshda replied.

“Thanks to cigarettes,” joked Roma,

“In a few days Suparna Kanti took the song to Manna Dey. He immediately reacted and asked how will this be a song and how will these words be put to music. Suparna Kanti informed that he has already done it. The rest is history.” Moidul added.

“Now please sing that song Nikhileshda” requested Roma.

“He also sang for ‘Ami Je Jalsa Ghore’ from Antony Firingee in 1967,” said Moidul after the song.

“Yes, not only that his first song for Uttam Kumar was in the movie Shankhabela, but that was released much later in 1968, but almost seven years earlier a movie named Gali Theke Rajpath was released where Manna Dey sang for Uttam Kumar and the long drawn journey of musical bonanza started,” added Nikhileshda.

“I am so glad that I came to the Coffee House today, I really enjoyed with you all. You meet here quite often, do you?” I asked.

“Yes at least once a week,” replied Roma.

“You always discuss about Manna Dey?” I asked again.

“Not only Manna Dey, we discuss about various other things. Today was a Manna Dey hangover as yesterday was his birthday,” replied Roma.

“Oh yes, yesterday was 1st of May…”

Someone in the next table who was enjoying our discussion turned and said, “Don’t forget 10th is Pankaj Mullick’s birthday,” and the adda continued.

Well that is a story for another day….!

Also read: Happy Birthday, Salil Da! 

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