The first time when I heard Manna Dey sing

My cousin Harish and I used to visit our maternal grandparents to spend our summer holidays in a tiny village called ‘Sirsangi’ located in North of Karnataka and was part of the Belgaum district. My father used to drop me there each year, an overnight journey by bus. This was something I did religiously till I was about 8 years of age and Harish used to join me over there.

Staying with grandparents for a period in excess of two months was exciting to us. Those cartons of Frooti’s, unlimited supply of mangoes, sitting inside the official jeep imitating Sunny our driver, playing in the house garden, visiting places of interest nearby, cricket and not to forget the wrath we faced from our maternal aunt for staying outside for long hours under the sun. We feared her though we loved her so much because of her expression of angst; she used to place her teeth on her lips holding a stick in her hand chasing us when we refused to come home. We eventually did end up at home at noon because of scorching heat and to have lunch.

Sirsangi being a village had repeated problems of electricity back then. Al though there were quite a number of historical sites, we seldom went out. Even if we did, I cannot recall the importance of those places. My grandmother was strict and never allowed us to venture outside the community boundary walls by ourselves. We were allowed to play in the huge open field which separated my grandpa’s office and our home.
When staying out and playing became mundane (which used to happen each day) we pleaded with our maternal aunt to switch on the TV. And we pleaded her more when there was electricity. Apart from weekends, the television programmes during daytime did not appeal us. There were no cartoons or no fights on TV. It was boring until one day we saw my grandfather bringing in a new piece of gadget and placed under the TV rack. It was a Video Cassette Recorder (VCR).

With the VCR, came a video cassette sent from Bangalore which played for an hour. It had songs from English, Kannada, Tamil and cartoons. If I remember correctly, the fifth song of the recording was a B/W video of a Hindi song. At first, it was boring and we didn’t quite know how to operate the remote and moreover my aunt would be away doing her household chores and she knew where the remote was. Nevertheless, we committed ourselves each time to watch the tape end to end.

All I remember from the song is that – there is a small gathering of people both kids and adults and behind them sat an elderly gentleman, rocking the chair. His walking stick is visible placed beside him and also seen is him patting a young girl’s head who is seated below next to the chair. There is a lady playing the piano and within seconds, he starts to utter words in phrases which had a sense of melody. Not that we knew anything about it then.

He goes on singing and the camera shifts to an idol to whom he is referring to in the song. The children who are seated also join him forming a chorus which is used as a buffer between his lines and the theme music.
 Next scene, I see a young lady away from this group in a room getting up, irritated by the song decides to shut the windows and frenetically tries to open the door of her room, but in vain. She seemed unhappy, restless and doesn’t quite know what to do. As kids looking at this video then, we too didn’t know what was happening.

The scene then shifts to the gentleman who continues to sing. At this point, it becomes unbearable to this young lady who is shown closing her ears trying hard to not just hear what’s been sung. She is not a happy person from the looks of it. The song proceeds and parallely this poor lady is shown with her tears locked in a room and unable to break free.

This is how I looked at the video and each time (innumerable times) I have watched this video I always wondered why she was crying. I would have asked my grandfather or my aunt about this or even discussed with Harish but the conversation never went on for a long time. In any case, how would they know; the only thing I remember my grandfather saying was that, he had watched this movie before my mother was born.
As soon as this song was over there was another song playing, a new adventure of 4-5 minutes set in a totally different world with another set of actors, actresses and scenarios. And in between these songs from different genre came two episodes of Tom and Jerry and an episode of Goofy.

In 1993, my grandfather retired from the services and he settled down in rural Bangalore. The VCR was neatly packed and I never saw it opened again since the shift. Even today, twenty years later it is somewhere sealed in one of the storage cabinets but no one knows where. It became redundant with each year since the advent of cable television, VCDs, DVDs and now with YouTube.

Years later sometime towards the end of the millennium, I heard this song again. The name of the movie ‘Seema’; the elderly gentleman in the video was Balraj Sahni and the furious, frustrated young girl so to speak was none other than ex-Miss India of 1950’s Nutan. The movie was released in mid 1950’s and till date I have not watched this movie and I do not know the story. My curiosity to know why she suffered during the song also died with time. And yet even today the song remains close to my heart.

It might not be the first old song I would have heard in my life, but I am quite sure ‘Tu Pyaar ka Saagar’ is not too far behind. In fact, I have watched the video of this song close to 50 times or more even before I was ten years of age. In that sense it has been ingrained just like many other songs in that video cassette.
Image Courtesy – Frontline India
This was the only song in the movie which was sung by Manna Dey. He took his last breath today in Bangalore and the first thing that came to my mind was this song. In fact every time the name Manna Dey was mentioned in any of my conversations, this song and the picturisation of the same flashes scene by scene. 

Over the period of time, I have heard many of his other songs on the radio, tape recorder, on a CD player and YouTube but none came close to ‘Tu Pyaar ka Saagar’

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