Debonair and evergreen are the two words that come to mind when you think of Dev Anand, who passed away in London at 88. The evergreen romantic hero of Hindi cinema, whose career spanned six decades and whose romancing skills set millions of female hearts aflutter for a few decades from the 1950s, will perhaps be best remembered for his unmatched rendering of timeless melodies.

In his earlier years it was to Mohammed Rafi’s lilting songs that Dev Anand romanced heroines like Shakila, Madhubala and Waheeda Rehman. Who can forget the Rafi-Geeta Dutt evergreen number Aankho hi aankhon mei ishara ho gaya (romancing through the eyes) or the Rafi-Shamshad begum melody O leke pehla pehla pyar (my first love) from Guru Dutt’s super hit film C.I.D. Or Achcha ji mei hari chalo maan jao na (Ok, I give up, please forgive me), sung by Rafi and Asha Bhonsle, where he acts the hurt lover to the beseeching and contrite Madhubala in Kala Pani , or Rafi’s Hum bekhudi mei tum ko pukarey chaley gaye .

The pathos of the last one and the masti of the previous one will always be remembered and cherished.

Dev Anand, who acted in over 100 films, came to Bombay in the early 1940s as a young graduate from Lahore with dreams in his eyes and little money in his pocket. Two years later he got a break in Prabhat Talkies Hum Ek Hai . He then met Guru Dutt whom he described as “my greatest pal”, and this led to Guru Dutt directing or producing many Dev starrers such as Baazi, Jaal and C.I.D.

The man who epitomised the expression joie di vivre, introduced many talented and not-so-talented actresses to Hindi cinema; Zeenat Aman and Tina Munim (now Tina Ambani) are two of them.

Dev Anand’s first love was Suraiya who he “wooed with flowers and style”, says Khatija Akbar in her book The Story of Madhubala, but with her grandmother opposing the match, Dev Anand eventually married his Taxi Driver co-star Kalpana Katik. Suraiya remained single and much later, in a rare newspaper interview, said her one regret in life was she could not marry Dev Anand.

Dev Anand’s delivery of dialogues in a rapid-fire style, the serial nodding of his head and his own brand of acting, while endearing him to millions of fans, put off large numbers too. There are some passionate Bollywood fans who couldn’t stand the man and his acting. They swear by Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna or Amitabh Bachchan, but say, as a few of my colleagues in Business Line do, that Dev left them “cold”. But then all of them are men!

It is vastly appropriate that the man who romanced so many heroines – both Sadhana and Nanda with such aplomb in Hum Dono (remember the Rafi-Asha superhit song Abhi na jao chhod kar, ke dil abhi bhara nahi ( Do not leave me now, the heart remains unsatiated), should have penned an autobiography titled Romancing with Life. An uninhibited account of his life and loves, it is full of lines such as “a sensuous mouth lunged forward to rub her lipstick in my laughing but bashful face”, while talking about his female fans. The book also describes how before he got a break in the industry, he worked for the military censor office and had the job of screening letters written by army officers. As one review says: “He probably got lot of romantic ideas from the letters written by army officers to their wives and girlfriends.”

Dev Anand’s belief that he was the best kept him going, and even though he made some flops in his later years, added to his appeal and aura of being timeless.

As I ruminate about Dev Anand’s life, work and romancing heroines, some half his age, two of his songs come to mind. The Rafi song filmed on him in Munimji:Jeevan ke safar mei rahi, miltey hei bichhad janey ko; Aur de jatey hei yaadein, tanhai mei tadpaney ko. (In life’s journey you meet companions only to part, who leave behind memories that haunt you in your solitude).

And the two lines from Hum Dono’s Rafi number Mei zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya - Jo mil gaya usi ko mukaddar samajh liya, Jo kho gaya mei usko bhulata chala gaya (Whatever I got, I embraced as my destiny; what was lost was erased from memory.)

One last word: Having mentioned so many Rafi songs, let’s not forget that Dev himself thought Kishore Kumar’s golden voice suited him the best. Apart from Guide songs, my favourites from the Kishore (S.D.Burman) melodies are the Prem Pujari numbers Phoolon ke rang se, dil ki kalam se, tujhko likhi roz paati and Shokhiyo mei ghola jaye phoolo ka shabab .

Sorry, I’m not going to even attempt to translate the poetry… I don’t want to wreck its sheer, mesmerising beauty.