In the passing of Manna Srinivasan, the world of Carnatic Music has lost a friend. I think it was Nagarathnamma who once said that just as everyone cannot get into a palanquin for it needs bearers, music too needs rasikas, everyone cannot be a performer. Manna was a rasika and more importantly, a person who did service for music.
When I say service, it was the kind that Appar did –without expecting anything in return. Manna was the man who kept in touch with all artistes. He counted among his close friends numerous nagaswaram and tavil artistes in particular and of course several dance masters and nattuvanars who had long languished in obscurity. And as I often teased him, he was pally with numerous dancers too! But in all these friendships, Manna’s was the hand that gave, for he spent his time usefully in Delhi, ensuring that the powers-that-be got to know of deserving and hitherto unrecognised talents in the far south. Manna remained single and his home in Delhi was where every artiste was welcome – to stay, raid his well-stocked fridge and rehearse. The door was never locked.
In physical form, Manna was an ever-smiling presence. Clad in white kurta, trousers, with several rudraksha malas hanging from his neck and a jolna bag well stocked with eats on the shoulder, he could bring joy even to a conference of undertakers. A high-pitched voice, often breaking into laughs, a rapid-fire way of speaking and an energy-packed tiny form was his ensemble. He had a joke for every occasion. His way of greeting was to slap you on the back. He did that once to me when I was having a severe lumbar problem and was greeted in return with characteristic rudeness. But he did not mind. After that he would merely hover his hand over my back with a slapping gesture and if I said OK, his hand would formally descend. It was a joke between us.
I would know when Mannna was in town for the Sruti office phones would be eternally busy. As I often pulled his leg, all the dancers were looking for Manna in the wilderness! There would be a big smile on the faces of Janaki, Sudha and others at the Sruti office whenever he was around. He had the distinct designation of Roving Editor!
Each Season, Manna was a face I would look forward to. He would be at the Academy lecdems, at the SKGS Natya Kala Conference and several other places, encouraging the young and keeping the fading ones in good cheer. When he got to know last year that TR Navaneetham was receiving the TTK Award at the Music Academy, his joy was as though someone in his family had received it. The last few years had not been kind to his health but a positive thinker like he made light of it. And now he has gone. Adieu sweet friend and may flights of angels sing thee to thine rest.