I had known Manna da since 1970s. I was his admirer since childhood and he loved my style of singing. He decided to compose a song, Amar Bolar Kichu Chilona, for me after hearing me a bit. While composing, he kept in mind my voice quality.
He thought that the song would suit my voice. Later I came to know from others that he was supposed to sing the song himself. After that, he had composed various tracks for me. He used to get very happy when someone impressed him with his or her singing.
Manna da would shower unconditional love to a good singer and experience childlike joy. He didn't know anything else apart from music. Even after surviving a car accident, he came back to the car and asked us to put on the music to ease his nerves. That showed that his heart and soul lied in music. He preferred singing all the time. He expressed his desire to record songs even at the final stages of his life.
Personally, I will remain forever grateful to him. Whatever national recognition I had received, it was solely because of that one song (Amar Bolar Kichu Chilona, 1978). His songs had huge potential. That's the reason behind his popularity. His music had an evergreen quality. Even today's generation is excited about his work. I have seen youngsters dance to 'Ke Tumi Nandini' till date. Moreover, he was always on the lookout to make Bengali music popular among other states in India.
He always wanted Bengali music to achieve global acknowledgment. He wanted people from other states to accept Bengali music. There was a typical 'bangaliana' in his lifestyle. He enjoyed Nakur's sandesh very much. I am fond of paan. He was aware of it. So he would always ask paan from me. He often spoke in 'bangal'. He told me that he had learnt it while assisting singer and composer S D Burman. He didn't live in Kolkata, but he was a Bengali in the true sense.
Manna da also had an amazing sense of humour. He would often say, 'Amake keu tupi porate parbena. Karon ami agey thekei tupi pore achi.' (Nobody can deceive me) He was also fond of dressing up. He was a straightforward man that many people misunderstood it. He was an honest man and would never entertain lies. He used to put little salt in his tea. When I wondered, he told me that it enhances the tea's flavour. It gives me goosebumps after reminiscing such beautiful moments spent with him.
As a human being, Manna da had no comparison. He was a man of high standards. He never had any kind of ego. He was so humble. During his visits to Kolkata, we used to sit for singing sessions. We would start around 9 am and would sit till 1.30 pm. After only half-an-hour of singing, we used to chat over endless servings of tea, singhara and jilipi. We have received a lot of affection from him. During his last days, he wanted to visit Kolkata but his health didn't permit him. I wanted him to stay at my place. Sadly, it didn't happen.
My last meeting with him was at Mahajati Sadan. He was in Kolkata to perform on his birthday two years ago. After singing 'Ogo Sesh Bicharer Asha', he had started crying profusely. He couldn't sing the entire track. There he said, 'Abar bneche thakle dekha hobe.' (We shall meet again, if I'm alive) He came out from the stage and hugged me.
He was also very much concerned about his wife, Sulochana Kumaran. He wanted people to look after her as she, too, was ageing. They loved each other a lot and shared a wonderful bond of love. Her demise in 2012 affected him enormously.
(Haimanti Shukla is a singer of national repute)