Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXII No. 17, December 16-31, 2022

Manohar Devadoss – a life of indomitable courage and cheer

– The Editor

It is hard to believe that Manohar Devadoss is no more. He was so full of life. Born in 1936 at Madurai, Mano was blessed with a natural sense of perspective that led to art as a hobby. He found his métier in ink-on-paper, a tough medium, but a fortuitous choice. While in his thirties, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable eye disease that progressively led to blindness. As his colour perceptions faded, the black and white of ink-on-paper became his means of expression. He devised methods to draw and kept at it till almost the very end of his life. Thanks to him, much of Chennai and Madurai’s heritage, is preserved on paper.

A chemical engineer by profession, Mano married the talented Mahema in 1963. What ought to have been a fairy tale of happily ever after was marred by an accident in 1972 that left her a quadriplegic for life. It was a shattering blow for a young couple with a child, but they rose to meet the challenge. For years, Mano and Mahema kept each other going – he making sure she was taken care of by a team of helpers and she reading to him while he worked late into the night on his art. It was a unique team. And there was not a social event they missed – Mano proudly wheeling in Mahema immaculately dressed in silks and a circlet of jasmine in her hair. A wave of cheer would go through the room on their arrival – lit up by her smiles and his infectious hugs and laughs.

Any other couple would have saved for themselves but not so Mano and Mahema. Each year he prepared greeting cards featuring his sketches and they would be sold by Mahema, the proceeds going to various charities – chiefly those that researched eye ailments. When Mano turned author, the royalties too went the same way. Mahema passed away in 2008 but Mano continued with life, writing more books, making more friends, giving more to charity and sketching until he could do no more. He still made it a point to go out and travel despite being completely blind. Last year, the Government of India conferred on him the Padma Shri. What he ought to have got was a Param Vir Chakra for the courage with which he led his life.

To Madras Musings, and its founder S Muthiah, Manohar and Mahema were very close friends. More importantly, Muthiah and his wife Valli admired the spirit with which the couple led their lives in the face of the enormous challenges that fate had flung at them. Each year, once the greeting cards were made ready, the first port of call for Mahema would be to Muthiah to make sure he gave sufficient publicity in the magazine about their availability for sale. And he would always instruct the rest of us to make sure that the news item on the cards was given prominence in the subsequent issue. Till the end of his life, Mano would have each issue of Madras Musings read out to him and sometimes he would call to express his appreciation and occasionally dictate an email to be sent to us.

Mano lived life smiling and we are sure he must have gone the same way. But to us who are left behind, there is a sense of emptiness, of a blithe spirit that was always ready to laugh and appreciate.

Farewell Mano! We will strive to keep smiling. That is the least we can do.

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