Flawless: Sketch of a hero

Flawless: Sketch of a hero

We know it, of course; Beethoven was deaf but composed music, Albert Einstein had a learning disorder, but overcame it to fathom the physics behind the universe. We pass over such facts, unable to connect with such incredible realities. But when you meet such an incredible achiever in flesh and blood, you can’t but get inspired. You feel the full intensity of the maxim — that the impossible takes just a little longer to achieve. You also touch upon the tranquility of mind that is able to still the despair that torments us; you begin to look over it, catching sight of the blessings that we do have but tend to overlook.

You get a full sense of both these values when you meet him, Manohar Devadoss. Near blind, this 71-year-old man is a fantastic artist, whose sketches are flawless in perspective and texture. He is a man who has lived for over 35 years with a wife whom he saw turn into a quadriplegic within years after their marriage, but still retained a love for her that sustained right through. Those years saw him cheerfully changing her urine bags, carrying her all over the place and baby sitting her, and Manohar is still able to say, “Many things have been denied to us, but we have had a good life, overall.”
 
Manohar Devadoss is near blind, he can see only things an inch ahead of him, that too with a magnifying glass, and with dilation from a special eye drop medication. “I think it does something to my pupil, apart from allowing more light inside,” he analyses.

But as an artist, his sketches are not just spectacular but accurate. His passion is for sketching monuments and landscapes, which he does by extrapolating the intricacies of the image by using techniques of trigonometry. Not that he ever learnt trigonometry.
He touches objects (whenever possible) to get a sense of their texture, and also uses a pocket telescope that the Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital in Chennai had gifted him. Today, as a successful artist, he makes handsome endowments to the hospital for helping poor patients undergoing eye surgery. “Believe in your dreams and in yourself,” is what his late wife Mahima used to tell him, and Manohar stands as a testimony to it.  
Manohar cannot perceive colour at all, has acute tunnel vision and all he sees is as if seen through a pinhole, that too after dilation of his eyes and by using a special magnifying lens. His technique is kind of awesome. He builds his images with criss-crossing strokes of pen and ink on paper, which create a great textural effect. View it from a distance, and you feel the full impact of the three dimensions, and a flawless perspective.

Lately, he has started experimenting with watercolour pencils. He can’t of course make out the colour of the pencil he holds; Kuttima, his helper hands out the colours he asks for.

Manohar never learnt art formally, or ever even thought of himself as an artist. He was always a technical person, with a passion for doodling caricatures and pictures. Mahima had told me during our last meeting, “He used to pen innumerable letters to me before marriage, and they were full of interesting sketches.” Actually, it was Mahima, who first recognised his potential in art and encouraged him to take up sketching in a systematic, serious way.

Later, despite the quadriplegia, she appointed herself his unofficial marketing manager and brought his images into the public gaze. The couple sold many of these sketches as they were printed on greeting cards, the proceeds of which they eventually began to give to charity. Corporates like Ashok Leyland and the TVS group of companies buy greeting cards from this couple. These cards have Manohar’s drawings, and alongside is a brief note on the landscape or monument Manohar has sketched.

Manohar’s intricate sketches of monuments like the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, the historic and beautiful ruins of the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal there, and many other monuments have evoked critical acclaim from senior artists. His stunning sketches of historical monuments in Chennai have themselves become iconic now.

Then there are his books. There would be very few authors who have so marvelously illustrated their own books. Manohar has penned four books so far, two on each of his favourite subjects — Mahima and his hometown Madurai. The books on Madurai are semi-autobiographical, presenting the quaint temple city from the point of view of a young man growing up on her bosom, while the ones on Mahima give us insight into Mahima’s life, before and after the accident that left her paralysed.

A book on trignometrical techniques as applied to fine arts is growing inside him. “I badly want to write the book. But first, I need to finish these water colour sketches,” he says. A single sketch takes him over two months to complete, though Manohar sets himself up at the task from 5:30 am in the morning, because he has to painstakingly work out and keep track of the point he was sketching on, in the first place. “Thankfully, I am good at perspective, which helps me figure out the right dimensions of the scene from the little details I can see,” he says with candor.

Recently, one early morning, Manohar had gone to the cemetery. “Very near where Mahima sleeps, there was a tall tree — unknown to me. Kuttima managed to pluck a twig. I thoroughly probed the twig with my fingers, while my helpers gave a running description,” Manohar narrates. After starting home, he drew the twig he ‘saw’, and he offered me a print of it. The lines he had handwritten underneath the sketch remains poignant. “Though the salutation piece is rather simple, creating this for you gave me great joy. Firstly the twig was from the place where Mahi rests. Secondly, though retinitis pigmentosa keeps posing more problems, it has not yet succeeded in defeating me.”
It is quite difficult to forget this couple. Well, nobody who ever met them can. I only hope that I retain a little of their spirit.

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