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Their pluck says it all

Braving challenges, Mahema and Manohar Devadoss pursue their interests in drawing, painting and writing. But, what makes the couple special is that they use their creative skills for charity.

``I STILL SMILE to myself when I think of what my mother-in- law first said the time Mano and I printed the cards that he had painted, to be sent to friends'', says Mahema Devadoss. Her lips curl into a smile once again at the thought. "Why 100 cards?", the old lady had asked. Today greeting cards made by the Devadoss's are printed in thousands. The care, ingenuity and intricacies with which Manohar Devadoss has drawn each card, coupled with Mahema's marketing skills, are bound to increase its saleability even further.

``Ours is not a business proposition — it is just our way of showing how thankful we are for things we have been blessed with...'', says Mahema. Among those of us who cavil and crib at the slightest discomfort, Manohar and Mahema stand out like a beacon.

The money they make from cards goes entirely to charity.

And as Mahema gives voice to her thoughts and feelings there is no rancour, no inveterate animosity or frustration — just plain acceptance of the trauma and trials, joys and the fulfilment, that life has rendered.

It is more than 30 years since a ghastly road accident resulted in the paralysis of Mahema's arms and legs. But the memory of the incident is still vivid. "We were on our way to Madurai in our newly bought Harold car, for the new year that was just a day away. I was at the wheel. My husband Mano was beside me — Suja my daughter, and my mother in law were in the backseat.The driver of the lorry behind kept teasing me. He would slow down when I did and race when I tried to speed up" — Mahema re-lived the horrendous day with grit and calm.

Finally when she tried to overtake, the lorry driver hit the car and sped past. The callousness shocks you. And makes you feel ashamed of humanity as a whole.

``He does not know what he has done'', Mahema says softly as she looks down at the wheel chair she is sitting on.

To this day, Manohar Devadoss, her husband, is her pillar of strength. Theirs was an arranged marriage of sorts. ``Mano had seen me at a function. He approached my parents and that's how we got married'' — Mahema's eyes sparkle with nostalgia.

The couple has several common interests — the main of course, is their love for art. Mahema, a Fine Arts student herself, can draw and paint. But Manohar is a self-taught artist. And for a science person, who specialised in Chemistry, to be so involved in pen and ink drawings sounds almost incongruous. Well... not quite, once you see Manohar's intricate line sketches!

The picturesque drawings of Manohar, dwelt upon to the minutest detail, the symmetry of every brick and tile of the buildings painted and the alluring quality of each picture, become all the more incredible when you think of the physical challenge that Manohar is himself coping with. ``It is an eyesight problem for which there is not much medical help. He has lost sight in one eye completely. The condition of the other has deteriorated a lot." In case you would think that it is not a very encouraging scenario, Mahema adds, ``But I help him out.'' Her mornings are spent in keeping an eye on the kitchen, checking out accounts and calling up people for the promotion of their greeting cards. The entire evening Mahema reads out to Manohar — from books, newspapers, periodicals, the works, while Manohar paints as he listens to her.

``Even if there is a small slip, he would turn round and say `You missed out the verb, Mahema'. I tell you, he's terribly sharp'' — her voice resounds with joy and pride.

Manohar's speciality is line drawings, as the paintings show. Nowadays he sticks to using ink because differentiating between one colour and another is posing a problem, says Mahema. Yet the detailed depictions made even today are flawless. ``Our friends tell us that he draws with his mind's eye," laughs Mahema. "I had the training and he had the talent," she adds. The couple even held an exhibition of paintings done by both of them. Mahema never thought she would be able to draw or paint again. It was my daughter — Sujatha now married and living abroad — who suggested that I should join Mano and do some drawings for the exhibition we had planned. I was happy when I actually could.''

M.S. Subbulakshmi sang a bhajan at the inauguration. It was a great moment for the couple. Again the money they got went to charity — from Shankara Nethralaya to Udavum Karangal, Mahema and Manohar have a list of organisations they help in their own, unique way. Sharon Apparao's ``Our Madras'' exhibition of paintings had Mano's works, which were very well received, together with those of Thotta Tharani and Dhanushkodi.

Mahema has probably defied scientific theory when despite the problem of quadriplegia, she is able to draw and write. ``I'll show you how'', she goes on enthusiastically as she calls for her splint, which she gets fixed to her hand, and writes. ``Writing is a passion and I am thankful I am able to do it.'' Mahema writes poems and articles for magazines. ``And I write a whole lot of letters every day — I have friends all over'', she laughs. But you can understand the agony she must have undergone to re-acquire this skill.

Manohar's book, ``The Greenwell Years'', published by East West Books, is ample proof of the literary and illustrative skill of Manohar. The book is full of splendid illustrations by Manohar and is about his boyhood days in Madurai. East West plans to release two more books by Manohar — one of which will focus on his life with Mahema and the challenge they have braved together.

And if he loves classical music (it is lack of time that made Manohar give up learning it), for her it is Bharatanatyam. ``My daughter Sujatha is trained in it. The teacher used to come home to teach Suja and I would sit and watch her being trained. Her `arangetram' was a gala event for us'', she says with a glow.

``We love going out... and we have an excellent driver to take us around. In fact there are so many helpful people always around us, from the doctors who take care of us, to our well wishers.'' Her genuine good will, warmth and unswerving faith in God, leave an indelible impression.

MALATHI RANGARAJAN

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