Artist and writer Manohar Devadoss walks down memory lane, sharing his joyous moments in Madurai and enjoys a documentary film on him. T. Saravanan and S.S. Kavitha catch up with him at two different venues

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever” -- John Keats. And so it is for artist and writer Manohar Devadoss. The rustic beauty of Temple City is a joy for ever which gets well reflected in his graphic depictions that portray the essence of Madurai.

With his presentation on ‘Potential for Tourism in Madurai' recently at the Thiagarajar College, Mr. Manohar Devadoss brought alive the city's culture and social ethos.

His nostalgic reminiscences exemplified the splendour of the ancient city. His exemplary skills in line drawings and pencil shades, done with deteriorating eye sight, lent great credibility transporting the audience to yesteryears.

He is able to see beauty, as he perceives it to be, from sculptures on temple towers to agriculture fields.

“The need of the hour is that you should have an eye for beauty, sense to appreciate it and more than that the responsibility to contribute your might to preserve it,” stressed Mr. Manohar Devadoss.

Pointing to a pictorial presentation of the sculpture of 25-headed God with 50 hands spread like lotus petals, he said that not many would have noticed this exquisite carving on the South Tower of Meenakshi Amman Temple.

“It was during 1970s, I came across this sculpture, I used binoculars to know about the intricate carving and I was stunned by the magnificence of the work, which I wished to pass on to my people,” he beamed.

He also lamented the insensitive nature of people in Pudhu Mandapam. “I could feel the dirt deposits on sculptures while being filmed for a documentary,” and immediately suggested students to involve in temple cleaning service.

Another drawing on rural beauty of countryside depicting lush blossoming Indian rushes on the bunds of water canal with banana plantations, coconut groves and shady mountains in the backdrop captured the imagination of the gathering.

“It was drawn in 1975. I felt elated to see the cascading beauty and how Madurai looked as serenely beautiful as it had during my boyhood in the early 1950s. But those fields are now hidden behind concrete structures,” he rued.

That was the period he fell victim to an incurable syndrome, Retinitis pigmentosa. He lost vision in one eye and suffered from night blindness and tunnel vision in the other.

Mr. Manohar Devadoss's graphic account of how he meticulously worked to draw the dark grey cumulous clouds gathering on the blue sky near Tirpparankundram Hill received with thunderous applause.

“By that time my vision had gone from bad to worst and I had to use plus 27 power spectacles. I have not seen the drawing in full,” he commented.

He also attributed his success to his beloved wife Mahema, who was behind his endeavours.

“One of my earliest drawings, the top angle portrayal of a steam engine earned me the name ‘Kirukkupaya' (crazy guy) from my schoolteacher but that cultivated my knowledge of looking things from different angles,” he said and egged on the students to cultivate knowledge on how to use modern technology to preserve heritage.

Showing ample evidence on city's potential for tourism, he said “dying arts can be revived to attract tourists. Beauty of peripheral areas needed more attention.”

Documentary release

Quite aptly when retired professor of history, Dr.Venkatraman said what Florence is to Michelangelo, Madurai is to Manohar Devadoss, in another function at Fatima College, students broke into a rapturous applause.

Here, the occasion marked the release of a 28-minute documentary film on the artist himself, made by Post-Graduate students of English Department of Fatima College.

The film presented Manohar Devadoss's cherished past, including his wedding clippings and Mahema's narration about the traumatic accident that left her paralysed neck down.

The film titled ‘Third Eye' began with a focus on his spectacles indicating that the film makers wanted to bring in the importance of his third eye that visualises his adolescent days in Madurai and freeze them in his striking lines. In between, students also filmed him at Setupati High School where he did his schooling, Pudumandapam, Main Hall of The American College, Mahal and elsewhere with his narration on his association with each place. .

For example, he shared how he and other 10 children joined hands to hold one pillar when he was a four-year-old child. Like any documentary, students have tried to capture his candid moments.

Before venturing into film making, students read his books and familiarised themselves with his art and writing. Next they sketched a story line before rolling down the camera for four days including a two-day shoot in Chennai. They filmed in nine CDs and edited it to 28-minutes.

The enthusiastic team underwent a week's course in shooting techniques, handling camera and fixing angles.

While the students were working on a documentary for visually challenged students, they got a chance to meet Manohar Devadoss and decided to do a documentary on him.

“By hearing the film and my voice, I am reliving my lived Madurai experiences. I cherish every moment spent in the city. Now with these moments, I gain more enriching experiences," he said, adding that "I was the first one to do about Madurai and I did it for pleasure and even now I enjoy."

"I enjoy the love, affection and recognition showered on me in my sunset days," he said shaking hands with the young film makers.

The students were friendly yet they managed to give an objective approach to the documentary.

"It is an inspiring story of love and art of giving. He registered every moment of his life in his photographic-memory from where he draws his inspiration now and then to recreate his beloved city”, they said.