MEMORIES . For the first time ever, MANOHAR DEVADOSS writes about his childhood spent in Madurai and the association he shares with the people and the place.
My father was the municipal doctor of Madurai. I was born in 1936, not in a hospital or a nursing home, but in a large house at the western edge of Goripalayam, where I spent the first six years of my life. . Goripalayam, just north of Vaigai River, was a Muslim enclave with narrow streets and narrower lanes. Fortunately however, the western window of our house commanded an open, panoramic view that would warm any artistic heart.
From this window we could see at a lower level an un-tarred road which was the eastern bund of an irrigation canal next to which was a vast expanse of paddy fields reaching up to the eastern bund of Sellur Kanmaai. The fields were interspersed with lines of coconut trees which added beauty to the scene. We could see long threads of railway trains chugging along the distant western bund of the kanmaai. The majestic Western Ghats was the worthy backdrop. During winter months, we would witness glorious sunsets, the nearby canal taking on a golden hue. As a little child, I enjoyed this serene view in its varied moods, in an unaffected way. It is possible that this view laid the foundation for my ability to appreciate and capture in paper the placid, rural beauty of Madurai country.
The canal was also a perennial source of enjoyment to my brother, Divakar and me. For instance, we never became tired of disturbing the frogs that meditated at the bank, only to watch them dive into the water like professional divers.
Our helper lady, Chellam grew very fond of me. When I was four, I used to tell her, in Tamil, “Chellam from Chellur uses Chellam soap.” After nearly seven decades, I came to know Rajesh, the grandson of the founder of Chellam Soaps. When I was four, I would never have guessed that seven decades later, I would be using soaps produced by this company.
I went to Meenakshi Amman Temple often as a child with my mother and other relatives. I was truly impressed by the imposing gopurams and the many interesting aspects within the complex. It has been my happy destiny to make many ink drawings of the gopurams in later life.
Whenever relatives came to stay with us, which was often, we visited the Mariamman Teppakulam. I was delighted by the boat ride enjoying the reflection of the tower and the trees of the maiyamandapam in the water. On the island, my cousins and I played ‘hide and seek’ or ‘catch a thief’.
We also visited the Mahal quite often. For a little child, the countless gigantic pillars were awesome, which however of course, I captured in paper in later years.
Nawab Jan was a young man, who lived in the house opposite ours. One day he put me on his shoulder and took me to the Goripalayam Mosque which is at the other end of the enclave. This was the first time ever that I entered a mosque. I was struck by the majestic dome. I entered the same mosque for the second time after the passage of six decades. I learnt that the dome is a monolithic piece, which is extraordinary.
I did my first and second class in OCPM School, a fine one. There were many palmyrah trees. I did my very first on-the-spot sketch of palmyrah trees at this school. I have been drawing these starkly beautiful trees ever since.
Our classroom was only a platform about six inches above ground with no walls. The thatched roof was supported by bamboo poles.
During my OCPM years, the Second World War was on. One morning, we suddenly heard a loud roar in the sky with uneven but equally loud spluttering sounds. All the children and the teachers rushed out of the classrooms to see what was up. We saw a small Second World War plane, obviously in trouble. At Madurai, never had any one seen a plane fly so low before. The pilot managed to land the plane on the north-east outskirts of Madurai. Hordes of people from the town went to have a darshan of the plane, albeit from some distance. Later, I was to realize that the plane taught me an informal lesson on perspective in art. But that is another story.
Our family went – though not frequently – to the chapel at the American College for worship. Besides, we attended the wedding services of countless uncles and aunts in the chapel. I came to love the church. I did an ink drawing of it in 1957 as a student of the American College and again a better version in 2002. When I attended the chapel service as a child, I would never have guessed that it would be my good fortune to be in touch with this college throughout my life.
When I was a child of six, my family moved to Kottaiyur and returned to Madurai when I was a boy of eight, to live in the inner city for the next 13 years. I then moved to Madras when I became a young man.
Madurai has remained a part of my psyche. It seems to me that my love for this town began even when I was a little child and has continued to be so ever since.
(The writer is a well known artist and author of “Mutiple Facets f My Madurai” and “Green Well Years”)