‘Madras inked... Impressions of an artist and an architect’ review: Window to a loved, old, old city

What the late heritage activist and possibly Madras’ finest raconteur S. Muthiah, journalist Vincent d’ Souza, and their team created with Madras Day or Week (the last week of August) since 2004, is an ode to the old city, nostalgia primed, and invoking a warm, pleasant feeling in inhabitants of a city who consider it home.

Among the key highlights this Madras Day, held after a pandemic that had wrecked tremendous havoc in the city, COVID protocols still firmly in place, was the launch of Madras inked... Impressions of an artist and an architect. For people who love a city like it is a persona, there seldom is more joy than having parts of the city gift-wrapped for them.

Whiff of the past

A delightful coffee table book of fine black ink drawings, and detailed descriptions of landmarks that have come to define Madras, Madras inked is a window to a black and white world of the past, literally drawing in anyone thumbing through one of those increasingly rare-to-find category of books, one with superlative production values. But then, form here, has to match the content.

Penned by artist Manohar Devadoss, and architect and heritage enthusiast Sujatha Shankar, this book is a joyful coming together of various skills that work so well. At the heart of it, of course is love for an old, old city. While Sujatha’s well-researched notes on each landmark — there are over 40 of them — with two or three versions of some of them, bring out facets that are not part of public knowledge, Manohar’s notes on the same are charming insights into how the work of art came to be. Manohar has his own retinue of fans, not merely for his prodigious talent, including the fine pen work, but also because of the manner in which his life unfolded, and his soldiering on despite adversities. Manohar and his late wife Mahema are not unknown to the people of Madras or Tamil Nadu, even, producing fine ink drawings of landmarks of Madurai and Madras over the years, the latter, as part of their ‘Heritage Greeting Cards for charity’ project.

Keen eye for detail

Manohar is a self-taught artist who produced intricate sketches despite struggling with diminishing vision, as a result of retinitis pigmentosa. In the characteristic spiritedness that we have come to associate with him, he says: “It warms my heart to know that this book is seeing the light of day after I have become totally blind.” The sketches in the book however, reveal nothing of the disability, as co-author Sujatha says: “Manohar’s sketches have been crafted with architectural precision, and a keen eye for detail.”

Sujatha’s detailed descriptions also highlight her close involvement with not only architecture, but also the heritage of this city. The book was her idea, originally, and she has delved deep into resources available adding value to the variegated samples of Madras’ rich heritage structures profiled here, with her architect’s eye.

One wonders if a few prints of the drawings could have been included with the book to frame, that might have rendered it even more valuable. And yet, the book itself is a work of art, a joyous, yet serious, celebration of the many-splendoured wonders this city of living history nestles in itself. A collectable for lovers of Madras, certainly.

Madras inked... Impressions of an artist and an architect; Manohar Devadoss and Sujatha Shankar, CPR Publications, ₹2,500.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 6:08:44 PM |

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