Art

Mano’s sketches of Madurai

“I lead an extraordinarily happy life,” says Manohar Devadoss. At 82, the scientist, writer, innovator and self-trained artist who lives alone in Chennai, doesn’t let anything come in the way of his exuberance, the ‘can do’ spirit, and the will to succeed and embrace life. Mano, as he is lovingly called, draws people. Which is why a majority of those who came for the launch of the audio tour of his art show at JC Residency, stayed back to meet him long after the event got over.

He lost his wife a decade ago and his eye sight totally last year. Wherever he goes, he makes it a point to speak to every body of the “loving support of my dear ones”. Much like the man himself, his exquisite ink drawings, are endearing. They are dreamlike images invoking narrative scrolls and sacred imagery. Eighteen of them are now permanently displayed in the hotel for all to see.

It was befitting that Mano’s friends and art lovers turned up in big numbers for the event. The JC Art Foundation, run by Shubasree and Rishwant Jayaraj, wants to make art fathomable and accessible to all. So, in the section that has Mano’s sketches, each frame is supported by a crisp commentary in the artist’s voice, explaining the work. Those who want to both see and also know the history and story behind the paintings can download the JC Art app from the Android and IOS stores and enjoy the audio tour.

The artworks have been selected from Mano’s collection of 69 sketches that are part of his beautifully-illustrated book Multiple Facets of My Madurai published in 2007. They draw from the artist’s childhood memories between 1943 and 1953, that he describes as his “magical life as a young South Indian boy growing up against the beguiling charm of the old temple town.”

In his narration, Mano talks about the history of the monuments, landmark buildings and important events he has chosen and how his life was connected to them. His trademark black and white detailed sketches, done with pen in precise strokes, are stunning. He remembers details that might be lost on even the keenest observer.

For instance, he has sketched the majestic pillars of the Pudhumandapam showing every detail of the intricate carvings on them and the row of tailors sitting by them. He says how at the beginning of every academic year, he would go with his friends to purchase new books and that till the age of 21, his clothes were stitched by the tailors there. He reminisces the chariot procession during the Chithrai festival when the entire city would be out on the streets to celebrate Meenakshi and Sundareswarar’s wedding. His image of the ther and the crowd is mesmerising. With every stroke, he touches lives.

When you look at the sharp-edged snapshots of Mano’s impressions while flipping the pages of the book, you get a different perspective. When you see them framed on the wall, the viewing lends a different meaning. And when the artist’s voice walks along with you explaining the significance of the painting, it acquires an altogether different perspective.

But above everything is the story of Mano’s life and his mental strength that has always proved a bulwark against adversity. He radiates positivity when he says that but for the tragedies in his life, the drawings and the books would not have happened. He actually started drawing when his eye sight started failing and his drawings were driven by his sharp memory and vivid imagination. And that is what makes his work so much more special.

Many know about the horrific accident his wife Mahema met in the prime of her life that rendered her quadriplegic. And by a quirk of fate, Mano developed a progressive degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa around the same time. But the two showed courage to push past the pain. He shares stories about how he wooed his wife not with an engagement ring but an engagement letter and on every wedding anniversary, crafted a special card for her with his detailed pen and ink drawings.

Always full of life and laughter, Mano says, as a couple, they never shared their sadness, only their strengths. “Each time we did something together, we discovered a much richer experience.” Together, they hand crafted 33,000 greeting cards for their love for art and always used their talent and skills for charity with a rare sense of devotion. “Setbacks make us better, believe in your dreams and never give up,” he says.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 11:52:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/manosmadurai/article26954430.ece

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