Today’s newspaper carried in its columns the news of the death of Mahema Devadoss. I was distressed to see it.
Mahema was a most pleasant personality, with a very sweet and ready smile. I met her first, about 12 years ago, when I went to interview her husband Manohar for our newspaper (I worked for a neighbourhood newspaper). He had just published a book, ‘The Greenwell Years’, about his salad days, and the book was illustrated with his pen-and-ink drawings - his forte. Though I was meeting them for the first time, they welcomed me so warmly and affectionately. One of the nicest couples I have met.
I remember the room where I waited for them - there was a portrait of M. S. Subbulakshmi, done by Manohar. Manohar came in and we started talking. A little later Mahema entered, in a wheelchair. I had not expected that, and it was rather a shock.
I learnt that in 1972, a few years after they were married and when their daughter was just a young child, they had been in a road accident, as a result of which Mahema was paralysed from the neck down. She needed help for everything – including getting into the wheelchair, and out of it. Manohar considered it his privilege to take care of her every need, day and night, though his failing eyesight, owing to an incurable complaint (retinitis pigmentosa) made his vision very weak over the years. And she, drawing on her inner strength, faced life positively – she conducted Spoken English classes at home, started writing, using a splint on her right hand to help her, and was a member of many fund raisers for charities.
After that first meeting, we were in fairly regular touch. Mahema even made the effort to attend my son’s wedding. Whenever she needed anything to be mentioned in our paper, she would call me and make the request so affectionately. ‘Rajima,’ was how she referred to me. And so does Manohar.
In the last few years, they have put to good use Manohar’s gift of sketching buildings and Mahema’s descriptive and accurate prose, to publish greeting cards for the festive season, and use the proceeds for charity. A well qualified woman, she had the gift of writing in chaste English, and took pains to research for the material.
Manohar wrote about her in his book ‘A Poem to Courage’ – a tribute to her great courage in the face of adversity. She was indeed one of the bravest and most uncomplaining persons I have known – and so is he.
Photo: Courtesy 'The Hindu'