Devadosses: A Special Kind of Grace
(Courtesy: Charity Focus, http://www.ijourney.org/story.php?sid=3)
She starts to speak, softly and in beautiful Tamil. Now and again he joins in, with a sly sentence here, a funny line there. They are sharing the story of their lives with a roomful of strangers. Before they started no one in the audience knew who they were. By the close of the evening- no one would be able to forget.
Manohar is a scientist-writer-artist, an innovator with a restless intelligence and vivid imagination. He grew up in the Madurai of the 1940s, a schoolboy at large, roaming the city under the great gopurams (temple towers) of Goddess Meenakshi.
Mahema, his wife, is an engaging person, lively and articulate. She was born and raised in Madras, a convent-educated gold-medallist who studied Art and Literature.
Soon after they were married the couple moved to America. They had a beautiful baby girl named Suja. They traveled. They made friends. Eventually they moved back to India. Wherever they were, they lived and laughed a lot.
And very often they talked about the Art of Giving, something dear to Mahema’s heart. It was important to her- to them- that they share their many blessings with others. She was a wonderful teacher, he was a gifted scientist, and they were both talented artists. Together they found many ways to give.
And Life was Good.
Then there was the car accident that changed everything. Mahema was badly hurt. The accident left her paralyzed below the shoulders- for life.
‘She had no control over many bodily functions?she would have to be loaded with drugs that would dull her sharp mind. She would have to live with the constant threat of infections, bedsores and spasms. She would be a ‘dependent’ all her life, needing 24-hour attention?’
– Manohar Devadoss, from his book “Dreams, Seasons & Promises”
Mahema looked at her new life and it was hard. From now on it was going to be easier for her to receive than give. Easier- yes. But who says Mahema chose the easy way?
Because she didn’t.
When dreams are destroyed it takes a rare kind of courage to pick up the pieces, to push past the pain, self-pity, the but-why-me-Lord?
bewilderment. ” All I wanted,” says Mahema, ” was the strength to be a good mother, a good wife and a good friend?.those were my dreams.” So she reached inside herself to find that strength. And she did.
More than thirty years later- here she is. Blooming, beaming in her wheelchair. She’s sixty-three and she’s beautiful. She is here to tell this audience that they must focus on the good things in their lives, and on all that they CAN do. ” Believe in your Dreams,” she says, not once but many times.
Mahema started teaching Spoken English classes at her home, she began work on a series of childrens books, she joined several women’s groups and began to head fund-raising activities for a number of charities, she went through physiotherapy and slowly, painstakingly learned to use her shoulder muscles to write. People were inevitably drawn to her, by her charm, warmth and especially her cheerfulness. The pain was still there, and the grief of loss- but Mahema refused to dwell in it. She put it aside and opened the doors of her changed life to the world. ” I know I still can be of service to people,” says Mahema, smiling.
Listening to her speak you realize that service is an attitude- a mindset. It means putting the best of yourself forward no matter where you are or what you’re doing. It’s irrelevant that Mahema is in a wheelchair, and that she cannot hold the microphone or even sip from a glass of water by herself. Her generosity of spirit transcends her disability. Some people wonder what they have to give the world. Mahema reminds us that without exception we all have something to give — arguably one of the best gifts of all — ourselves.
Through all of this she had one constant, unfailing companion, one person whose strength would stand in when hers faltered. Manohar Devadoss felt the loss as keenly as his wife, and would fight as hard to overcome it. From the minutest detail of her crucial and complicated medical routine to the exact angle at which the wheelchair must be placed when she is being lifted out of their car, he knows it all. For more than three decades he has been her most faithful nurse and attendant always looking for ways to lessen the burden of pain she carries. He is particularly proud of a self-devised technique he uses to carry Mahema up long flights of stairs in her wheelchair. An incredible feat- especially when you realize that Manohar cannot see the steps, or even the wheelchair.
Around the time of the accident Manohar’s vision began to fail. He was diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa- a degenerative eye condition for which there is no known cure.
Today he is almost totally blind.
The silence in the hall is very loud. Mere curiosity was replaced a long time ago with a growing sense of wonder, because the twin-tragedies in this story have inspired more than ready sympathy. This couple is here to share- not their sadness, but their strength.
Five years ago Manohar published his first book, “The Green Well Years”, an affectionate tribute to his early years in Madurai. It retells the magic of a South Indian boyhood set against the beguiling charm of an old temple-city. The exquisite pen-and-ink drawings in the book are his. Because of his condition, Manohar has no color perception, he has acute tunnel vision, and the little he does see is as if seen through a pinhole. Yet his drawings are flawless, sharp-edged, heartbreaking reproductions of snapshots from his life.
How does he do it? With special eyedrops to dilate his pupils, with super strong lights and special magnifiers, with gloves (because the lights make his hands sweat and that could blotch the drawing), with a photographic memory and uncompromising attention to detail, with a dedication and perseverance that go far beyond the ordinary.
Together each year they work on a special set of greeting cards. Manohar does the drawing and Mahema prepares a short write-up explaining the particular significance of the place, building, statue or scene that he has drawn. The cards are sold and the proceeds donated to one of the many charities they are involved with. The Art of Giving is as much a part of their lives today as it ever was.
The impossible is worth reaching for. You learn that, listening to these two. When you start testing the boundaries of what you can do- you break through self-imposed limitations. ” Believe in Yourself,” says Mahema. ” Believe in your dreams and in yourself.”
They live life in loving detail. Sunsets, a special dish, an old tune, an unexpected guest, a sudden breeze — when these things come by, they are There. When you embrace life you come alive to the beauty of the present. That’s what these two have done.
Today Manohar Devadoss has three books to his credit, and is working on a fourth. Mahema continues to be involved with a number of fund-raising projects and women’s committees. Both of them have a wide circle of friends and admirers and continue to be an inspiration to everyone who knows them.
Sounds simple, lives pretty tough. Our rebel hearts stage a hundred mutinies each day. Resisting, refusing, denying, defying. Sometimes we fight life off with flying fists. Forgetting to remember that it takes more courage to be still. Because Acceptance isn’t about weak-willed submission to the blows of chance and fate, it isn’t about glum indifference or spiritless passivity (even if the confusion is convenient). Acceptance is strength with wings. It’s the power of compassion married to the humility of understanding. It lifts you above regret and rage to a place where hate is not an option, to a place where the difficult beauty of each moment is lived, learnt from- and loved.
Acceptance is a special kind of grace.
Manohar and Mahema Devadoss are a couple who live that grace day by day.