No matter what the context of your Life is, no matter how challenging the situation is, you always have the choice to be happy despite the circumstances.
To my soulmate Vaani and me, Manohar Devadoss personified love, compassion, courage, dignity and a deep, hearty, full-of-Life, laughter!
We will always remember him for those amazing, exceptional, qualities.
As I write this tribute, his funeral is underway. He passed on a couple of days ago. He was 86.
To many, he was a rare artist, who, despite his failing eyesight for decades, and his eventual blindness some years ago, created extraordinary works of art. To others, he was Mahema’s lover and companion, until she passed on in 2008. To many others, he was an exceptional human being and a very dear friend.
Love in action
Mano, to Vaani and me, was always loving. The magnificence of his love shone in his tight hugs. Each time we met him, he would immediately embrace both of us together, his big whiskers brushing against our faces. He literally poured his heart into that embrace every single time. And he would exclaim heartily: “AVIS, Vaani, how are you both?” That moment always oozed authenticity. It wasn’t just another soulless, matter-of-fact, greeting. It was love in action. It was what being loving truly is.
Genuine, deep, compassion
His compassion too was genuine. It was expansive, limitless and deep like the oceans.
When Vaani and I first met him, in September 2015, he was very moved by hearing the story of our enduring bankruptcy. He complimented us for being the happynesswalasTM and for living a Life of purpose – Inspiring ‘Happyness’ TM! He had someone read out my book Fall Like A Rose Petal to him. And in November 2015, in an edition of our conversation series, the happyness conversationsTM, where he was our guest, he empathetically remarked: “I am not sure my pain of not being able to see and of having lost my companion Mahema is bigger, or your pain of continuing to deal with a crippling financial situation is bigger.” This ability to feel another’s pain and place it higher than your own is rare. That is true compassion.
During one of our visits to his home in Santhome, he served us his signature salad, Tulsania. He chose to serve us salad only because he knew we were on a diet. Now, he did not have someone make the salad for us. He went to the grocer’s on the morning of our visit and bought the ingredients for the salad himself. And he tossed up the salad, with lettuce and walnuts, in a fresh homemade mayo dressing. He insisted on serving his preparation to us. And he served us a couple of helpings. There is an Urdu word for hospitality called khatirdari. It defines the act of serving a guest with compassion. In being served by him, and while savoring his preparation, we experienced Mano’s legendary khatirdari.
Remarkable ability to face Life’s upheavals undauntedly
It was his remarkable ability to face Life undauntedly that guided and shaped his journey, even without normal eyesight and, over time, despite total blindness.
His entire Life is evidence of this ability.
Mahema and Mano married in 1963. They lived together for 45 years. She passed away in 2008. Of these 45 years, Mahema lived with quadriplegia for 35 years; a devastating accident had rendered her quadriplegic in December 1972. Around the same time, Mano began to have progressive, degenerative, eyesight; this eventually led to total blindness. Yet, Mano cared for Mahema, diligently, compassionately, for all those 35 years! If Shahjahan built the Taj Mahal for his beloved, Mano ensured – though his love for her, his practical thinking, his toiling – that Mahema lived through those 35 years, unable to use her limbs, without a single bedsore! He also anchored himself to stay strong, alongside Mahema, as they raised their beautiful daughter Sujatha in the midst of their individual, physically debilitating, conditions. And, for over 14 years, since Mahema’s passing, Mano lived alone. He led a dignified, purposeful Life, being immersed in his art, his writing and in his public work. “There is no point in moping and mourning about the challenges that Life throws at you. We must learn to laugh at ourselves, at our situation, and at Life itself,” he told us, when we had a conversation with him in June 2016. Excerpts from this conversation are due to appear in my forthcoming book, The Happyness Road.
His laughter had a spiritual quality
All through that conversation, which lasted a couple of hours, Mano laughed full-heartedly. He laughed even when he recalled all the upheavals that he had experienced in Life. Over many interactions with him in these past few years, Mano’s laughter, to us, became a part of his identity. In fact, if you have met him and experienced his laughter, you can hear him laugh even in most pictures of him. Vaani and I have often felt that his laughter had a spiritual quality. It was wholesome, honest and conveyed a deep understanding of what Life really is. It reflected a unique celebration of Life: Of its inscrutability, of its impermanence and of its suchness!
An embodiment of courage
Mano’s true religion, we believe, was courage. He practiced living each moment fully, courageously.
Now, courage is not necessarily evident only in popular acts of physical valor. Courage is certainly not the absence of fear either. The ability to look fear in the eye, to stand up to what scares you, is courage. So, being able to face Life’s upheavals, without giving up, without becoming bitter, is courage. Being able to withstand pain, while choosing to not suffer from it, is courage. Choosing to immerse yourself in what you love doing, when darkness engulfs you – in Mano’s case, there was physical darkness too, given his impaired eyesight – is courage. To let go, and to flow with Life, is courage. Being useful, even when you can’t be successful in a worldly sense, is courage. To live a Life of love, compassion, dignity and cheer, despite constant pain, despite enduring constraints, is courage. To laugh at yourself, at your situation, and at Life, is courage! To be happy, to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, despite the circumstances, is courage.
Surely, being Manohar Devadoss was never easy. Pain has been so integral to his Life’s journey for 50 years. Yet, he just kept flowing with Life, accepting it for what it is, and never once, feeling either self-pity or bitterness. There’s a word in Tamil called thunivu that personifies courage through human action. For Vaani and me, Mano’s Life will always remain an embodiment of thunivu.
Mano’s kind of courage is rare. It is quiet. But it is unputdownable, it is unmissable. It shines bright. And such courage lights up the lives of people who come in contact with those that display it.
This is what happened with Vaani and me too when Mano came into our Life. Our Life illumined with his influence. Which is why we believe his Life is his message – for anyone who wants to pause, reflect and learn how to be happy despite their circumstances.
Additional, relevant, links:
- Manohar Devadoss.
- Rise In Love – a 2015-documentary, made by a young filmmaker Shalu C. While focusing on the journey of Vaani and AVIS, the film explores how love thrives in the face of adversity. Viewing time: 30.18 minutes.
- Fall Like A Rose Petal – AVIS’ first book. It is the true story of AVIS’ and Vaani’s Life. It captures learnings from the excruciating, fascinating, Life-changing, experience – a crippling bankruptcy – that they are still going through.
- Click here to know more about the happynesswalas TM, Vaani and AVIS.
- If you wish to seek Vaani’s and AVIS’ perspectives on a Life challenge you are faced with, please reach out here – Let’s Talk Happyness TM!