Plagued by arthritic pain and diabetic complications, MS would often complain bitterly to Sadasivam about her cruel fate. Sadasivam would then quietly tell her to think about Mahema and Manohar—and MS would quickly fall silent, and prayerful.
That was in recollection of a 1972 lorry-car collision that left Mahema, at thirty-three, paralyzed below the neck. In the hospital, as Manohar wrote in a book on their love affair, ‘her head was shaven, her scalp slit at two places above her ear lobes, and two holes drilled in her skull to suspend a traction weight’. She lost control over all bodily functions, faced the constant threat of infection and spasms, needed twenty-four-hour attention: somebody had to hold the glass to her lips when she wanted a drink of water.
Progressively, Manohar’s ability to help disappeared as he fought a prolonged battle of his own against retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative condition that leads eventually to total blindness. When I met him in early 2002, he could not see me. He could not make out the front and back of a book, so he inscribed his book to me on the back flyleaf upside down. In the midst of such appalling tragedy, this couple sustained a cheerfulness and optimism and zest for life that astonished those who met them.
Dr S. S. Badrinath of Shankara Netralaya, Madras, gave Manohar a pair of specially made Australian glasses. They allowed him a narrow, if rather dim, beam of sight over a tiny dot of space if the paper was held close to his eyes. But he had to remove the glasses every other minute to let the moisture from the eyes evaporate. Putting on and taking off the glasses hundreds of times, taking the paper right up to his eyes for every stroke of the pen, seeing only three or four square millimetres at a time, he accomplished this portrait of his ‘MS Amma’ (see above). The labour of love was one more reason to be joyful about life. This man and his wife deserve every award there is for grit and courage.
Source: George, T. J. S.. M. S. Subbulakshmi: The Definitive Biography. Aleph Book Company. Kindle Edition.