Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 2, May 1-15, 2019
How many books did the Chief actually write? When asked he would dismiss the question with a wave of his hand. If pressed he would be evasive but concede that the number was around forty. My guess is that he simply stopped counting after a while. To him it was the quality of the output, rather than the numbers, that mattered.
Cartoon by Biswajit Balasubramanian
You can almost hear the conversation:
You: Muthu, the title? No editing, please?
Big Chief: Why not?
You: Trust me, there’s a whole bunch of people out there who’ll get the reference, and…
Big Chief: What reference?
You: (faint, but pursuing) Muthu, just let it be, no?
And he would… in the end.
This was a game played all the time. You’d bung in references loaded with the zeitgeist-of-your-era, and Muthu would come right back at you….all for effect, of course. He always supported you ultimately, and he invariably knew what you were talking about – he just wanted you to earn the right to pepper your work as you pleased.
“I know you; the off spinner.” This is how Mr. Muthiah greeted me – in a gruff voice that carefully hid the friendliness underneath – when I introduced myself as Gowri’s husband in search of writing opportunities some 25 years ago. Little did Mr. Madras realise that he would be stuck with me for decades, if only intermittently. Not long afterwards, he gave me my first assignment, that of proof-reading a book of 127 pages, which brought me my first cheque (for Rs. 381) as a freelancer. He believed in compensating anyone who did anything for him – and the cheque was never delayed.
For the next few years, I assisted Mr. Muthiah in several projects, which included books he either wrote or edited for publishers. It was an exciting new world for someone who had just found his calling, for want of a better description, and the debt of gratitude I feel for Mr. Muthiah for practically resurrecting my career is immeasurable. (S. Krishnan of The Hindu, Preeti Mehra of Businessline and N. Sankar and Chandra Sankar of the Sanmar family are some of the others I owe my second innings to). For a couple of years, I also assisted him with Madras Musings, seated daily at the very dining table where our first meeting took place. His meticulous eye for detail and constant search for excellence were an inspiration to me and the small army of freelance helpers, from aspiring journalists and photographers to researchers and columnists, he had gathered around him.