Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXIX No. 2, May 1-15, 2019

A beloved Mentor and Friend

– Sashi Nair

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If I had not joined the Journalism course at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan on a whim, I would possibly have never met S. Muthiah. I was in the batch of 1992-93, the oldest by some measure, but I quickly got hooked, not missing a single evening class through the year.

Mr. Muthiah taught us Reporting – we held him in awe. Before the end of the course he asked me whether I was serious about my insurance officer’s job – the south-based conglomerate where he worked was looking for a public relations manager. It was the time I was determined to leave the public sector. I was eight years old with the insurance company and I knew I had to be careful. But there was something about this man that drew me to him. I took the plunge.

As communications director at the TTK Group, Mr. Muthiah was my boss for a decade. Together, we brought out the group’s award-winning in-house magazine, TTK Spectrum. I might have been a gold medalist in journalism and confident of my English language writing skills, but Mr. Muthiah, the editor, soon brought me down to terra firma.
I vividly remember the day I received the first lot of drafts I had written for the magazine, carrying Mr. Muthiah’s stamp. His driver, Malairaj, would bring such edited versions to my room from time to time. The first lot carried the editor’s favourite Wality fountain pen ink scribbles, which formed patterns between paragraphs, dotted margins and created a sort of mosaic at the bottom of almost every page. On one page, there was an extra splash of ink and two prominent words emblazoned across: What nonsense! All the articles, of course, had to be rewritten for a second round of editing.

On most Saturday mornings those days, Mr. Muthiah would arrive at the TTK headquarters on Cathedral Road. He would come to my room first, but only after spending some time with Mr. T.T. Vasu. He would get me to order what he liked – either black coffee or lemon tea. And then he would go through the page layouts I had prepared, the headlines, etc. No adjectives for people, he would insist; for products, it’s fine. Do not use unnecessary words; the lead in a news story should say something new and you should make it interesting; avoid label headlines…

During 2002-03, when he was travelling abroad and once when he was lying ill in hospital, Mr. Muthiah relied on me to put together issues of Madras Musings – I was by then a regular contributor. It provided me yet another valuable experience, deciding the stories to be published, writing the Short ‘N’ Snappy / MMM column and, most importantly, to ensure there were no errors that would upset the editor.

He was simple and humble. He let his work do the talking. And no age for chivalry – he would open the car door for a young lady and get in only after she was seated.

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