Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 3, May 16-31, 2019
The stalwart chronicler is no more. I am deeply grieved to hear the news of the demise of our beloved friend. The contributions he has made to the heritage and history of Madras would remain as the hallmark for years to come. The historiography behind all his exemplary enterprises no chronicler can ever ignore in all the future work pertaining to this domain. My heartfelt condolences to all the members of the family he has left behind. The epochal era Madras Musings has heralded is something one cannot replace.
Rev. Philip K. Mulley
It was way back in 1993, when I was in the Cabinet Secretariat in Delhi, that I read a book of his on Madras. As was my wont, I noticed a small error in it. I wrote a letter to him. There was no reply.
I came down to Chennai in 1999 and happened to meet him in 2000 at a meeting in the University of Madras. He advised me to become a member of the Madras Book Club, which I did immediately. Perhaps I never missed a meeting ever since. He conducted all meetings with great aplomb and fantastic time-management. While on the subject of the Book Club, we should not forget that great other driving force, the late K.S. Padmanabhan. Both together, assisted by one or two others, conducted the meetings. It soon became very well known. Authors like Shashi Tharoor, Girish Karnad et al offered to come and get their books reviewed in the Madras Book Club.
Muthiah used to exhort the members to write down their experiences for the benefit of posterity. He used to say that even if it were not published, he would keep it in the Roja Muthiah Research Library. In that sense too, he was a chronicler par excellence. On one or two occasions, he mentioned me by name to write my memoirs. Although I was toying with such an idea myself, his exhortation gave a further fillip to me.
My autobiography was out in 2008. Many people generally felt that autobiographies or memoirs by civil servants would fall flat. But mine went for a second edition in 2010!There were several good reviews by newspapers and journals not known to me. He published in Madras Musings all my letters with appropriate corrections, and also a few articles of my wife.
His passing is a great loss to the intellectual community of Madras (I would continue to use his name for it).
Dr. G. Sundaram, Ias (Rtd)
In the context of British history, it has been said of G.M. Trevelyan, the famous English historian, that some day he would loom over the twentieth century as Macaulay, his great-uncle, loomed over the nineteenth. We need not wait for posterity to tell us that in the context of the history of Madras, now Chennai and once upon a time the proud capital of one of the three great Presidencies of India, the late S. Muthiah loomed large and with singular distinction. His indefatigable pen created one precious book after another, greatly enriching the body of writings and filling long overdue gaps in historical material relating to Madras, the city and the Presidency. While his best-selling Madras Rediscovered has gone through several editions, his books on various Clubs and Associations in the Presidency, Nagarathar culture and other topics are outstanding reference works under those subjects. Free of malice and having accurate recording of events as their main object, his historical writings were composed in prose that never faltered but captivated and inspired.
Through his books, memories of many long forgotten events and many long forgotten personalities and many long forgotten photographs have found a medium by which they are preserved for posterity. Living with us through his works, the great Muthiah will shine as a lodestar for the present and future generation of scholars on Madras history. I recall with gratitude his appreciation of my books in his famous weekly column in The Hindu, and speak from personal experience when I recollect that he was quick to correct an error when pointed out, while his criticisms never stung but aspired to inspire improvement. The last time I met him was in 2018, when I gave him a copy of my Eardley Norton book, and even back then he was not keeping the best of health. His passing away has caused us an irreparable loss.
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Mr. Muthiah sprang a pleasant surprise when he asked me to be his co-author on the pictorial history of Chepauk when also assisting him with the longer Spirit of Chepauk, the definitive history of the Madras Cricket Club. Not long afterwards, we collaborated on a book titled Winning Through, Nine for the World Cup, on nine Indian cricketers we considered certainties for the 1999 cricket World Cup in England a while before the squad was announced.
Though we got the names right, the book went down without a whimper quite like the way India performed in the tournament. I enclose an image of its cover. I derived much greater pleasure from a cricket book we did together for young adults which died even before it was born.
Unsuccessfully persuaded by the publishers to change the language to suit what they foolishly considered appropriate for teenage consumers of deathless prose, we gave them permission to publish the book, but without our names. I regard the letter Mr. Muthiah wrote them as a masterpiece. He was at his satirical best.
– V. Ramnarayan