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

Vol. XXIX No. 4, June 1-15, 2019

To the Chief, wherever this may find him

Ranjitha Ashok

Page 4-1
Mr. N. Ram speaking at the Memorial meeting organised by the Madras Book Club.

Chief, did you know you are spoken of in different ways? ‘Mr. Muthiah’, of course, heads the list – but you are also ‘Uncle Muthu’, ‘Muthu’ and ‘The Chief’.

Were you aware that you meant so much to so many? You are being remembered in as many ways as there are people who have known you.

These past few weeks, The Grand Old Lady has mourned her son at many venues, from many podiums. The city has been speaking about you, Chief – eulogies after eulogies in a parade of memorials.

To mention a few – The Sunday Books-for-Breakfast group you established gathered one Sunday morning, (appropriately enough) and in a collective outpouring of ‘rememberings’, spoke of you in sparkling terms. You will be amused to know that a temporary shrine was created at one end of the room, complete with your favourite pen and your Olivetti typewriter, which, by the way, is well on its way to becoming an icon in its own right. (You are probably muttering: “That’s all very well, but I hope they got my typewriter home safe!” Don’t worry – they did.)

One of your books was symbolically reviewed – specifically The Anglo-Indians – A 500 Year History, by you and Harry MacLure. A number of people spoke of you, in praise, with respect…and there were also those who appeared still a bit shaken, having been at the receiving end of your singularly unique way of expressing your opinions. Genuine regard, however, was the strong common thread running through every speech. It was also ­obvious that most speakers could hear your epic tinkling tumbler in their own heads, ensuring they stayed within their time limits – such is the terror you’ve inspired.

Your beloved Madras Book Club did you proud, Chief, and you’d have approved the backdrop. All your friends and your shishyas spoke of you – of your passion for the city; for history and heritage, your work ethic, your inclusiveness, and the fact that your presence in their lives led to their own transformation and growth. Simultaneously, some also pointed out the hidden danger in sharing even the tiniest bit of information with you. Invariably, this rashness led to being put to work almost at once. Chief, your daughter Ranjani spoke at this venue that mattered so much to you. Her words would have made you smile. The evening ended with some staples from your iconic opening speech being quoted, with the august, mostly senior-citizen, gathering, gleefully hailing your famous: “One question per person – and no speeches!” statement.

A couple of Fridays ago, another memorial under the aegis of the Chennai Heritage initiative saw a packed hall filled with your family and your friends….the distinction so blurred, it was hard to tell the difference. The variety of speeches made by a cross-section of speakers reflected the range of subjects and institutions that interested, and involved, you.

Incidentally, your work-covered dining table is fast becoming an iconic symbol too. A legend-in-the-making-like quality is definitely beating its wings around your image. So be warned. Perhaps in the years to come, an emotional shishya will write an ‘Ode to your Typewriter’…which, to put it mildly, will be high irony indeed.

You must know, though, that your daughter Parvathi spoke at this event, and managed to burst a few bubbles about you (see story alongside). Well, stories about a mischievous 7-year-old spoilt silly by his doting mother and grandmother will do this, but also up the ‘endearing’ quotient significantly.

Chief, you are being mourned with overwhelming affection, and everyone whose life you touched is thankful for having known you and Valli.

They’ve spoken of you as the city’s chronicler, teacher, mentor, friend, support system, their day’s First Phone Call, and every difficult, writing-related decision’s Last Word.

The city misses you – but your legacy appears to be in safe and committed hands.

Just thought you’d like to know, Chief.

Will sign off now.

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