Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 2, May 1-15, 2022
It was in 2016 that Mr. S. Muthiah together with Mr. N. Sankar planned the silver jubilee of Madras Musings. A special commemorative volume comprising articles compiled from past issues of the magazine, together with a commentary by various members of a special silver jubilee committee, was brought out. We got N. Sankar to write a foreword for the book. He was rather reluctant at first but this was one occasion when we got to him to accede to our request. He agonised over it for days as was his wont – polishing a phrase here, editing a paragraph there but he finally had it – and it was perfect, as all his speeches/writings were. We reproduce the Foreword as it appeared in the book.
– Sriram V
Having spent my entire life in Madras, now Chennai, I have always had an interest in stories and articles relating to the city – its history, its culture, its character. Today we have a plethora of magazines and journals focused on Chennai, apart from the press regularly carrying city-specific supplements. However, the situation was very different in the 1960s and 1970s. Aside, which began in the mid-1970s, was the first Madras-specific magazine in English that I can recall. It was a regular read for me and my wife, Chandra. Abraham Eraly, its editor and publisher, was an acquaintance. When the magazine ran into difficulties in the 1980s, we got involved by lending some financial support, and management in the form of Chandra, who had time on her hands as the children were now grown up. This went on for some years, but during that period I discovered, the hard way, that being a businessman and owning a publication that was often critical of the state of affairs in the city did not go together. But that’s another story, and suffice it to say that we had to exit Aside magazine through sale around 1990. We thought we had found a good home for it where it could prosper and grow, but I guess it did not work out commercially for the new owners, and the magazine went out of existence a few years later, to my regret.
After this adventure, I was very pleased to discover Madras Musings, edited by Muthiah. Madras Musings was an indirect offspring of Aside, as Muthiah not only oversaw the printing of it for a while, but wrote a popular column Once upon a City in it. I felt Madras Musings continued where Aside left off and enjoyed reading it regularly.
Very early in its career, Madras Musings became a powerful spokesman for the preservation of the city’s heritage. Anyone who grew up in the Madras of fifty or sixty years ago will know how much the cityscape has changed yielding to the bulldozer of urbanisation. It is an inevitable adjunct of modern living and the infrastructural needs of rapidly growing metros in any country, but a vigilant public can play a role in minimising the environmental and cultural damage it
causes. This is where Musings came in-as a change agent and moulder of public opinion. The fighting spirit of Muthiah, as Editor of Madras Musings, has made the publication the voice of Madras, a crusader for the preservation of all that’s good in the city’s architectural and urban heritage.
I was therefore quite upset when in March 1996 Muthiah, as Editor, announced the imminent death of Madras Musings unable as it was to cope with mounting costs and inadequate financial support. Musings was then five years old. I felt something needed to be done to keep it going, but at the same time was acutely aware of the lessons learnt when I was seen as being in charge of Aside.
I therefore thought of a model by which Musings would continue as such, but would be lent regular financial support by a group of Corporates interested in the city’s affairs. I spoke to many of my friends, business leaders of the city, and presented them a concrete opportunity to support a rare institution championing the cause of preserving the glory and historical significance of our city. And I must say they rose magnificently to the occasion. A number of organisations, twelve initially, came together to breathe new life into the fortnightly. The contributions were made as a public service with no advertising revenue or commercial returns, and no individual businessman or group was identified as having any influence over the publication. This avoided any impact on the contributors of critical articles published in Musings. Also since the idea was to spread awareness of the history, culture and heritage of the city, it was decided to make the publication a free mailer, and also improve its production values.
Happily the idea worked and continues to work today, Musings has not missed a single issue, and has gone from strength to strength over the past 25 years.
A small group of us selected from among the contributors promoted a non-profit company, Chennai Heritage, to take over the publishing of the magazine, and also look at other initiatives related to the city. A few years ago, when Muthiah raised the issue of his eventual successor, we selected Sriram V. I don’t think we could have made a better choice. Apart from his other accomplishments, Sriram’s vast knowledge of the city and its history and issues, his inimitable humourous style of writing, and his great chemistry with Muthiah, make for a great partnership and will ensure a seamless transition.
With a devoted band of contributors, including diehard writers of letters to the editor, Musings has managed to convert many a complacent city dweller into an ardent advocate of heritage preservation. With Muthiah and Sriram leading the way, it has spawned heritage groups in the social media, and heritage walks in which men and women of varying backgrounds take part or lead. Its crowning accomplishment is perhaps the Madras Week celebration every August.
Started in 2004, it has grown into a full-blown Madras Month and more, fast threatening to rival the December music season in size and variety of programmes. What Musings and the Madras Week have achieved is the creation of significant awareness among the residents of the city of its heritage and the need to conserve it and document it as well. Many of the most enthusiastic participants in all these events through the year and during Madras Week are young people, a most heart-warming development.
I am an avid reader. From Sriram’s – or should I say MMM’s humourous observations on the peculiarities of the city and its inhabitants, to the many stories of current descendants of Chennai dwellers of years past coming here from all parts of the world to trace their roots, from the constant and strident tirade against the gradual erosion of our heritage buildings, to the shortcomings in providing civic necessities by the city authorities, and so on and so forth, the journal makes for engrossing reading. I have recommended it to many friends with Chennai links living in different parts of India and the world.
Other than exhorting Musings to devote more attention to sport in the city, I stay away from influencing what is published, as do the other corporate supporters of the journal.
This Silver Jubilee edition contains some of the best writing on eleven topics chosen by a team of selectors who have obviously done an enormous amount of sifting of material from 600 issues of Musings. Each of the selectors has been an important part of the telling of the Madras story over the years, not necessarily as writers, but as enthusiastic travellers in the city’s journey with their own individual search for excellence.
It is a book whose time has come with the Metro and other developments essential to the transformation of Chennai into a smart city posing new urban challenges. It will serve to remind us that Madras was India’s first city in so many aspects, a leader in education, commerce and industry, health, culture, arts, sport, journalism, and many other fields. To me it promises to be a collector’s item, rich in history and wide in its coverage. It is a moment for us to pledge our continued support to the Madras Musings movement.
Congratulations to Muthiah, Sriram and their team on this Silver Jubilee, and best wishes for their progress and march towards the Golden Jubilee.