S Muthiah, Chennai's chronicler, passes away

Chennai: Chennai's famed chronicler, cartographer and journalist S. Muthiah, 89, passed away here on Saturday due to age-related ailments. He is survived by daughters Ranjani and Parvathi.

Muthiah's wife Valliammal, who was a practising company secretary, died some years ago.

Born in 1930 at Pallathur down south in erstwhile Madras Presidency, in the district now known as Ramanathapuram, Muthiah did his schooling in Colombo. After getting a Master's degree in the US, he return-ed to Sri Lanka and worked with the Times of Ceylon where he rose to be the number-two. He could not become the editor because only Sri Lankan citizens were allowed to head media organisations in that country and Muthiah's citizenship application was rejected by the government.

Returning to Chennai to his parents, Muthiah joined the TTK Group's newly launched TT Maps and led the company's top-notch work in cartography while specialising in tourist maps. His classic work on Chennai's rich history and heritage was published in 1981, titled Madras Discovered, and soon became a must for anyone looking for a one-stop destination for not information but in-depth knowledge of the city's history. Several re-prints later, it was renamed as Madras Rediscovered.

His 'Madras Musings', which he founded a free tabloid focussing on the preservation of the city's heritage, particularly the buildings and historic sites, was among those campaigners responsible for saving the British-built DGP's office at Marina from being pulled down to make way for a modern concrete structure. When the tabloid ran into financial problems, many well-known corporate houses stepped in to lend support in view of the great work that Muthiah and his 'Musings' were doing for preserving the Tamil capital's rich heritage.

Muthiah's weekly column in The Hindu, called Madras Miscellany, was among the favourites of many readers every Monday morning. He had also taught journalism at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

"When Englishmen established Calcutta as their (first) Capital of British India in 1774, the 'Chettiars' were there to open shops on 'Ezra Street', recalled Muthiah, in a talk he gave here years back on the history and legacy of the Nagarathar community, more known as the 'Chettiyars' of TN.

As a community, the 'Nagarathars', from Madurai-Ramanathapuram-Sivaganga-Pudukkottai belt, had played a pivotal role in the development of 'desi' businesses, finance, Tamil literature, Publishing and Journalism, and were known for their "spirit of adventure, braving to cross the seas to create wealth", Muthiah, who hails from that community, had then recalled in an unforgettable lecture on his extensively researched work on the ‘Nagarathars’.

It was an effort reflecting his patience, passion for re-telling history in the classical chronicling tradition.

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