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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2731

Renowned writer-journalist S Muthiah passes away

From Gopal Ethiraj
Chennai, 22 April, (

Renowned veteran writer-journalist S Muthiah passed away in Chennai on 20th April, Saturday. He was 89. The Chronicler of the city of Chennai, known as Madras before, Mr. Muthiah leaves behind the history of Chennai and its heritage fully researched and recorded for the posterity.

Muthiah was born on April 13, 1930 to N.M. Subbiah Chettiar and Chittal Acchi at Pallathur, Ramanad district of the then Madras Presidency in British India. Muthiah’s father was a stock broker and politician who served as Mayor of Colombo, British Ceylon and was one of the founders of the Ceylon India Congress in 1939.

He had his school education in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and then went to the United States of America to pursue higher education. Returning to Colombo with a master’s degree in international relations, he took to journalism, joining the Times of Ceylon, in which he served for 17 years. He rose to be second-in-command of the newspaper but could not make it to the top post since the country required media chiefs to be Sri Lankan nationals only; and Muthiah’s application for citizenship was rejected. Hence in 1968, he moved to India, uniting with his parents in Chennai.

Muthiah took up a job as a cartographer with the newly-launched TT Maps by the TT Krishnamachari Group to publish a tourist guide of the city. His seminal book on the city's rich history and heritage, titled Madras Discovered, was published in 198. The book, which is the go-to on Chennai for history enthusiasts has undergone several re-prints and was subsequently named, Madras Rediscovered.

After his retirement from TT Maps in 1991, Muthiah launched his own fortnightly newspaper called Madras Musings along with Lokavani-Hallmark Press in English with the tagline, "We care for Madras that is Chennai." By 1996, the magazine, though popular, was financially unviable. This was when N. Sankar of the Sanmar Group stepped in, and together with several other corporate houses of the city, ensured that the periodical continued without break. The tabloid format paper, which also exists online, is now owned by Chennai Heritage, a non-profit set-up by Muthiah and other heritage conservationists.

Side by side he was a visiting Professor of Journalism with the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and inspired many into serious journalism. This writer himself was one of his proud students. He is best known for his popular column in The Hindu, called Madras Miscellany, on every Monday issue. Madras Miscellany was closest to Muthiah’s heart and he delighted in the popularity it achieved. Miscellany completed 10 years in 2009 and what was written till then was compiled into a book. Even then it established a record of sorts, being more or less the longest running column in the paper. At the time of his passing, Madras Miscellany had appeared 970 times.

The column, started in the newspaper in 1999, chronicled snippets about the city and included everything from why a particular road, street or by lane was so named to the uneasy relationship that British colonizers had with their subjects in Madras. It included a section called 'When the postman knocked' which answered questions from curious readers, and also where the readers supplemented their knowledge of past history of the city, enriching his column.

Muthiah, along with others began the Madras Day celebrations in August 2004. This, over a period of time became Madras Week, and then Madras Fortnight and is now more or less Madras Month. Over 100 different organizations participate in this spontaneous celebration of the city. Another of his creations was the Madras Book Club, where book lovers meet each fortnight to discuss some work or the other.

His last year saw him bravely battle an illness, which ultimately took him away. His wife having predeceased him in 2013, Muthiah is survived by two daughters, sons in law, grandchildren.

Muthiah was decorated by Britain with title “The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” in 2002. Condolences have been pouring in for Muthiah.

- Asian Tribune -

Renowned writer-journalist S Muthiah passes away
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