Writer and motivational speaker Marabin Maindan. M. Muthaiah traces his roots in his 50th novel Thirukkadavur. He talks to Akila Kannadasan about his literary journey

In a small town in Southern India was a beautiful temple of historic importance. People came from far and near to worship its goddess, Abirami. For the townsfolk, life revolved around the temple. They built their houses around it and told their children stories about Abirami. This town, Thirukkadavur, forms the crux of writer and motivational speaker Marabin Maindan. M. Muthaiah’s next book. The novel, his 50th book, titled Thirukkadavur, is to be launched in Coimbatore next month.

Though born and brought up in Coimbatore, Thirukkadavur defined Muthaiah’s childhood. As a little boy, he spent his summer holidays there, basking in the warmth of his grandfather, K. Kanagasabai Pillai. He was a patron of the temple, and scholars who passed by the town stayed in his house.

M.S. Subbulakshmi, Kripananda Variar…little Muthaiah was greatly influenced by the people who visited home. There was a veda padasalai at home, where the Devaram and Thiruvasagam were taught, free of cost.

“The temple was a five-minute walk from thaatha’s house,” says Muthaiah. Muthaiah hung around with Narayanasamy Chettiar, a poet who stayed at his grandfather’s residence. “He was a gifted writer. He had a way with words — he used puns in everyday conversations,” recalls Muthaiah. “He would take me to the temple and tell me a lot of stories.”

The novel revolves around such stories and the people Muthaiah grew up with. He has also incorporated the history surrounding the town into the book. “Thirukkadavur is the birthplace of two Nayanmars — Kungiliyakalaya Nayanar and Kaari Nayanar. The devout Abirami Pattar lived there. Stone inscriptions belonging to the period of Raja Raja Chola have been unearthed here,” says Muthaiah. Evidences suggest a connection between Thirukkadavur and the ancient city of Poompuhar. “According to folklore, Madhavi, (the ravishing dancer in Silappathikaaram) was born there. Even today, there exists a house in Thirukkadavur in which Madhavi is believed to have lived.”

Fact and fiction

The novel begins with the birth of the universe. It then takes the reader through the purana kaalam, the Silappathikaaram period, the Pallava period, followed by the time of the Later Cholas and then, the British. There are chapters dedicated to his grandfather and the simple life of people back then. The novel closes with the Thirukkadavur of the 20th century. Though not entirely non-fictional, Thirukkadavur is a “novel based on facts”, says Muthaiah. Along with the novel, he plans to release a book of selected earlier writings.

Muthaiah has been wielding the pen since his schooldays. “I would write poems when the teacher was taking class,” he smiles. An alumnus of Mani Higher Secondary School, he never missed literary events such as Silappadhikara Vizha and Kamban Vizha that were hosted in the school. “Once, an irangal kavidhai I penned when Chinnasamy Naidu, our correspondent passed away, was written on our school’s notice board,” he recalls. Young Muthaiah won instant recognition for the poem. Muthaiah was known for his oratorical skills even then — he actively participated in pattimandrams and made his presence felt in every literary discussion he attended. Why, his friends called him ‘pulavar’ during his college-days!

Muthaiah is also the editor of the Coimbatore-based ‘Namadhu Nambikkai’, a monthly self-improvement magazine that has featured articles by personalities such as Suki Sivam, Soma Valliyappan and Vairamuthu. His foray into journalism started with an internship with The Hindu in 1990. “I got my first taste of journalism there. I liked it a lot and decided to become a journalist,” he says.

Muthaiah then worked in advertising, coming up with several innovative TV, radio and print advertisement campaigns. An AIDS awareness campaign he designed for a company won nation-wide recognition. Not just the written word, Muthaiah’s stage-talks have also won him a lot of fans. He is well-known for his pep-talks amidst college students — he regularly delivers motivational talks in schools and colleges.

Apart from spiritual books, poetry and biographies, Muthaiah has written self-improvement books. But do self-help books really work? “Yes,” says Muthaiah. “A lot of my readers tell me so.” Muthaiah believes that some “prompts” on how to look after oneself, on how to deal with people, on how to not be lavish and so on, can go a long way. He says that a good book should talk to the reader. “It should do something to you even if it does not necessarily motivate.”

The 43-year-old says that he has readied material for at least another 10 books! However, Thirukkadavur is, for now, closest to his heart. “It will feature photographs of the temple and our ancestral house,” he says. Then, there are the interesting accounts about his grandfather. “Thaatha would never let guests leave without a meal. He would first ask them to eat. If they refused, he would insist, plead... If they still didn’t give in, he would call out to Shanmugam Pillai, the cook. Shanmugam would plead. If that proved futile, they would lock eyes, just for an instant. At thaatha’s slightest nod, Shanmugam would fall at their feet, asking them to eat!”

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