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Author recalls life and times as a merchant

Asha Sridhar
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For memory’s sakeThe book is an attempt by K.R.N. Menon (extreme left) to document the past in the absence of any records —Photo: V. Ganesan
For memory’s sakeThe book is an attempt by K.R.N. Menon (extreme left) to document the past in the absence of any records —Photo: V. Ganesan

As much as ‘A Madras Merchant’s Life and Times’ is about the life of author K.R.N. Menon, it is also a rich description of the fascinating decades that the book traverses.

The autobiography, which begins with the author’s early life in Ceylon — described by historian S. Muthiah as ‘God’s own country’ — documents his times as an executive of Best & Co. which later became Best & Crompton, and delves into the mercantile scene of the early 1950s.

“It is for young people to read and get an idea of the way of life then, the sporting scene, the clubs, and how the foundation of the local economy was laid post-independence,” said Mr. Menon.

All of 210 pages, the book rather than taking the usual path of heady nostalgia, is an attempt to document the decades, the stalwarts in the mercantile scene and the changing times, all in the absence of any records.

It is in times like these, asserted Mr. Muthiah, that the concept of biography as history becomes relevant.

“Everyone over the age of 50 has a story to tell. The social, political and cultural milieu of the times are all part of the social history of the country and need to be individually documented, even if not published,” he said.

He narrated how his nephew once stumbled upon his grandfather’s old records in which everything from the accounts to the other details of the eight films he made were written down meticulously. Instead of destroying it, it was handed over to the Roja Muthiah Research Library, and years later, a research scholar used it as material to write about how films were funded in the 1920s and 30s.

This book in a way reflects the author’s mental fortitude for writing the autobiography purely on the strength of his memory.

“When the building of Best & Co was destroyed, nobody knew what happened to the records. During my early years in the company I have personally audited the hall where the records were kept, and I found the first cash book of the company which was established in 1879. Today, there is no trace of it,” he said, adding that it was difficult to write history that was authentic without records.

The proceeds of this book would go towards the Masonic and Heritage Buildings Trust.

The book, which begins with the author’s early life

in Ceylon, delves into the mercantile scene of the

early 1950s

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