History & Culture

S. Muthiah, chronicler of Chennai, is no more

Historian S. Muthiah. File   | Photo Credit: V. GANESAN

Chronicler of Chennai, writer, journalist and teacher S. Muthiah, who kindled people’s interest in the history and heritage of the City, died on Saturday. He was 89 and is survived two daughters.

A regular contributor on Chennai's history for The Hindu Metro Plus (When the postman knocked), he was also the go-to person for journalists writing on the city's past. His column Madras Miscellany (with the interactive segment — When the Postman Knocked) was very popular, and revealed several unknown facets of the city that was once Madras, and its connections with other cities of the world. He was also the founder of the magazine Madras Musings and his book Madras Discovered was published in 1981 and its updated version Madras Rediscovered continue to serve as a ready reference to anyone interested in the history of Chennai that was Madras. Muthiah was one of the personalities instrumental in organising Madras Week Celebrations every year.

“I am not a historian. I am a chronicler of the facts that have been recorded in the records as well as in numerous books written by authors who have had access to the earliest records of the city. To this day, I collect every scrap of information I can find about Madras in newspapers, magazines, books, etc.,” he said in an interview to Frontline. Mr. Muthiah has worked hard to save a number of heritage monuments in Chennai.


For many years he taught reporting for the students of journalism run by the Bharthiya Vidya Bhavan in Myalpore and students looked forward to his classes on Tuesdays. He encouraged his students to buy books, and read them. “You won’t mind spending ₹200 for eating biriyani or a masala dosa with your friends, but think twice before buying a book,” he would say when they complained about the prices of books.

He was interested in every aspect of the city’s history, and his knowledge of the city's past was breathtaking. He would pepper his conversations with references to and anecdotes about famous murders that took place in the city and the gangsters whose name caused fear, the advocates who appeared on behalf of them in the court, writer R.K. Narayan’s knowledge of the publishing industry and royalty and famous cricket writers like K.N. Prabhu and N.S. Ramswami who wrote about the city.

Though born in Pallathur, one of the Chettinadu Villages in Tamil Nadu, Muthiah came from the Nagarathar community in Chettinadu who are ardent lovers of Tamil language and pioneer in the field of Tamil publishing industry. He inherited the community’s passion for publishing and history. Muthiah co-authored a coffee-table book The Chettiar Heritage with Meenakshi Meyappan and Visalakshi Ramaswamy. The photographs were taken by V. Muthuraman.

Muthiah was educated in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where his father worked. He also studied in India and the United States. After completing a BSc degree in engineering and an M.A. in international affairs, Muthiah began his journalistic career with the Times of Celyon and worked for the paper between 1951 and 1968. He was its Foreign News Editor and then Features Editor and was later in charge of its Sunday Times and magazines. From 1954 to 1968, he represented in Sri Lanka first News Chronicle of London and then Daily Mail. He also represented The Observer, London, and its Foreign News Service from 1959 to 1968, besides working for two other British features services.

After he returned to India in 1968, he joined the TTK group and was in charge of T.T. Maps in Madras, which published maps, atlases and tourist guide books. He was also an eminent cartographer.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 10:53:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/s-muthiah-chronicler-of-chennai-is-no-more/article26899166.ece

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