Chronicler of Madras S Muthiah dies at 89

S Muthiah, the journalist-turned-chronicler who celebrated the story of Chennai that was Madras, died of old age here on Saturday.
Chronicler of Madras S Muthiah dies at 89


He was 89, and is survived by two daughters.  
The news about his death was announced by his friend and fellow historian V Sriram, who termed Muthiah as a man who kept the history and heritage of the city for decades. 
Generations of history enthusiasts still recall the way in which he would stand at the podium, with hands in his pocket, pointing out with undisguised pride and passion how Chennai is the oldest municipal corporation outside Europe or the College of Engineering in Guindy was originally the second oldest technical institution in the world among other nuggets and factoids from history. He was trained as a journalist, but his craft clearly lay in storytelling, in both speech or in writing.
Born in Pallathur in erstwhile composite Ramanathapuram district in 1930, Muthiah migrated to Sri Lanka. After his schooling in Colombo and matriculation in India, he went to the US where he did his masters. After that, he went back to Sri Lanka to join The Times of Ceylon. He rose in ranks to become the second-in-command – but he could not be the Editor only because it was reserved for Lankan citizens. After his citizenship application was rejected, he returned to be with his parents in India.
In Chennai, Muthiah joined TT Maps from the TTK group stable, where he worked as a cartographer. That was the most important point in the second innings of his life, which proved to be crucial in the way the city looked at itself.
After developing a keen interest in the city’s history and heritage, he began writing about it extensively. It was not academic history, but one filled with anecdotes and nuggets from archival records that made the readers – and listeners – fall in love with the city. It was this that influenced almost all the noted city historians in present day Chennai. 
Muthiah was instrumental in organising Madras Day to celebrate the founding of the city. Over the years, it became an annual fixture for Chennaiites to go on heritage walks to understand the history of the city better. Muthiah was also founder of Madras Musings, a free fortnightly tabloid that dealt with history and heritage. His book Madras Discovered – later Madras Rediscovered – was the guide for anyone interested in understanding the glorious past of the city. Among other works, he has also writted a book on the history of Anglo-Indians. He also wrote a weekly column Madras Miscellany in The Hindu. He also taught journalism at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. In 2002, Muthiah was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Beyond spreading awareness about the city’s rich history and its immeasurable value to its own citizens, Muthiah played an instrumental role in safeguarding some of the heritage structures in the city, including the DGP office on the Marina.

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