“A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “A person isn’t who they are during the last conversation you had with them – they’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship.”— Rainer Maria Rilke.
I’m deeply saddened today, to learn of the demise of Mr S Muthiah https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._Muthiah this morning: I’m adding these photos over again with him, to this facebook page album here, ‘The Chennai Launch of Across Borders’
…so that you may be able to click on it and view this beautiful event that he made possible for me, as a debut author, relatively new to the city of Chennai then, in every small way possible.
Let me illustrate his greatness as a teacher, coach, guide and of course a fine human being here, as a token of my humble tribute to him…
I first emailed, then telephoned Mr Muthiah, who was 86 years then, to request him for permission – for Madras Book Club to host this event – over a year before the actual launch. He asked me to email the synopsis and a few chapters, then come and meet him with the book. After flipping through the pages and examining the quality of publishing, he asked me who my book distributor was, to which looking at him quizzically I replied: “Sir, I don’t have one”.
He didn’t look impatient at the least, or condescendingly, but explained in every detail, why it was a wasted effort to launch the book in a big way before it was in bookstores. He went to the extent of opening up his address book and giving me the email address and email of his friend from Madras Club, Rekha Heera, who owned IBH then. So anyway, after meeting Rekha, who turned out to be such a helpful and charming lady herself, I learned she had just sold IBH (India Book House). Then almost a year of struggling with getting a distributor, but never giving up – as Mr Muthiah, over the numerous conversations with him, even a few meetings – while he finished reading my book; was by now even more convinced that this story (that had nothing to do with Chennai) had to be told widely, I tied up with IBD (India Book Distributors).
Once that was done, Mr Muthiah suggested I have the Chennai launch just after Diwali for maximum mileage. He personally telephoned and fixed my meetings with Gen Raghavan at Gymkhana Club and with Kaveri Lalchand at her home. Sushila Ravindranath I had requested on my own, as she was my greatest moral support in this, since I first told her I was writing a book and later shared with her the manuscript first, even when no friend or family member supported it.
Mr Muthiah insisted I should meet Gen Raghavan and Kaveri personally and not just send the books and also discuss and read along with Kaveri. Gen Raghavan landed up interviewing me very astutely over my past two decades experiences, just as Mr Muthiah had done over my first meeting – to gauge the quality of my book, perhaps from judging my intellectual capacity.
Then a fortnight before the event, I was in conversation with both men, on the details of the event so that it would be a success. They gave me so many perspectives of my novel that I was overwhelmed by their knowledge of the period I had described.
Then just before the event, seeing how tensed I looked, Mr Muthiah called me and in front of almost the entire audience that was having tea he asked me, “Shuvashree, why are you dressed so brightly for a book launch?”
This was just the push I needed to snap out of my nervousness, as I saw him smiling, and I replied in jest: “Sir, what to do – my book is so serious, so I thought I’ll cheer up the audience.” He just grinned back at me, knowing I would now be fine in front of this intellectual gathering that I was fearing.
So though Mr Muthiah seems to have been in the background, from these photos…You can gauge now, what a source of inspiration and support he had been. Obviously I saw in his guidance, also considering he was known to speak his mind rather sharply, the will of God; and along with all the media support I received, with TOI even covering it on page 3 – I had the confidence to relaunch it this year.
I was just waiting to personally hand over my four new books to him on my next visit to Chennai…just to seek his blessings…but that’s no longer possible. Also he would have been pleased to know that the book he supported so strongly, is going to be a film soon…to be dubbed in Tamil too.
I dedicated my new novel Entwined Lives – “To the city of Chennai” – in his honour. We had several hearty chats on his decades as a journalist and he spoke very fondly of his Sri Lankan years wherein much to my surprise – he was so well versed in the fashion industry too!
But the motivation, strength and determination, that he has inspired in me, will never die and I will carry my memory of him forever.
Rest in peace, Sir! Ever grateful for all that you’ve done for me!