CHENNAI: The last Raja of Chettinad is dead. MAM Ramaswamy, the co-founder of the Chettinad Group, and custodian of the large Chettinad fortune was declared dead by doctors at a private hospital at 4.30 pm on Wednesday, according to sources. Ramaswamy (84) had been battling for life for over a week and had been on life support.
MAM Ramaswamy’s last few years of a what can be called a glorious life, might have been filled with unflattering headlines and controversy, but there is no denying that his was a life lived to the fullest. Ramaswamy was without a doubt the most flamboyant of the first family of Chettinad — so called both because of their prominence in the public sphere and their ancestor, Raja Annamalai Chettiar, Ramaswamy’s grandfather.
Ramaswamy, son of M A Muthiah Chettiar, was born on September 30, 1931. It did not take long for Ramaswamy to make a mark in what would be a strikingly different path than one taken by his ancestors. Ramaswamy’s abiding love for sport would make him a success in both the greatest loves of his life — horses and hockey. His propensity for philanthropy too might have well exceeded that of his father, say family sources. He, however, was not too interested in business.
The unassailed King of the Track’s, enduring, and often problematic, love affair with horses began quite accidentally. “He only wanted to be a professional tennis player. But when his brother MAM Muthiah, who had an extensive stable, met an untimely death, he inherited it,” said a close family source.
Ramaswamy’s problems with his adopted and then publicly disowned son, MAMR Muthiah aka S Ayyapan is also said to have stemmed from this love for everything equestrian. Before his troubles and old age took him away from the racing tracks, He set records, turned heads and is credited with taking the fight to the Tamil Nadu government when it banned racing in the State. He won. Ramaswamy on the racetrack is a legend. Clad in his trademark rust coloured shirt and lucky tie, he cheered on for most of his life as his horses brought him a haul of trophies as never seen before — over 3,000 cups. His stable of 600 of some of the world’s finest horses has been and is envied throughout the world. He did not just indulge in racing’s pleasures. He fought for them too. He is the record-breaking winner of 600 Indian Classics. He is said to have relentlessly pushed for the repeal of the ban on horse racing imposed by the then TN government, until in 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that horse racing was not gambling but a game of skill.
His other great contribution, one oft forgotten, was in hockey. He was a hockey administrator for a large part of the late seventies and it was under his stewardship that India won its only World Cup Championship in 1975 and an Olympic Gold in 1980. He was also a philanthropist. To his closest, he held no reservations in doing what he could for them. It was this tendency to give from the heart and give unconditionally that seems to have exacerbated the fight between him and his adopted son.