This was the second part of the article that was written on V Krishnaswami Iyer. The first part is here – http://sriramv.com/2012/01/27/v-krishnaswami-iyer/
For reasons of space, the Chief edited it (and I must say it reads a lot better), when it was published in Madras Musings. I am giving it in full (and pitiless) detail here:
Our walk to commemorate this titan in the field of law and much else began at the gates of the Mylapore Club, which was one of his creations. He and his friend PR Sundara Iyer had been blackballed at the Cosmopolitan Club and in 1903, he decided to set up a similar facility in Mylapore itself. He had earlier negotiated a 100-year lease for a piece of land belonging to the Kapaliswarar Temple, for his residence on the southern side of Luz Church Road. This was made over to what was constituted as the Mylapore Club, on 1st January 1903.
By the time the club was founded, Krishnaswami Iyer had become a patron of the Suguna Vilasa Sabha, the amateur dramatic society founded by Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar and his friends in the 1890s. Iyer was to initially pour scorn over the efforts of the Sabha in translating Shakespeare’s plays into Tamil and acting them. One of its most successful efforts was Virumbiya Vidame (As You Like It). The members felt that a play with so much of the action set in a forest would be better off performed in an open area and it was once staged in the gardens of Government House. Then in 1904, it was staged in the gardens of the Mylapore Club. It was there that Krishnaswami Iyer saw the play and so impressed was he that he became the President of the Sabha. Writing of this in his memoirs, Natakamedai Ninaivugal, Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar states that V Krishnaswami Iyer began a new tradition at the Sabha – that all of its presidents would be elevated to the Bench! It was usually the practice of the Sabha to give a ceremonial farewell to all the Governors of Madras by staging a play in their honour. This was denied to Sir Arthur Lawley when he left in 1911, as the members did not like several of his policies. In this they were to be supported by Krishnaswami Iyer, though he was by then a member of the Governor’s Executive Council!
From here we moved on RK Mutt Road, where we stopped at the entrance to Pelathope, the street in which several lawyers and judges lived at one time. It was here that Krishnaswami Iyer lived when he was struggling to make a name for himself. Opposite this street, next to the Tirumayilai MRTS Station, is an unfinished structure. This was the site where the office of the South Indian National Association once stood. That was a body in whose early years Krishnaswami Iyer was to play an important role, though what exactly it did is not available in public sources. It appears to have been one among several socially conscious associations in which Krishnaswami Iyer took an active part, another one being the Madras Mahajana Sabha which stands on Mount Road.
Further down the same road, and opposite the tank is Vishwakamal Apartments. This was the site where Krishna Vilas, the house of Dewan Bahadur Raghunatha Rao once stood. This was where in 1884 a group had met and resolved to begin a political movement, which culminated in the founding of the Congress Party a year later. Under the influence of Sir S Subramania Iyer who was active in the affairs of the Congress in its early years, both Krishnaswami Iyer and PR Sundara Iyer were to become members. Krishnaswami Iyer was to be an active volunteer in the organising of the 1897 Congress Session in Madras. By 1903, when the next Session in Madras came about he had grown wealthy and influential. He embarked on a whirlwind tour of South India to collect funds for the Congress. He was of the view that a party that represented the common man should also be funded by him. This was the seed of the idea that Gandhi later took to great heights – a 25 paise membership fee from every Indian to support the Congress. With a view to attracting crowds to the 1903 Session, Krishnaswami Iyer mooted the idea of an exhibition. This was inaugurated by the Maharajah of Mysore. A cyclone threatened to wreck the Session but thanks to the foresight of Krishnaswami Iyer, the venue was made waterproof. Several delegates were housed in tents on the grounds of his vast garden bungalow Ashrama on Luz Church Road. His efforts were to earn him the praise of men such as DE Wacha, Dadabhai Nauroji and Gopalakrishna Gokhale. The last was to become a firm friend, who stayed at Ashrama whenever he visited Madras. Krishnaswami Iyer was to become a Gokhale follower, thereby being labelled a Moderate. The Hindu criticised his stance as it preferred the Liberals. This was also to result in his exiting the Madras Mahajana Sabha, which largely toed The Hindu’s line.
At the corner of RK Mutt Road and North Mada Street stands the second oldest branch of The Indian Bank. This was a good place to recount Krishnaswami Iyer’s role in the investigation of the Arbuthnot Crash and the subsequent founding of the Indian Bank. This was also the place where we traced his rise in the legal profession, which saw him move from Pelathope to South Mada Street, becoming a neighbour of his friend PR Sundara Iyer. Both were to be influenced by Pennathur Subramania Iyer, a greatly successful lawyer who believed in leading a good lifestyle. It was during the South Mada Street years that Krishnaswami Iyer learnt how to ride a horse and it was here that he caught a thief single-handed.
The shadow of the Kapaliswarar Temple gopuram was appropriate to recollect his role in matters of the faith. He expressed his concern at the vast landholdings of temples bringing in no income and called for better administration. When the Paramacharya of Kanchi, Chandrashekharendra Saraswathi became pontiff at a very young age, Iyer was worried that the administration of the mutt would fall into wrong hands who would manipulate the child. He convinced the High Court that the mutt needed to be administered by the Court of Wards till the pontiff attained majority. Greatly upset at the way Sanskrit hymns and shlokas were not being recited at temples, he had them compiled and published at his own expense and distributed free to shrines all over Madras Presidency. He wrote to the Jagatguru of the Sringeri Sarada Peetham, Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Nrisimha Bharati Swamigal, imploring him to intervene and set right the falling standards of Hindu dharma. At that pontiff’s suggestion he set up the Dharma Rakshana Sabha in 1903. He was to play an important role in the civic welcome given to Swami Vivekananda in 1897 and also help in the initial years of the Ramakrishna Math and the Boys Home.
Leaving the Four Mada Streets behind, we went on to Kutchery Road, where in 1905, he established the Venkataramana Ayurveda Dispensary, to revive the traditional Indian school of medicine. He endowed the institution with a grant of Rs 20,000 and it functions till today. Walking down Kutchery Road to Luz Corner, we had to cross the Buckingham Canal. Krishnaswami Iyer had strongly opposed its extension across Mylapore in the 1890s. He had said that it would eventually wind up as a gutter and a health hazard and sadly, that has come to pass. He was play a vital role in saving the Marina too. This was in 1903 when the South Indian Railway decided to build a railway line along the beach. The Corporation gave its sanction and work was all set to begin, when on 1st April, V Krishnaswami Iyer organised a massive public protest meeting. Working along with him was George Arbuthnot, the very man he would prosecute three years later! Sensing the public mood, the Corporation withdrew its consent. The railways offered all the standard sops, some of which are still given out – the stations would not be eyesores, there would be a protective hedge that would also hide the track etc. But Krishnaswami Iyer was to prove implacable. The proposal was abandoned and the Marina was saved.
We went down Kalvivaru Street to the offices of the Madras Law Journal. This, the oldest surviving publication to report on legal proceedings, was set up in 1891 by Salem Ramaswami Mudaliar, (later Sir) C Sankaran Nair, V Krishnaswami Iyer and PR Sundara Iyer. This was however not the first, for it had had short-lived predecessors such as The Indian Jurist and the Madras Jurist, all from this city, surely a matter of record. Under V Krishnaswami Iyer the MLJ was to flourish and in later years, his eldest son-in-law, R Narayanaswami Iyer, was to run it. Today, the MLJ’s reports are available on the web as well. This was also the apt place to recall another legal association that V Krishnaswami Iyer gave a fresh lease of life – the Vakils Association. This was in the 1890s, a time when barristers and advocates, invariably British, looked down on the native vakil. The last groups had to suffer several insults, not the least being the denial of the privilege to wear gowns in court. V Krishnaswami Iyer became Secretary to the Association in 1889 and continued till 1902. During his tenure, he spearheaded an agitation demanding equal rights for vakils, and this included the privilege of wearing gowns. The Chief Justice, Sir Arthur Collins believed in equal treatment for all and decided in favour of the vakils.
During the time when he was a struggling lawyer, V Krishnaswami Iyer had spent his surplus energies in a serious perusal of Sanskrit texts. Appalled at the way in which several schools of philosophy such the Purva Mimamsa were dying out, he determined in 1905 to set up the Sanskrit College, which became our next stop. This institution began life in Pelathope and, thanks to the munificent donations of several including the founder, moved to its present location in 1910. It was thanks to V Krishnaswami Iyer that the College got its library, with 800 books in the first year. He was also instrumental in getting S Kuppuswami Sastri to give up all aspirations to rise in the Bar and take to Sanskrit. Sastri became the first Principal of the College. Today, a bust of V Krishnaswami Iyer stands in the college campus. Surrounding the old building are several new structures, all built thanks in the main to donations from the descendants and juniors in law, of the founder. At the University, Krishnaswami Iyer lobbied hard for Sanskrit to be recognised as a subject for acquiring a degree and this was recognised in 1910. His love for Tamil was no less and in music, he was partial to the singing of Tevarams and Tiruvachakams. He was known for lecturing on Tamil and at one such speech at the Madras University, Subramania Bharati is said to have been particularly impressed. He was to also play an important role in gathering funds for the Central Hindu University (now the Benares Hindu University).
From here we walked back to Luz Church Road. Our last stop was opposite the Mylapore Club, at the intersection of V Krishnaswami and Baliah Avenues. This was where his palatial residence, Ashrama, stood till recent times. On the opposite side, as testimony to his friendship with PR Sundara Iyer, survives Sree Baugh, the latter’s residence and now the property of Amritanjan. Krishnaswami Iyer and Sundara Iyer were ardent admirers of Gokhale and it was thanks to him that they came to know of the good work done by Mahadev Govinda Ranade, a personality of Bombay Presidency, whose life was in many ways parallel to that of V Krishnaswami Iyer. It was in memory of Ranade that the eponymous library and reading room was to be built with donations by the two friends – Krishnaswami and Sundara Iyers. Almost half-a-century later, Ranade Hall was to acquire a first floor, to be named after another public figure – the Rt Hon. VS Srinivasa Sastry, who was also a V Krishnaswami Iyer protégé. It was thanks to the latter that Sastry, then a teacher at the Hindu High School was brought into public service.
Ashrama was witness to what appeared to be Krishnaswami Iyer’s unstoppable rise. Its lawns and rooms were to resound to the voices of the greats. It was from its grounds that in 1910, a 21 gun salute boomed for Sir Arthur Lawley, Governor of Madras. Despite their later disagreements for whatever reason, which resulted in no farewell from the Suguna Vilasa Sabha, Iyer and the Governor were friendly enough till early 1911. Shortly after accepting to become a member of the Governor’s Executive Council, (for which he resigned his post as a Judge, making way for PR Sundara Iyer’s elevation to the Bench), Iyer hosted a tea party for Sir Arthur. The whole of Luz Church Road was decorated. Ashrama was not electrified and so illumination was by Chinese lanterns. Krishnaswami Iyer had lost his wife by then and so his second daughter Subbalakshmi received Lady Lawley and played hostess. The house was to also receive another distinguished visitor, though his arrival did not catch public attention. That was Subramania Bharati. He was brought here by GA Natesan, noted publisher and neighbour to Krishnaswami Iyer, his Mangala Vilas being to the rear of today’s Nageswara Rao Park. Krishnaswami Iyer did not like Bharati’s radical editorials and had formed a negative view of the poet without ever meeting him. Bharati was therefore not introduced and was merely asked to sing at a cue from Natesan. He was hardly into his second poem when Krishnaswami Iyer shed tears at the beauty of what he had just heard. He was to become a great admirer from then on. The first publication of Bharati’s songs was funded by Iyer. There was to however be a bitter fallout later, when Bharati attacked Iyer tooth and nail for accepting the post of a Judge from the very British whose rule he was opposed to.
Ashrama was to be also witness to some great tragedies. Iyer’s beloved elder brother Swaminathan and his own wife Balambal were to pass away within a few months of each other in 1908/9. Swaminathan’s death came about a couple of weeks before the Congress Session in Madras and setting aside all grief, Krishnaswami Iyer was to play his usual active role. It was also from Ashrama that Krishnaswami Iyer set out in December 1911, for Delhi to attend the Grand Coronation Durbar. He was to be decorated with the order of the CIE. With him, to be presented to the King Emperor, was the George Deva Shatakam, a set of 100 verses in Sanskrit on King George V, penned by his friend Mahamahopadhyaya Lakshmana Suri. On 10th December, as he prepared himself for attending the full-dress rehearsal, his belt buckle pierced his stomach. Being heavily diabetic, his body could not withstand this and septicaemia soon set in. In an era when communications were still primitive, the family came to know only from the newspapers that he could not attend the investiture. He was brought back to Madras where after a desperate struggle, he breathed his last at his beloved Ashrama, surrounded by his six children, on 28th December. The family refused an offer of a state funeral, given their orthodoxy. Lakshmana Suri was to write a moving elegy in Sanskrit.
One of Krishnaswami Iyer’s last acts as member, Governor’s Executive Council, was to express his solidarity with Bangalore Nagarathnamma in the Radhika Santwanamu case, the first instance of a book being proscribed on charges of obscenity. He felt that the work was a classic and being more than 200 years old, it could not be judged by modern yardsticks. He was of the view that the Panagal Raja ought to be given the task of judging the work as he would be impartial. It was at Ranade Hall that a delegation of Sanskrit, Telugu and Tamil Pandits met to express their support and petition the Governor for justice.
A great debate on a suitable memorial began after Iyer’s passing. In his heyday, he had ridiculed the idea of a statue for Sir T Muthuswami Iyer, first Indian Chief Justice of the High Court of Madras. He greatly admired Muthuswami Iyer but did not think that statues were the best way to remember him. That was one battle he did not win. Rather ironically, a statue was proposed for Krishnaswami Iyer too. At a public meeting held for the purpose, several people opposed the idea for given his acid tongue, his quick temper and his rapid rise, he did not lack detractors. An emotional speech by Sir S Subramania Iyer however swayed the public and a statue was decided upon. The Hindu, which had never warmed to Iyer, criticised the idea and also questioned as to how former Judges of the High Court could show emotion in public. Nevertheless the statue was completed, thanks to public subscription of which Rs 1000 came from the Suguna Vilasa Sabha members. It stands today outside the Senate House. Sir S Subramania Iyer’s statue and that of Gokhale were to keep it company later. Together the three friends gaze out at the Marina. Not far away, also facing the sea, is another friend – U Ve Swaminatha Iyer, who in 1939 wrote a many part serial article on Krishnaswami Iyer, for the Kalaimagal magazine. But more than the statue, it is the good work of Krishnaswami Iyer that lives on. He deserved no better memorial.
Our walk, concluded rather appropriately with coffee at the Mylapore Club, thanks to Madras Musings contributor, Karthik Bhatt. It was heartening to see several descendants of V Krishnaswami Iyer participating in the walk. He would have liked our enthusiasm but of the filth and dirt on Mylapore streets, I wonder what he would have had to say.