It is evening and there is not a soul in sight. I am in Vepery, walking through Maddox Street. I glance at quaintly-named Bread Godown Street and enter General Collins Road. All at once there is a hush and the sounds of traffic and daily life cease.
General Collins Road is watched over by a series of high compound walls. I am now at its notorious double bend, a spot from where I cannot see what is lurking on either side. A perfect spot for a murder. And that is probably why on 8th November 1944, CN Lakshmikantham, muckraker and blackmailer who ran a yellow journal, was stabbed right here.
High society detested him for he wrote of their shenanigans if not placated with money. But Nemesis was nigh. In the words of VC Gopalaratnam in his A Century Completed, A history of the Madras High Court, (1862-1962), Vadivelu, a workman in the office of a local newspaper, Nagalingam and others are said to “have deployed themselves along the General Collins Road till it joined Purasawalkam High Road. At that junction, accused 8, a policeman in service, was stationed to ward off the traffic entering General Collins Road. About 9 o’clock, Lakshmikantham left his lawyer’s house, getting into a rickshaw drawn by Gopal, and proceeded along General Collins Road till he reached the sudden double turn where there was a measure of privacy.”
Vadivelu and Nagalingam “who were running along with the rickshaw suddenly attacked it, drove away the rickshaw man which tilted the rickshaw backwards exposing Lakshmikantham to attack. Both the accused stabbed him with bichuvas in the lower abdomen…”
Lakshmikantham died the next day at the General Hospital at 5.00 am.
The first reaction in high society was one of relief. The lawyer and diarist ND Varadachariar summed it up in his entry for November 10th- “CN Lakshmikantham, the freak editor of Cinema Thoothu and Indunesan, dies of wounds inflicted yesterday. He was a coarse and elemental force, stirring up the cesspools of society. “
Then came sensation. Diary entry for 28th November- “MK Thyagaraja Bhagavatar is arrested last night in connection with the murder. NS Krishnan is said to be ‘wanted’.”
He too was arrested subsequently. What followed has been well documented by historian Randor Guy and Bhagavatar’s biographer, Suresh Balakrishnan. The sensational trial with matinee idols as accused ended with sentences of life imprisonment. An appeal followed which upheld the sentence. The Privy Council in London however, remanded the case to the High Court for a fresh appellate hearing. At the end of it in 1947, the accused walked away free men though life was never to be the same for any of them.
And so who plotted Lakshmikantham’s murder? It remains unresolved.
The whodunit became the stuff of legend and song. But standing at the double bend on General Collins Road, the first instinct is to hurry home. If there ever was a creepy spot in Chennai, it is this.
This article appeared in The Hindu today – http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/article3516601.ece