It is officially known as Thiru Vi Ka III Street but locals know it as Kesari High School Road.
The building housing the institution has a history and an architectural identity of its own. Built on classical lines, this three-storied edifice is rectangular in plan with a portico projecting in front. A colonnaded verandah runs along three sides. Arched louvered doors open into the classrooms just behind the verandah. Some fine wrought-iron grilles front the first floor. The terrace has a battlemented parapet and a central room with a gabled roof. The modern constructions are all to the rear, so the heritage structure dominates. At one time, the grounds of the house extended right up to Royapettah High Road.
Known as Palm Grove, it was the residence of L.A. Govindaraghava Aiyar, who in the early years of the 20 century practised law. Appointed public prosecutor by the Madras High Court, his career was undermined by an unscrupulous relative who began leaking confidential information to further his own legal practice.
Thereafter, Govindaraghava Aiyar, who was an ardent Congress supporter and a director of the Indian Bank, became known for charitable work that far exceeded his means. When he died in 1935, he was financially exhausted. Long before his passing, Palm Grove had been sold to S. Doraiswami Ayyar, also a legal luminary.
Known as Surat Doraiswami Ayyar for his supporting the extremists who brought the 1907 Congress session at that town to a violent close, Ayyar was a friend of radical freedom fighters such as Aurobindo Ghose, SPY Surendranath Voegeli-Arya and Subramania Bharati. Even as he rose to dizzying heights in the Madras Bar, he hosted a freedom fighter or two at Palm Grove.
In 1936, when he was being considered for the post of advocate-general, Doraiswami Ayyar chose to give up his legal practice following the death of his son. In 1945, he left Madras for good and settled in Puducherry at the Aurobindo Ashram. Doraiswami Ayyar came from a musical lineage and this being December, more of that next week.
Dr. Kesari bought the house thereafter, for Rs. 70,000. He had, a couple of years earlier, taken over the management of a school founded in 1940 for Telugu students and upgraded it steadily to a middle and later a high school. This institution moved to Palm Grove.
T. Nagar becoming a hub of Telugu-speaking people by then, Dewan Bahadur BV Srihari Rao Naidu, inspector-general of registration, set up another school there with the help of Dr. Kesari. These two institutions are now the Kesari Higher Secondary Schools. A Telugu primary school (probably the only one that still celebrates the Telugu origins of Madras) was also begun.
The Kesari Education Society was formed in 1951 to administer these three institutions. Dr K. Radhakrishnan, Dr. Kesari’s grandson, represents the family on its board.
This article appeared in The Hindu’s Hidden Histories column on 4th December 2012