The 13th of January is when Bhogi is celebrated. Chennai is usually covered with thick smoke on that day, thanks to the burning of all kinds of waste. This year it was no different. At 6.01 am, I was groping my way down Luz Church Road through the smog to the MCtM School in Alwarpet. I was pleasantly surprised to see 50 people had already made it there to participate in a walk down parts of Mylapore where several legal luminaries had lived or continue to live. The walk I was taking them on was part of the Mylapore Festival.
I had put together a route that would cover Luz Church Road, part of RK Mutt Road, Pelathope, and North, East and South Mada Streets. I knew I was leaving out several lawyers and judges who lived elsewhere in Mylapore, but then this was a tour that would only whet the appetites of those who had come and those who read this.
At the intersection of Luz Church and TTK Roads once stood properties that belonged to members of the Vembakkam family. This clan perhaps contributed more to the initial years of judicial history in Madras than any other. Sir V.C. Desikachariar and his wife are commemorated in street names here and V.C. Gopalaratnam, their son and a prominent lawyer in his own right, lived in a house that faced Lady Desikachariar Road with a wicket gate at the rear that connected it to Southern Avenue (now C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Road). Leela Nayan, as it was called, has long made way for an ugly commercial complex. Gopalaratnam was a top-ranking lawyer, writer, humorist and a theatre personality. He chronicled the first 100 years of the High Court of Madras (A Century Completed) in 1962, just a few months before his death.
Sir V. C. Desikachariar shone in the legal field, as did his brother V. C. Seshachariar. The elder brother was a member of the Madras Legislative Council for a few years. In 1905, V.C. Desikachariar successfully oversaw the ceremonial welcome to the Prince of Wales and was knighted subsequently. He was an ardent member of the Indian National Congress. In 1906, acting on a tip-off, Sir V. C. Desika-chariar withdrew and, thereby, saved all the Congress funds invested in the Arbuthnot Bank. That he did not withdraw his own savings was not known to many. V. C. Seshachariar served on a three-man committee that went into the financial soundness of the other two British giants at the time – Binny’s and Parry’s.
Sir V. C. Desikachariar served as Judge, Small Causes Court. His son-in-law, K. Bhashyam, also lived near this junction, in Champaka Vilas (now a rabbits’ warren of flats). He was a top-ranking lawyer who actively participated in the freedom struggle, losing an eye in police action. Known for his treatise on the Negotiable Instruments Act, he was a Minister in the T. Prakasam cabinet. It is said that as a mark of respect, his juniors retained his nameplate for long at the door to the Chambers in the High Court from where he practised.
The first house on the left as you walk down Luz Church Road towards Mylapore isAnantha Sadan, the residence of Sir C. V. Ananthakrishna Aiyar. A ghostly derelict now, it is still owned by his descendants. Ananthakrishna Aiyar was a junior to P. R. Sundara Aiyar. He specialised in civil cases and was later elevated as Judge, Madras High Court. Much of Luz Church Road was once owned by him, before he sold most of it to his junior contemporary, Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar. C.V. Ananthakrishna Aiyar hardly spent any time at Anantha Sadan for, after retirement from the Bench in Madras, he became Chief Justice of the Cochin High Court. Thereafter he moved to his native village, Chittoor, where he lived till beyond ninety. Of his sons, C. A. Vaidyalingam became Judge of the Supreme Court and C. A. Ramakrishnan became Chief Secretary, Government of Madras.
Immediately past Anantha Sadan once stood three identical houses, of which just one survives. These were the residences of the daughters of Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar whose house, magnificent Ekamra Niwas, still stands opposite. Much of Ekamra Niwas’s extensive gardens have been built over, but it is still possible to get a glimpse of the beautifully maintained house. Named after his father, Ekamra Sastry, the stately home was witness to the dizzying rise of its master in the legal profession. Commanding five figure fees in the 1910s, Sir Alladi was Advocate General, Government of Madras, from 1929 to 1944. He was one of the fathers of the Indian Constitution. Many of Sir Alladi’s juniors, and these included his son Kuppuswami and brother-in-law Umamaheshwaram , rose to eminence and became judges. The highest level was reached by M. Patanjali Sastry who became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India. He too lived on Luz Church Road. Ekamra Niwas was also where Sir Alladi’s son Ramakrishnan began the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in 1962.
Just before Ekamra Niwas is a cul-de-sac surrounded by modern high-rises. All this was once Amjad Bagh, another stately home, residence of S. Srinivasa Ayyangar. A son-in-law of Sir V. Bhashyam Aiyangar (another Vembakkam name and one of the earliest Indians to become a Judge of the High Court), S. Srinivasa Ayyangar started off as Bhasyam Ayyangar’s junior and later set up independent practice. He followed his father-in-law’s footsteps in becoming Advocate General in 1916, a post he resigned from in 1920 as a protest against Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He also returned his CIE and resigned from the position of Law Member, Governor’s Executive Council. He joined the Congress that year and presided over the Gauhati Session in 1926. A Swarajist in his beliefs, he gave up politics in 1928 and returned to practising law in 1929. His daughter was Ambujammal, ardent champion of women’s rights and a freedom fighter. She founded the Srinivasa Gandhi Nilayam, which functions from Alwarpet in which area father and daughter are commemorated with street names.
Just after what was Amjad Bagh is D’Silva Road. Here was once Sylvan Lodge, the residence of Justice Sir M. David Devadoss. Elevated to the Bench in the 1920s, he became the first Indian trustee of St George’s Cathedral in 1930.
Diagonally opposite Ekamra Niwas are the gate-posts of Chandra Vilas with a long drive beyond them. This was the residence of C. Rama Rao Saheb, a man who made his name as a tough examiner of law papers. A contemporary of several of these greats, he was of the view that those who sat for law exams needed to be nothing short of perfect. How could a shoddy lawyer save a client from the gallows or financial ruin, he would ask. His son, Krishnaswami Rao Saheb, was Cabinet Secretary, Government of India, during Indira Gandhi’s final tenure and a part of Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister.