KVK, from a cartoon in Ananda Vikatan by Mali
KVK, from a cartoon in Ananda Vikatan by Mali
Rao Saheb K.V. Krishnaswami Aiyar (KVK) belonged to the band of lawyers of the first half of the 20th Century, who made it their mission in life to take up public causes and make successes out of them. While most of them espoused a worthy cause or two, KVK took on a whole host of them, and ensured that they were placed on a sound footing for future growth. At least one of the institutions he nurtured – the Music Academy, Madras – has lived to tell the tale and is going strong.

KVK was born in 1885 in Kumbakonam into a family that prided itself on being related to the Tamil scholar U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer. Having studied in Kumbakonam at the Town High School and the College there, he moved to Madras where he graduated in 1903 from the Presidency College. He qualified in Law in 1905. In 1907, he enrolled in the High Court of Madras, rather coincidentally, according to legend, with Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar and T.M. Krishnaswami Aiyar. All three Krishnaswamis were to see a rapid rise in the profession. In his memoirs, Justice W.S. Krishnaswami Nayudu was to remark that other lawyers had to share among themselves whatever cases were not taken up by the three Krishnaswamis. Among the three, KVK was the first to command a five-figure income.

KVK apprenticed under S. Srinivasa Iyengar and, according to V.C. Gopalaratnam (A Century Completed, 1962), “developed the powers of his advocacy naturally on the same lines as those of his leader. There used always to be present … a sort of explosiveness. His arguments were always closely reasoned and logical. He had a habit of speaking in court in a loud and clear voice which could be heard even from outside the court room. Another very fine characteristic of KVK was the high level of dignity which he maintained at all times when dealing with clients. He fixed a standard according to which he stipulated his fees for the brief accepted by him, to which he invariably adhered, a standard which assessed his own worth at a proper and a high level. He always observed a very high level of professional etiquette and ethics.”

The last aspect was one that most seniors in the profession took very seriously. The Bar Council then had the practice of inviting each year a senior lawyer to deliver a series of lectures on the subject to the apprentices. In 1939 it was KVK’s turn and he went into it so deeply that it was decided to publish his lectures as a book. Professional Conduct and Advocacy was released in 1940 to great acclaim. Sir S. Varadachariar, then a Judge of the Federal Court, was to write that the book was an apt illustration of KVK, in particular his thoroughness. In 1945, the book was reviewed in the Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law, thereby coming to the notice of Lord Macmillan, then Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, Great Britain, and he praised it greatly. The Oxford University Press Madras published a second edition in 1946. Another publication of KVK’s was on Proportional Representation by the Single Transferable Vote, which guided elections in various bodies for years.

Prosperity in the profession meant shifting to Mylapore where KVK took up residence at Swaminatha Vilas, No 6, North Mada Street. Widowed early, his family comprised a son and a daughter. His elder brother Viswanatha Iyer moved in with family to take care of the home. KVK was, therefore, free to devote his considerable surplus energies to the world.

The first of these was tennis. Labelled a stylish player, he was formidable at the game, playing in his usual garb of shirt and dhoti! He was to win tournaments at the Mylapore and Cosmopolitan Clubs, and also at Advocates’ Association. Of the latter he was to become Secretary and in that capacity, he fought long and hard to ensure amenities in the High Court building. Till he came along, the vakils had to make do with a cramped room in the north-east corner, with no storage space or recreation area. KVK convinced the Chief Justice to give advocates three large rooms on the top and middle floors on the western side of the building. He got lockers put in so that gowns, coats and books could be kept. The facility could be hired by lawyers for a nominal rent. He exercised great control over the library of the Association and, as C.R. Pattabhiraman put it, “Lawyers who built their libraries with the Association’s books began to fade away.” All this was achieved within the one year he was secretary. The majority of the advocates did not understand the man’s strict ways and certainly did not brook his legendary short temper. He stepped down and within months chaos was to reign once again in the Advocates’ Association.

KVK was elected a member of the University Syndicate in 1923. The Tamil lexicon project, set up in 1913, was then languishing. The tardy progress meant embarrassing questions being asked at the University Senate and Syndicate and, to save the situation, KVK was asked to become Chairman of the Lexicon Committee. M.A. Candeth, Dy. Director, Directorate of Public Instruction, immediately remarked that the University would shortly hear of “suicides and resignations.” Sure enough, KVK rammed his way ahead. But he was careful to restrict his role to the administrative side and support the scholars all the way through. Periodic review meetings, representing the problems faced by the higher-ups and ensuring that action was taken, all this and more became matters of routine. Thanks to this, men of letters, such as S. Vaiyapuri Pillai, Narayana Iyer and M. Raghava Aiyangar, worked to produce the lexicon which was released in six volumes, the last one coming out in 1936. Besides his work on this, KVK was also to contribute as Member, Board of Studies in Law, and as Examiner for the ML degree. For a time it was rumoured, with the Rao Saheb title in 1935 adding to the speculations, that KVK would become Vice Chancellor of Madras University. That was never to be, but he was to achieve success in several other passions of his.

To be continued