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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 20, February 1-15, 2013
On the trail of judges & lawyers

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. Rama-swami 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 is Anantha 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 sons-in-law Umamaheshwaram and Subrahmanyan, 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 Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as Prime Minister.

Walking past Ekamra Niwas, as you near Nageswara Rao Park and roughly opposite St. Isabel's Hospital, is a property that is now part boutique, part restaurant, lawyers' chambers and dance school. This was Sir K. S. House, so named as it was the residence of Sir K. Srinivasa Iyengar. One of the early judges, he was made an acting judge of the Madras High Court in 1915, but passed over thrice for confirmation on the basis of an absurd rule that limited the number of judges who had risen from the ranks of vakils. Giving up the Bench in 1917, he returned to practice. He subsequently became Advocate General, Member of the Governor's Executive Council and also Vice Chancellor of the Madras University. He was knighted in 1923 and passed away the same year. His great-grand-daughter-in-law is the danseuse Sudharani Raghupathy. Her son Aniruddha continues the legal tradition. Sir K.S. owned extensive properties in this area and Luz Avenue stands on one of these.

Immediately after Nageswara Rao Park stands Sri Baugh, now overshadowed by Amrutanjan, which shares the same premises. A grand bungalow, it was the residence of P. R. Sundara Aiyar who, in 1911, became a Judge of the Madras High Court. Sundara Aiyar, commemorated in Justice Sundaram Avenue not far away, was a close companion of V. Krishnaswami Aiyar who lived just opposite in Ashrama, which does not stand any longer. The achievements of V. Krishnaswami Aiyar have been chronicled earlier in these columns. His great-granddaughter is Prabha Sridevan, former Judge of the Madras High Court and now Chairperson of the Intellectual Property Rights Tribunal. She lives in Krishnaswami Avenue, which came into being when Ashrama was demolished and the land divided into lots.

The Kamadhenu Theatre stands where Lakshmi Vilas once was. The property of Moddaverapu Dera Venkataswami Naidu, dubash of Parry & Co, it became in the 1890s the home of Sir V. Bhashyam Iyengar, the first Indian to become acting Advocate General. He is commemorated with a statue in the High Court premises. A man who is said to have personified law, he became a judge later, only to discover to his shock that a judge's income was far below that of a successful lawyer's. Four years later he resigned and reverted to practice. He literally died with his boots on, for he collapsed while arguing in Court.

At the intersection of Kutchery and RK Mutt Roads once stood New Place. This was home to T. R. Venkatarama Sastry, later Advocate General and a leader of the Madras Bar. He later shifted to Edward Elliot's Road. Behind this, for a large stretch of Kutchery Road, was the property of Sir T. Muthuswami Iyer, the first Indian to become judge of a High Court. Sir Muthuswami Iyer has a large marble statue in his honour on the Madras High Court premises. A bridge near Central Station is named after him.

Down Royapettah High Road, by Vidya Mandir, was Bala Vilas, the house of T. M. Krishnaswami Aiyar, legal luminary and Chief Justice of the Travancore High Court. TMK was known as Tiruppugazh Mani, owing to the work he did in the popularising of Arunagirinathar's verses. In later life he was a saintly figure, conducting bhajan sessions of which the most famous were the ones at Tiruttani every New Year's Eve.

Off RK Mutt Road is narrow Pelathope. Most of the giants of the Madras Bar, V. Krishnaswami Aiyar, P. R. Sundara Aiyar, Sir P. S. Sivaswami Aiyar and Sir Alladi, all lived in Pelathope at one time or the other before prosperity took them elsewhere. Thereafter, several top-ranking lawyers lived here. M. Subbaraya Aiyyar had a large practice in income tax. He is, of course, better remembered for his role in the establishment of three educational institutions – MIT, Vivekananda College and Vidya Mandir. Also from Pelathope were two who made it big in criminal law – G. Gopalaswami and C. K. Venkata-narasimhan. The former's son G. Rammohan is the author of Pelathope Days, a book that looks at life in this street from the 1940s to the 1960s. Pelathope also holds credit for a father-son duo who both became Chief Justices. A. V. Viswanatha Sastry was Chief Justice of the Andhra High Court while his son Ratnam, who still resides at Pelathope, headed the Himachal Pradesh Bench.

Once, North Mada Street was lined with houses and the first few at least were associated with law. At the corner was K. V. Venkatasubramania Iyer's house. He was professor at the Law College. An expert in Hindu and Constitutional Law, he took up practice after retiring from the College in 1947 and was greatly successful till his demise 15 years later. Next, where Indian Bank stands now, was the house of Diwan Bahadur K. S. Ramaswami Sastrigal, District Judge. Then came the house of M. Bhaktavatsalam, later Chief Minister of Madras. This became the residence of S. Ramachandra Aiyar who was Chief Justice of the Madras High Court in the 1960s. Next to this was Swaminatha Vilas, where Rao Bahadur K. V. Krishnaswami Aiyyar lived. KVK, a leading lawyer, is better remembered today for the social causes he championed – the Library Association and the Music Academy. He also encouraged his widowed cousin Meenakshi Ammal to write what would become a bestseller that is still in print and in many languages – Samaithu paar!

You take a short cut via Sannidhi Street to reach East Mada Street. Here, where Indira Metal Stores is, stood a town house where T. L. Venkatarama Aiyar once lived. A junior of Sir Alladi, he would become Judge of the Madras High Court and, later, of the Supreme Court. A noted Sanskrit scholar, he was an authority on Muthuswami Dikshitar kritis and taught them to several musicians. He was awarded the Sangeetha Kalanidhi title by the Music Academy. He was later President of the Academy (1965 to1971) and also of RR Sabha. In later years he lived on Moubray's (now TTK) Road.

Down East Mada Street is the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. This was once Srinivas, the house of K. S. Jayarama Aiyar, a leading lawyer specialising in criminal cases. He and his wife Alamelu were great patrons of music. It is perhaps appropriate that the building put up on the same site has concerts almost every day.

At the corner where East Mada and South Mada Streets meet was where the priest to Sir V. Bhashyam Iyengar lived. One day, the priest rather hesitatingly suggested that his son could apprentice under Sir Bhashyam and this was graciously agreed to. The son's diligence greatly pleased the legal luminary and a day came when V. Krishaswami Aiyar saw to his horror that master and disciple were reading the same newspaper together.The trainee underwent further training under Sir P. S. Sivaswami Aiyyar. After a steady rise in the Bar, he became a Judge of the Madras High Court and, later, of the Federal Court as well, receiving a knighthood in the process. That, in brief, is the career of Sir S. Varadachariar, who owned much of Kalvi Varu Street, on the banks of the Buckingham Canal, behind Vidya Mandir. He would one day become President of the Board of the Lady Sivaswami Aiyyar Girls' School in whose shadow he had begun life.

Our last stop is Vasantha Vilas on South Mada Street. A portion of it still stands. This was home to two others of the Vembakkam clan – the brothers V. Rajagopalacharlu and Sadagopacharlu. The siblings practised in the Supreme Court of Madras and therefore predated the High Court. It probably explains the Vembakkam line's predilection for the legal profession. Sir V. C. Desikachariar and V. C. Seshachariar were the sons of Rajagopalacharlu. Vasantha Vilas is from where the Law Weekly still comes out, 98 years after it was begun by V. C. Seshachariar.

At walk's end, I realise I must have left out several others. Most notably Pennathur Subramania Iyer who founded the P S High School on RK Mutt Road. But, then, it is practically impossible to count the lawyers and vakils who lived in Mylapore.

Anantha Sadan.

The Law Weekly Office (at whose doors (left) stand the walkers).

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In this Issue

City roads taken over
Government flip-flop
Our power crisis
The story of migrations eastwards
Vignettes of the past – in pictures... & live
The view from the Mount
On the trail of judges & lawyers
Enjoying ourselves at the Book Fair

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary
Babu's Toon


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