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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 22, March 1-15, 2013
He took up a host of public causes
By Sriram V.

K.V. Krishnaswami Aiyar from a 1935 Ananda Vikatan cartoon 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 concluded)

BR blazed new trails

Masters of 20th Century Madras science

– An occasional article in a series by Dr. A. RAMAN

B. Ramamurthi (BR) was born on January 30, 1922 in Sirkazhi (where his father Captain T.S. Balasubramanian worked as an Assistant Surgeon in the Government Hospital). BR had his early education in Trichinopoly. His father and a friend of his father convinced BR to study medicine rather than prepare for the Indian Civil Service examination.

Entering Madras Medical College (MMC) to do his MBBS, BR passed out in 1943, winning the coveted Johnstone Medal. Working with N.S. Narasimha Iyer, he got his Master of Surgery degree in 1947. He went to Edinburgh to get his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, which he achieved in six weeks. On his return, Surgeon Narasimha Iyer persuaded BR to specialise in neurosurgery, whereas BR was contemplating cardio-thoracic surgery. As a step towards becoming a neurosurgeon, BR went to Newcastle (UK) in January 1949, to train with G.F. Rowbotham. He subsequently worked with leaders in European neurosurgery: Geoffrey Jefferson in Manchester, Hugo Krayenbuhl in Zurich, Edward Busch in Copenhagen, and Herbert Olivecrona in Stockholm.

BR then travelled to the Montreal Neurological Institute and worked with Wilder Penfield. After successful neurosurgical training stints in Britain, Continental Europe, America, and Canada, he returned to Madras in 1950 and in October that year was appointed Assistant Surgeon in Neurosurgery, Madras Government General Hospital (MGGH). He subsequently rose to the rank of the Director of the Institute of Neurology at MGGH – the post he held until his retirement in 1978. After that he spent his time at the Voluntary Health Service Hospital (Madras) developed by his mentor K.S. Sanjivi, where he set up a sophisticated neurosurgical theatre. He was also the principal of MMC and dean of MGGH before his retirement. BR, along with neurologists Jacob Chandy, S.T. Narasimhan, and Baldev Singh, established the Neurological Society of India in 1951, which started functioning in Madras.

BR published extensively from the early days of his career. His publications in the 1950s were on spinal extradural granuloma, brain abscess, ventriculographic diagnosis of cysticercosis, and pituitary apoplexy. He presented an extensive commentary on brain tuberculomas, based on his MGGH study involving more than 200 cases, at an international neurology congress in Brussels in 1957. His early research pertained to the tuberculosis of the central-nervous system.

He blazed new trails by developing a specialised head injury ward in MGGH – the first of its kind in India. He published prolifically on the prevention of head injuries, strategies to reduce head injury related death, management of intracranial hematomas, skull fractures, and their psychological effects.

During 1970-1975, his interest turned to studying cerebrovascular diseases and epilepsy and his studies were supported by PL 480 grants administered by the Indian Council of Medical Reasearch. Between 1950 and 1975 his knowledge of the human brain and nervous system was so profound that he was considered by the public as both a neurosurgeon and a neurophysician. BR's contribution to science would be incomplete if I do not refer to his pioneering stereotaxic surgical procedures. Besides using stereotaxic surgery on patients suffering movement disorders, he extended its scope in epilepsy management, pain relief, cerebral palsy, and drug addiction, and even some psychiatric disorders. He explored neurophysiological functions of the amygdala, hypothalamus, and the deeper-lying brain regions.

His publications included different dimensions of diagnoses and treatments of a range of tumours (e.g. pituitary acenomas, neurinoma, gliomas). He studied aphasia and the use of feedback technique and tested the vitality of yoga in treating nervous system disorders. At 60, he readily learnt and enthusiastically used microsurgical techniques.

BR strongly believed that a uniform postgraduate education system was necessary to maintain quality in medical education in India. This belief turned out to be a strong force behind the establishment of the National Board of Medical Examinations, the office of which he presided over for several years. The National Brain Research Centre, Manesar (Haryana), was his brainchild. This centre of excellence in neurosciences is a great gift to the nation. He and Prakash Narain Tandon (then with the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi) published the Textbook of Neurosurgery in 1980, which ran into a second edition in 1996. He was working on his subsequent book Textbook of Operative Neurosurgery, which remained unfinished when death overtook him in December 2003.

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In this Issue

The sad, sad state of Chepauk Palace
Will Metro moves threaten Ripon Building, VP Hall?
On the Bookshelves – Of war and wickets
CUMTA should have a wider role
He took up a host of public causes
The illustrious scientist who teamed with C.V. Raman
From R'puram Medical School to Stanley Medical College

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Madras Eye


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