Campus reconnect: Freedom fighter and lawyer K. Aiyappan Pillai remembers his vibrant campus days

At this ripe old age – I’ll turn 100 this May – it is quite nostalgic to talk about my student days at Arts College and Government Law College.

It just took a letter from my father, A. Kumara Pillai to the then Principal of Arts College, Prof Renga Swamy Iyengar to get me admitted for the intermediate course in 1931. That was because my father was the student of the first batch that Renga Swamy Iyengar had taught. An amusing moment was that on receiving my father’s letter, who was then working as Assistant Peshkar in Kottayam, the Principal immediately took me to the college in his car so that I could join before ‘raahukalam’! I completed my intermediate and graduation from the college.

It was then an all boys’ college. More than anything else I remember the eminent teachers we had, all of them scholars. Renga Swamy sir was a disciplinarian, but a very warm person. There was no politics on the campus, the college union was rather inactive. But there was not a dull moment since all the students were active in extra curricular activities and organising events on our own. One such programme was the staging of ‘Duryodhanavadham’ Kathakali by Thottam Namboothirippad from Ambalappuzha at VJT Hall in 1932.

Professor A. Gopala Menon, a brilliant scholar in economics, replaced Renga Swamy Iyengar as the Principal. His classes were very interesting. When we were in Junior BA class, the then Maharaja of Cochin paid a visit to the college. Our Malayalam teacher Vidwan C.I. Gopala Pillai had prepared a vanchipattu for him and I was in the group which sang it for him. He appreciated the song a lot.

I also remember being introduced to Changampuzha Krishna Pillai, then a young boy, by author E.V. Krishna Pillai and his friend. He had recited the poem Ramanan for us and we were encouraged to buy copies. A fond memory of the period is the staging of the Kathakali ‘Chandrasekhara Vijayam’ [named after our principal Prof C.V. Chandrasekharan], a parody of ‘Ravana Vijayam’. It had our teaching staff as characters and the padams were written by a student Karunakaran Nair, who later became Swami Dayanandan. Before the staging of the play, we had to take permission from the Principal and teaching staff. The task was left to me. Our Principal agreed on the condition that there was no malice in the play.

The two-hour event turned out to be a huge success. Among the actors were R. Sankara Narayanan Thampi, who later became Speaker of the Kerala Assembly and K. Krishna Pillai, who made his mark as an excellent professor. The Principal said that it was one of the glorious evenings of his life.

After graduation, I joined Government Law College in 1936, then located at the building where the Accountant General’s Office stands now. In those days, the college had students from Mysore, Andhra Pradesh and Madras. A.P. Udayabhanu and P.T. Chacko were among my friends. Among our teachers I fondly remember Professor E. Subramania Iyer who used to tell us about those days when he had struggled to study due to financial difficulties. He inspired us to take advantage of the facilities we had.

A major event of the time was the Temple entry proclamation and I remember how some of my friends were excited that they could finally enter the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple.

There weren’t any political movements as such because the people were satisfied with the governance. But the atmosphere changed with the entry of Dewan C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer.

Though I passed the law examination, we had to wait for a year to do Bar Council apprenticeship as the new rule was not passed by the Assembly. During that gap I became actively involved in the newly formed Travancore Congress. Since those days, I have lived as a committed social worker and kept up the integrity of my profession.

I couldn’t stay away from the political developments. But unlike the present days, our excitement was purely selfless. Having played my part in the changing social, political and cultural scenario of the State till date, I find comfort in the thought that I have not lived in vain.

Defining moment

January 20, 1934. Most memorable day of my life. Mahatma Gandhi came to the capital city and I was among the select few who attended to him. I remember taking his soft hands and helping him walk up to the dais. Gandhiji asked me what I was doing and about my ambition. I said after my studies I would take up a government job. My father had already arranged a job for me. But Gandhiji said, ‘Don’t join government service, go to the people...’. Those words echoed in my mind for long. So, I declined the job, but it hurt my father. Later, he accepted my wish and with his blessings, I joined the Government Law College.

(A column to commemorate the platinum jubilee of the University of Kerala. Eminent teachers and people from different walks of life talk about their student days in various colleges under the University.)