From disappointment to leadership

When I referred to the Sir S. Subramania Ayyar endowment lectures on March 7, I had mentioned that these first endowment lectures of the University of Madras had been instituted by V. Krishnaswami Aiyar in 1911. I had failed to mention that the latter had passed away the same year, not yet quite 50 when he died. But in that short life, he had packed in much, going from disappointment to being a leading figure in the city and recognised nationally as a statesman.

A Congress Moderate, he was anything but moderate in his passion for causes and his fervour in debate. Yet he was a friend of everyone, from the highest in the Establishment to the most vociferous among the Extremists. It was this genius for friendship that led him to Delhi to be honoured with the Kaiser-i-Hind medal at the 1911 Durbar. He fell ill during the celebrations and passed away in a few days. A statue of him was raised some years later on the University of Madras campus, near that of his mentor, Sir Subramania Ayyar. It remembered a man who had, among other things, been a member of the Legislative Council (1909) and a Member of the Governor's Executive Council (1911).

When Krishnaswami Aiyar came to the Bar, it was dominated by outstanding lawyers such as Subramania Ayyar, V. Bhashyam Iyangar, Eardley Norton and Spring Branson among a host of others. Conscious of his outstanding proficiency in English and the Law, but finding himself unable to get anywhere, Krishnaswami Aiyar thought of throwing in the towel and seeking another career. Subramania Ayyar heard about this from one of his juniors, another outstanding talent, P.R. Sundara Aiyar, and, ever ready to encourage talent, he invited Krishnaswami Aiyar to join his Chambers. The rest, as they say, is history. From 1895 till he became a High Court Judge in 1909, Krishnaswami Aiyar was considered the leading lawyer on the Appellate Side of the Madras High Court; P.R. Sundara Aiyar was a close second. Like Subramania Ayyar, Krishnaswami Aiyar himself encouraged many a young lawyer and owing much to him was V.S. Srinivasa Sastry.

Of his contribution towards the founding of the Indian Bank, the Madras Sanskrit College, the Venkatramana Ayurvedic Dispensary (later college), the Mylapore Club and the Ranade Library apart from his considerable assistance to the Ramakrishna Mission, much has been stated in these columns before. No doubt they'll all remember later this year, the centenary of his passing away at the age of 48.

Another Clive location

Once more readers have got the Clive wrong. Robert, who became a Lord well into life, was an 18th Century untitled figure in Madras. His son Edward, a Lord when he arrived in Madras as Governor, is a dawn-of-the-19th-Century figure. So the Lord Clive of 1803 mentioned in the scrap of document I feature with this item was Lord Edward Clive. And the document pertains to yet another of the locations in Madras that the entertainment and good-life loving second Lord Clive spent time in.

The document, a copy of a sale deed, came to me from Dr. John D. Iswariah of 8 Ritherdon Road, Vepery, whose wife's family had purchased the property in 1942. The history of the property, then 2 Ritherdon Road, as described in one of the Schedules, says that Lord Clive sold the property on February 1, 1803 to Robert Orme (famed for his history of John Company in South India) and a friend Alexander Anstruther. The latter sold it in September 1806 to Major Thomas Fiott de Havilland (responsible for the final construction of St. George's Cathedral and St. Andrew's Kirk), who in turn sold it in October 1822 to Sadras Gunapuddy Moodeliar, who kept mortgaging the property. In August 1897, the Purasawalkam Hindu Sunthatha Sanga Nidhi, to which he had mortgaged the property sometime after 1845, sold it to the Methodist Episcopal Church in Southern India, represented by the Rev. George K. Gilder and Grace Stevens. It was the American Methodist missionaries who in 1942 sold the property to Dr. Iswariah's wife's family.

Who Ritherdon was I have not been able to trace, but I rather think he was a post-1820s 19th Century arrival in Madras. Alexander Anstruther, on the other hand, was a barrister who arrived in Madras in 1798 and had a very successful practice in the newly set up Supreme Court of Madras (our High Court of today).

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 10:34:00 AM |

Next Story