Crime files

It is evening and there is not a soul in sight as I walk through Maddox Street in Vepery. I glance at quaintly-named Bread Godown Street and enter General Collins Road. All at once, there is a hush and the sounds of traffic and daily life cease.

General Collins Road is surrounded by a series of high compound walls. I am now at its notorious double bend, a spot from where I cannot see what is lurking on either side. A perfect spot for a murder. And that is probably why, on November 8, 1944, C.N. Lakshmikantham, who ran a yellow paper, was stabbed right there.

High society detested him for he wrote of their shenanigans if not placated with money. But nemesis was nigh. In his book, A Century Completed, A history of the Madras High Court (1862-1962), V.C. Gopalaratnam detailed the incident. Vadivelu, who worked in the office of a local newspaper, along with Nagalingam and others, are said to have “deployed themselves along General Collins Road at the point where it joined Purasawalkam High Road. At that junction, a policeman was stationed to ward off traffic entering General Collins Road. About 9 p.m., Lakshmikantham left his lawyer's house, got into a rickshaw, and proceeded along General Collins Road till he reached the sudden double turn where there was a measure of privacy.”

Vadivelu and Nagalingam, “who were running along with the rickshaw suddenly attacked it, drove away the rickshaw man which tilted the rickshaw backwards exposing Lakshmikantham to attack. Both the accused stabbed him with ‘bichuvas' in the lower abdomen…” Lakshmikantham died the next day at GH at 5 a.m.

The first reaction in high society was one of relief. Lawyer and diarist N.D. Varadachariar summed it up in his entry for November 10, when he said, “C.N. Lakshmikantham, the freak editor of Cinema Thoothu and Indunesan, dies of wounds inflicted yesterday. He was a coarse and elemental force, stirring up the cesspools of society.”

Then came sensation. His diary entry for November 28 — “M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar is arrested last night in connection with the murder. N.S. Krishnan is said to be ‘wanted'.”

He too was arrested subsequently. What followed has been well documented by historian Randor Guy and Bhagavatar's biographer, Suresh Balakrishnan. The sensational trial with matinee idols as accused ended with sentences of life imprisonment. An appeal followed which upheld the sentence.

The Privy Council in London however, remanded the case to the High Court for a fresh appellate hearing. At the end of it, in 1947, the accused walked free though life was never the same again for any of them.

And so who plotted Lakshmikantham's murder? It remains unresolved. The whodunnit became the stuff of legend. But standing at the double bend on General Collins Road, the first instinct is to hurry home. If there ever was a creepy spot in Chennai, it is this.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 12:19:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-columns/Crime-files/article12217632.ece

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