‘We needed a father figure to take crucial decisions’

AN ANCHOR: “His style was not that of a boss. He avoided interfering in what was the private preserve. Nevertheless he was always available if we sought his counsel.” Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer (right) with Mr. V.R. Lakshminarayanan at the seafront in Kochi. Photo: Special Arrangement  

More than a week has gone since Justice Krishna Iyer (V.R.K.) passed away, but the incredible outpouring of grief continues. This is natural when a legend, who offered solace to thousands across the country, passes into history. Justice Iyer could not see anyone suffer; he firmly believed in rescuing those who were caught by the overreaching arm of the state. He believed that the state had no business in taking one more life just to avenge a murder. The intensity of his campaign against capital sentence earned him international admiration.

Iyer the judge was an open book. But not much is known about his private life. So I spoke to his brother V.R. Lakshminarayanan (or Lakshman as he is known to his brothers and sisters) to get a glimpse of how the family saw Justice Iyer. Mr. Lakshminarayanan was in the Indian Police Service and retired as Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu. Earlier, he had had a long stint with the Central Bureau of Investigation. Despite his frail health, he responded to questions with an energy that belies his age and present state of mind. Excerpts:

How would you describe your brother’s connections with the rest of the family?

He had an unbelievable bond with the whole family. We were four sons and three daughters. Our father, V.V. Rama Iyer, a leading lawyer of Tellicherry and president of the Malabar District Board, was tremendously busy with his practice and had little time to spend with us. My eldest brother Venkatesan was cruelly snatched away from us by cancer in his youth. So it fell upon V.R.K., being the oldest of the remaining siblings, to be a surrogate parent. Not that we were economically poor. But we needed a leader, a father figure, to take crucial decisions — especially career and marriage choices. He fit the bill very well. His style was not that of a boss. He avoided interfering in what was the private preserve. Nevertheless he was always available if we sought his counsel.

When the turn of my grandson came, he promptly referred to my brother. The teacher and the class were confounded.

His passionate belief in women’s rights was in evidence even in his twenties. When my sister Meenakshy lost her husband and became a widow as a teenager, it was V.R.K. who fought against the prevailing tradition, insisting that she return to school. He funded her higher studies. She went on to inspire the next generation, both through her scholarly pursuits in the U.S. — she was the first PhD in our family — and her generosity of spirit.

It is believed that he was not attracted by lucre. Was this because he was a man of simple habits?

Yes. Being a successful lawyer, he earned enough for his keep. He argued free for the really poor litigant. His needs were limited. This is why he did not chase money. He was always in white khadi, a true patriot and a great follower of the Mahatma.

Whom did he admire the most?

The earliest influence on him was the Right Honourable V.S. Srinivasa Sastri, the Vice-Chancellor of Annamalai University, where he went for his graduate studies. He chose that university because Annamalai Chettiar was my father’s client, and Chettiar insisted that at least one of us enrol there. Sastri took classes for my brother and his oratory and mastery of English captivated him. This is one reason why my brother’s judgments were clothed in flowery language that many complained was incomprehensible. But then you must remember that the language that my brother used in judgments and private conversation flowed naturally. There was nothing counterfeit about it.

Mahatma Gandhi was another of my brother’s icons. Rajaji and Panditji were the other influences. When my brother got elected to the Madras Assembly, Rajaji advised him to be truly independent as he himself was. My brother adhered to this strictly. When he entered the Namboodripad Ministry, he remembered this well and never compromised his uniqueness. Partisanship was not his cup of tea.

Pandit Nehru was a dear friend. There was mutual admiration. When Panditji stumbled at a public occasion, it was my brother who responded on reflex and held on to him safely. Someone clicked the scene. This photograph is still green in my memory. He never took advantage of this intimacy. He did not seek things. He only gave.

The late Mohan Kumaramangalam was another great friend. The two shared many beliefs. That possibly attracted Namboodripad’s attention and made him invite my brother into the first ever Communist government in the country. But unlike Mohan, my brother was not a card holder.

What were his interests other than law?

As a Keralite he was captivated by football. He chased the game wherever it was staged. I remember his frequent trips to Bangalore from Tellicherry, even amidst a busy schedule, just to watch a game. He was somewhat interested in music as well. He was not a glutton when it came to food. But he had a sweet tooth. Medical restrictions were for him to violate with impunity. I am told in his last [stages] he may have shunned regular food, but sweets, especially cakes, were no bar!

It is said that he was traumatised by his wife’s death and never recovered from it.

Yes, that is absolutely true. His was an arranged marriage. It was love at first sight. They were excessively fond of each other. The parting from his wife was a blow that left him crippled for quite a while.

Was Justice Iyer an atheist or agnostic?

He was neither. He never flaunted his faith in religion. He was not demonstrative. But he believed in the discipline that a trust in God engendered in all of us.

How would you describe your personal relationship with VRK?

We were not mere brothers. Particularly because of the 13-year age difference between us, he was a father figure to me. We used to talk to each other every day until this last fortnight. When we were together in Delhi for less than a decade in the 1970s — he as a Chairman of the Law Commission and later as Judge of the Supreme Court and I as an official in the CBI — we met almost every day. He used to discuss his judgments with me to seek my opinion. Of course, this was after they had been delivered!

How was he towards the next generation in the family?

He was fond of every son or daughter of his siblings. My two daughters and son were no different from his own two children. Their achievements in their respective professions pleased him beyond words.

What would have given him the greatest delight if he had been alive was what happened at the school of my grandson in New Jersey a week ago. Each student was asked whom he or she admired the most. The names of many U.S. Presidents popped up. My grandson Ganesh was however not impressed. When his turn came, he promptly referred to my brother. The teacher and the class were confounded. They asked him who this venerable gentleman was. The young boy went to the computer. He pulled up one of the many eulogies on my brother that have flooded the press here, and said, “All of India is crying for him.”

Such was the impact of the simplest soul I have ever known in my life of 86 summers. I will miss him until my last day. I feel orphaned.

(R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director.)

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 11:02:09 AM |

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