Fellow heritage enthusiast and writer, Dr G. Sundaram, wondered as to the origins of Bashyam Basheer Ahmed Street in Alwarpet. Have the signboard painters got it wrong he wondered. But for once they had it right. It is indeed Bashyam Basheer Ahmed Street. And as for its Vaishnavite-Muslim name combination, the explanation is simple — it commemorates two men — K. Bhashyam Iyengar and Basheer Ahmed Sayeed. Both were giants of the legal field.
Bhashyam enrolled as an advocate in 1906. He apprenticed under his father-in-law, the legendary Sir VC Desikachariar, and later worked with leaders such as VV Srinivasa Iyengar and S. Srinivasa Iyengar. He was greatly successful in independent practice as well. He wrote a classic commentary on the Negotiable Instruments Act, while still in the early days of his career and is even now referred to at times as NI Act Bhashyam to distinguish him from the other, Sir V Bhashyam Iyengar.
But it is his services to social causes that earned him immortality. Active in the freedom struggle he was beaten by the police and also sentenced. He took to representing in court, people charged for participating in the independence movement. He was to be a member of the Syndicates of the Madras and Annamalai Universities, a councillor, a member of the Legislature and a minister in the Prakasam Ministry of 1946-47. He died in 1959.
Basheer Ahmed enrolled in the High Court in 1925. An expert in languages and also Islamic law, he rose quickly in practice and was later made a judge of the Madras High Court. He was confirmed as a judge in 1950. Like Bhashyam, he too was actively involved in social causes, one of the prime beneficiaries being the Music Academy, of which he was a member of the executive committee.
It was at his prompting that the Academy purchased its present property. Justice Basheer Ahmed, in 1951, set up the Southern India Education Trust along with a few other prominent Muslims of Madras.
Sixteen acres of land were purchased in the Teynampet area and in 1955, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, who greatly admired Basheer Ahmed’s legal acumen and learning, laid the foundation stone of the SIET College, the first of the many SIET institutions. Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed died in 1984.
K. Bhashyam lived in Champaka Vilas, at the intersection of Luz Church Road and Mowbrays (now TTK) Road. That property is a rabbit’s warren of flats now. The other side of Mowbray’s Road, was mainly paddy fields, with the vast Sudder Court (native courts of the 18 century) in the distance. The main court building, Sadr Gardens, was Basheer Ahmed Sayeed’s residence. It still exists, a magnificent pile.
When the surrounding area was developed in the 1940s, roads were laid and one connected Sadr Gardens to Mowbrays Road. In an inspired moment, it was decided to name it after both men and so we have it, Bashyam Basheer Ahmed Street.
Happily, it remains so.
This article appeared in The Hindu under the Hidden Histories column dated 2nd January 2013