Walking past Ekamra Niwas, as we near Nageswara Rao Park and roughly opposite the Isabel Hospital is a property that is now part boutique, part restaurant, lawyers’ chambers and dance school. This was Sir KS House, so named as it was the residence of Sir K Srinivasa Iyengar. One of the early lot, he was made an acting judge of the Madras High Court in 1915, but passed over thrice in confirmation on the basis of an absurd rule that limited the number of Judges who had risen from the ranks of vakils. Giving up the Bench in 1917, he returned to practice. He subsequently became Advocate General, Member of the Governor’s Executive Council and also Vice Chancellor of the Madras University. He was knighted in 1923 and passed away the same year. His great-grand-daughter-in-law is the danseuse Sudharani Raghupathy. Her son Aniruddha continues the legal tradition. Sir KS owned extensive properties in this area and Luz Avenue stands on one of these.
Immediately after Nageswara Rao Park stands Sri Baugh, now overshadowed by Amritanjan, which shares the same premises. A grand bungalow, it was the residence of PR Sundara Aiyar who in 1911 became a Judge of the Madras High Court. Sundara Aiyar, commemorated in Justice Sundaram Avenue not far away, was a close companion of V Krishnaswami Aiyar who lived just opposite in Ashrama, which does not stand any longer. The achievements of V Krishnaswami Aiyar have been chronicled earlier in these columns. His great-granddaughter is Prabha Sridevan, former Judge of the Madras High Court and now Chairperson of the Intellectual Property Rights Tribunal. She lives in Krishnaswami Avenue, which came up when Ashrama was demolished and the land divided into lots.
The Kamadhenu Theatre stands where Lakshmi Vilas once was. The property of Moddaverapu Dera Venkataswami Naidu, dubash of Parry & Co, it became in the 1890s the home of Sir V Bhashyam Iyengar, the first Indian to become acting Advocate General. He is commemorated with a statue in the High Court premises. A man who is said to have personified law, he became Judge later only to discover to his shock that a judge’s income was far lower than that of a successful lawyer’s. Four years later he resigned and reverted to practice. He literally died with his boots on, for he collapsed while arguing in Court.
At the intersection of Kutchery and RK Mutt Roads once stood New Place. This was home to TR Venkatarama Sastry, later Advocate General and a leader of the Madras Bar. He later shifted to Edward Elliots Road. Behind this, for a large stretch of Kutchery Road was the property of Sir T Muthuswami Iyer, first Indian to become Judge of a High Court. Sir Muthuswami Iyer has a large marble statue in his honour at the centre of the Madras High Court premises. A bridge near Central Station is named after him.
Down Royapettah High Road, by Vidya Mandir was Bala Vilas the house of TM Krishnaswami Aiyar, legal luminary and Chief Justice of the Travancore High Court. TMK was known as Tiruppugazh Mani, owing to the work he did in the popularising of Arunagirinathar’s verses. In later life he was a saintly figure, conducting bhajan sessions of which the most famous were the ones at Tiruttani every New Year’s Eve.
Off RK Mutt Road is narrow Pelathope. Most of the giants of the Madras Bar, V Krishnaswami Aiyar, PR Sundara Aiyar, Sir PS Sivaswami Aiyar and Sir Alladi, all lived at Pelathope at one time or the other before prosperity took them elsewhere. Thereafter several top-ranking lawyers lived here. M Subbaraya Aiyyar had a large practice in income tax. He is of course better remembered for his role in the establishment of three educational institutions – the MIT, Vivekananda College and Vidya Mandir. Also from Pelathope were two who made it big in criminal law – G Gopalaswami and CK Venkatanarasimhan. The former’s son G Rammohan is the author of Pelathope Days, a book that looks at life in this street from the 1940s to the 1960s. Pelathope also holds credit for a father-son duo who both became Chief Justices. AV Viswanatha Sastry was Chief Justice of Andhra High Court while his son Ratnam who still resides at Pelathope headed the Himachal Pradesh Bench.
Once North Mada Street was lined with houses and the first few at least were associated with law. At the corner was KV Venkatasubramania Iyer’s house. He was professor at the Law College. An expert in Hindu and Constitutional Law, he took up practice after retiring from the college in 1947 and was greatly successful till his demise 15 years later. Next, where Indian Bank stands now, was the house of Diwan Bahadur KS Ramaswami Sastrigal, District Judge. A couple of houses after this was the residence of S Ramachandra Aiyar who was Chief Justice of the Madras High Court in the 1960s. Next to this was Swaminatha Vilas, where Rao Bahadur KV Krishnaswami Aiyyar lived. KVK, a leading lawyer, is better remembered today the social causes he championed – the Library Association, and the Music Academy. He also encouraged his widowed cousin Meenakshi Ammal to write what would become a best seller that is still in print and in many languages –Samaithu paar!
We took a short cut via Sannidhi Street to reach East Mada Street. Here, where Indira Metal Stores is, stood a town house where TL Venkatarama Aiyar once lived. A junior of Sir Alladi, he would become Judge of the Madras High Court and later the Supreme Court. A noted Sanskrit scholar, he was an authority on Muttuswami Dikshitar kritis and taught them to several musicians. He was awarded the Sangita Kalanidhi by the Music Academy. He was later President of the Academy (1965 to1971) and also of RR Sabha. In later years he lived on Moubrays (now TTK) Road.
Down East Mada Street we went, to Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan. This was once Srinivas, the house of KS Jayarama Aiyar, a leading lawyer specialising in criminal cases. He and his wife Alamelu were great patrons of music. It is perhaps appropriate that the building put up on the same site has concerts almost everyday. At the corner where East Mada and South Mada Streets meet was where the priest to Sir V Bhashyam Iyengar lived. One day, the priest rather hesitatingly suggested that his son could apprentice under Sir Bhashyam and this was graciously accepted. The son’s diligence greatly pleased the legal luminary and a day came when V Krishaswami Aiyar saw to his horror that master and disciple were reading the same newspaper together. H underwent further training under Sir PS Sivaswami Aiyyar. After a steady rise in the Bar, he became a Judge of the Madras High Court and later of the Federal Court as well, receiving a knighthood in the process. That in brief is the career of Sir S Varadachariar, who owned much of Kalvi Varu Street, on the banks of the Buckingham Canal, behind Vidya Mandir. He would one day become President of the Board of the Lady Sivaswami Aiyyar Girls School in whose shadow he had begun life.
Our last stop was Vasantha Vilas on South Mada Street. A portion of it still stands. This was home to two others of the Vembakkam clan – the brothers V Rajagopalacharlu and Sadagopacharlu. The siblings were in practice in the Supreme Court of Madras and therefore predated the High Court. It probably explains the Vembakkam line’s predilection for the legal profession. Sir VC Desikachariar and VC Seshachariar were the sons of Rajagopalacharlu. Vasantha Vilas is where the Law Weekly still comes out from, 98 years after it was begun by VC Seshachariar.
As I wound up, I realised I must have left out several others. Most notable was Pennathur Subramania Iyer who founded the PS High School on RK Mutt Road. But then, it is practically impossible to count the lawyers and vakils who lived in Mylapore.