Continued from The Man Who Championed Public Causes
Even while he was reorganising the Lexicon office and staff, K.V. Krishnaswami Aiyar (KVK) was to get involved in two abiding passions of his. These were the Madras Library Association (MALA) and the Music Academy, Madras, both offspring of the All India Congress Sessions held in Madras in December 1927.
The Congress Sessions were to witness several conferences held in conjunction with it, two of which were the Library and Music conferences. The former was to see the formation of MALA which, following a meeting on January 31, became a registered body in 1928. KVK was its first President and it had several of his committed lieutenants, such as P.N. Appuswami Aiyar (Pe Na), and (later Justice) Basheer Ahmed Sayeed on board. MALA made the propagation of libraries in rural areas its main focus and towards this, the first mobile library, in a bullock cart, was instituted in 1929. This operated in the Mannargudi region first. Later, the idea was adapted in other places in the Madras Presidency.
It was thanks to MALA and KVK that the father of library science, S.R. Ranganathan (SRR), then Librarian at the University of Madras, got due recognition. The need to improve school libraries was recognised and a series of lectures on the subject by SRR was organised at the Teachers’ College, Saidapet. This blossomed into a course for librarians and was in 1931 taken over by the University of Madras. It is now a full-fledged degree course.
SRR had developed the colon classification system for libraries. KVK was to recognise the genius in this methodology and to ensure it was given publicity. MALA began a publications division. The first book to be brought out was Essays by Diverse Hands, a selection from writings by eminent personalities. The second was SRR’s The Five Laws of Library Science. His Colon Classification: Classified Catalogue Code and Library Administration, also published by MALA, was to become famous all over the world and became the basis on which libraries began classifying their books. MALA under KVK was to lobby hard with the Madras Government to get a Libraries Act passed. It took 20 years (heritage activists, please note), but it was ultimately successful with Madras in 1948 becoming the first Province to have such legislation in place. This was later copied by other parts of the country. Under this legislation, it became necessary for every town/village with a certain population to have a public library. These were to be under the Local Library Authority (LLA) for which funding was from a cess levied on local taxes. The Connemara Public Library became the State Central Library. Overall administration of the LLA was to be under a Library Committee headed by the Minister for Education. The Act, now the Tamil Nadu Public Libraries Act, remains in force, though its libraries are a far cry from what KVK and SRR envisioned.
SRR and KVK were both short-tempered and clashes between the two during the Committee meetings were frequent. Pe Na and Basheer Ahmed, juniors in comparison, could only cower and wait for the storm to pass on such occasions. The presence of Sir P.S. Sivaswami Aiyar on the board of MALA, till his passing away in 1946, was to be of great value. He would iron out differences between the pragmatist KVK and the perfectionist SRR. But, then, unlike now, neither of the protagonists allowed his personal differences to hamper their common vision for MALA. This was to be a characteristic of KVK in his dealings at the Music Academy as well.
Thanks to his work on the Lexicon, KVK was to develop an abiding interest and passion for Tamil. This was to see him organise the Tamil Lovers’ Con-ference in December 1933. The committee in this connection was to be largely one-sided, chiefly Brahmins. The Self Respect Movement led by Periyar E.V. Ramaswami Naicker saw red and decided to gatecrash. What could have become an ugly situation was averted by KVK who allowed the singing of songs of all faiths at the inauguration, including songs espousing atheism! He also -acceded to the request that a resolution demanding the rationalisation of the Tamil script be passed.
In 1935, KVK was to organise the 80th birthday celebrations of the Tamil scholar U Ve Swaminatha Aiyar. An address, inscribed on a palm-leaf and enclosed in a silver casket, was presented to U Ve Sa on the occasion. A commemorative souvenir was also released. It was around that time that Kalaimagal, the literary magazine, was started in Mylapore. KVK joined its editorial board. Among the first articles he got published were Tamil translations of Sir C.V. Raman’s monographs on various scientific phenomena. With a view to inculcating a scientific temper among the natives of Madras, he had them printed as pamphlets by MALA and distributed free as well.
Before we pass on to KVK and the Music Academy, it may be best to deal with two other contributions of his. The first was his work in connection with the P.S. High School. When in the 1930s eminent lawyer T.R. Venkatarama Sastry was asked to take over as Chairman of PS Charities he agreed on condition that KVK was made Secretary. KVK agreed and was to remain Secretary till his death. He was also to serve as Correspondent of PS High School. When he took over, the school was passing through a lean financial patch. It was KVK who sorted everything out, actively scouting for donations and endowments.
It was also his vision that ensured that the P.S. Charities purchased land for expansion at Alamelumangapuram. This is today the P.S. Senior Secondary School. The land belonged to minors and KVK had the vision to foresee future legal problems. He solved them by ensuring that the payment for the purchase would be held in trust till the minors attained majority. The Government, in an unprecedented step, loaned the money for the acquisition. This was thanks to KVK badgering Sir R.M. Statham, Director for Public Instruction.
KVK’s wife, as we noted earlier, passed away when young. Among her last requests to her husband was that he take care of Meenakshi, her widowed niece. The girl was left with an infant son, a seven-year old brother-in-law and an aged mother-in-law. Meenakshi Ammal was to work hard to ensure that her wards received a good education. In 1951, thanks to KVK, she had her lucky break. Noticing her culinary skills, he suggested that she pen her recipes and publish the compilation. Samaithu Paar (Cook and See) became a success with newly-wed girls setting up homes. A second volume of recipes followed and then a third – dedicated to cooking for festivals and special occasions. Couched in homely language but with a scientific precision in measures that was amazing, Samaithu Paar has remained in print ever since. Thanks to Meenakshi Ammal’s son, Sankaran, it was later to be published in English, as Cook and See. It is now in electronic format as well. Later, KVK was to help Meenakshi Ammal acquire a permanent home in Mandaveli.
All this and more was achieved by a man who was showing early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. A minor tremor of the hand was visible by the early 1940s and this steadily deteriorated. It finished off KVK’s legal career but not his championing of various public causes. The biggest of these was the Music Academy and he worked on it even as he slowly yielded to his ailment.
To be continued.