Ironically, he also sponsored a ‘Sadhakam’ — a 100-song compilation in praise of King-Emperor George.
V Krishnaswamy Iyer was the multifaceted lawyer — an energetic man with varied interests.
His father was a Munsif in Thanjavur district and young Krishnaswamy finished his schooling in Kumbakonam. He moved to Presidency College and a lacklustre college tenure with a third-class pass in law foretold nothing big for him in future.
Enrolling in the Bar, life followed the same mediocre routine. He hopefully moved to an area where lawyers resided but he would often say, he was the only one without any client visits.
Krishnaswamy was sustaining on a dole from his brother and perpetually hoping for better times. But somehow pride was being hurt and he would burst out in response to the unfair hand life was dealing him. He was married by then and once when his wife bought jasmine flowers to adorn her hair, he would snatch it and throw it on the street saying she could afford these luxuries only when he started earning. At one point he even decided not to be a jobless vakil in Madras and rather move to Cuddalore.
Somehow there was a change in his fate at that point when a well-respected lawyer got promoted as a munsif and handed all his briefs to him. One of his first clients was the Chidambaram temple and the omen served him well. His life transformed after that. His arguing capacity and knack to foreknow the trend of his opponent’s argument soon made him one of the eminent lawyers of Madras.
Krishnaswamy was involved in the prosecution of George Arbuthnot, partner of the British investment Company Arbuthnot & Co after the bank crashed in 1906. Funds of the small and big investors, charities and even God (Tirupati temple had a hefty amount invested) were lost in the bank’s bankruptcy.
When Krishnaswamy Iyer tried to argue, there were objections that only a barrister could appear in an insolvency case. Brilliant Krishnaswamy had an answer ready. He said he was a litigant being the secretary of a trust who had invested and lost. While being allowed to continue his prosecution, hurdle after hurdle was placed in his path to save George Arbuthnot, who was the second most respected man in the presidency after the Governor. But Krishnaswamy was determined and had George jailed for 18 months. Not stopping with that, he persuaded the rich mercantile community of Chettiars to invest in what later became the Indian Bank.
Clubs in Madras were closed-door associations with restricted memberships and controlled by British office-bearers. When Krishnaswamy Iyer applied to become a member at the prestigious cosmopolitan club, existing members blocked his entry by blackballing him. He immediately started the Mylapore Club in response to leased land from the Kapali temple (hence no liquor or non-veg was served for a century).
Krishnaswamy Iyer had a political side too. He was a ‘moderate’ and did not like articles in ‘Sudesamitran’ and ‘India’ for their content — especially the articles written by assistant editor Subramania Bharathi. His disdain was well known to the latter too.
Introverted Bharathi wrote his poetry and recited it to small audiences. When he got the desire to take it to the larger public he was short of funds. Publisher GA Nadesan suggested seeking Krishnaswamy Iyer as a patron. Bharathi initially refused to go but agreed on the condition that he should not be introduced to the lawyer. Bharathi was asked to recite his poetry which he did standing before the small group. He started with Vande matharam and sang two more.
Krishnaswamy had moist eyes at the strength of the words, but he was angry. “Why are you keeping quiet after writing such lovely songs. These have to be sung in schools and taught in music classes. How can you remain so inert?” A laughing Nadesan would intervene and introduced the antagonists. As an aftermath of this meeting, Iyer printed 15,000 copies of Bharathi’s songs and had them sent on all over Tamil speaking regions. But this didn’t break the ice between the two. When Krishnaswamy Iyer accepted a post of judge and a seat in the governor’s council, Bharathi would lambast him for lacking in patriotism.
George V, the King-Emperor, wanted a durbar in his new capital Delhi. Krishnaswamy Iyer, as a member of the governor’s council, had to attend the function. He took with him a print of the George Deva Sadhakam, hundred verse poem in praise of the emperor in Sanskrit by composer Lakshmana Suri. He had been instrumental in the creation of the poem and getting a reward for the poet earlier.
In Delhi, Iyer fell sick. Overwork and poor care of his health deteriorated it fast. He returned to Madras, and this serial founder of some great institutions died before he was 50 at the peak of his career. Krishnaswamy Iyer was gratefully remembered by the city with a statue outside the Senate House of Madras University.
REF:V Krishnaswami Iyer by K Chandrasekharan
— The writer is a historian and an author