Friday, July 13, 2007

Legal Luminary - Article in The Hindu

On the 50th death anniversary of Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Iyer, V.S. RAVI recalls memories of his personal association with his grandfather.

Sir Alladi Krishnaswami (seated third from left) with the other members of the Constituent Assembly.

THE earliest recollections of my grandfather are of a frail and tiny man, barely weighing about 100 pounds, lying on a cot in the central room facing the garden in Ekamra Nivas, the large house that he had built in the heart of Mylapore, Chennai. For almost four decades the majestic house was a beehive of activity. Nature had not endowed him with a robust constitution or fine features and had, in fact, burdened him with ill health. But his face radiated a strange beauty reflecting as it did his massive intellect which could store in his `Cerebral Engine'. Whenever I returned from school, he would invariably be immersed in the pages of some bulky book, underlining with zest, sentences that he felt were important. But his sense of propriety would not allow him to encourage indiscipline. Once a sergeant chased my cousin Ramesh and me because we were riding "doubles" on a cycle. We entered Ekamra Nivas and hid behind our grandfather who was in his library. The sergeant also came in, saluted my grandfather and explained the situation. My grandfather not only reprimanded us, but also apologised to the sergeant. Little did I realise then that one day I would join the Indian Police Service.

Usually, on coming home from school, I would curl up in a chair near my grandfather and from that vantage position observe people coming to visit him. Lawyers of the stature of Setalwad and Katju, judges like Patanjali Sastry and N. Rajagopal Iyengar (both of whom were his juniors), politicians, journalists and even famous doctors called on him to savour his wit and wisdom. Aggrieved parties belonging to various walks of life sought his advice or guidance.

I was fortunate to have been present when "great contemporaries" exchanged ideas on various issues. The former President, the late Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, would visit my grandfather often. Rajaji would also drop in frequently to see my grandfather. I remember how on one occasion my cousin Rama and I asked Rajaji for his autograph — he gave it after he had extracted Rs.10 from each of us towards Congress funds. Justice Wanchoo was sent by the Central Government to seek my grandfather's opinion on the desirability of conceding a separate Andhra state. My grandfather told him that it was indeed a just cause.

My grandfather was born in1883 in the obscure Andhra village of Pudur in Nellore district. His father Ekamra Sastry, a priest, was content to spend his days in peace and piety. As his father had a presentiment that his son would, one day, rise to fame and fortune, he moved to Madras to give my grandfather the best education. After schooling, he joined the Madras Christian College to study history. Eminent professors like Kellett were so impressed with his brilliance, eloquence and good qualities, that they appointed him as a tutor in history. Alladi utilised his spare time to attend classes in law and passed the B.L. exam.

It is a tribute to his courage and confidence that, while most men in his position would have preferred the sanctuary of a quiet job with the security of a steady income, he boldly ventured into a field where successes were few and failures many. Even as an apprentice he displayed a remarkable grasp of his chosen subject. Without the backing of wealth or influence, he became the leader of the Bar in seven years, a position he retained through his life. His rise in the legal profession was meteoric.

A measure of his greatness can also be gauged from the tributes he received on the occasion of his 60th birthday from almost all the leading lawyers, intellectuals and British Judges before whom he had "argued" — Justice Horwill of the Madras court, and Sir Maurice Gwyer, retired Chief Justice of India What particularly endeared him to all were his childlike simplicity, his habit of acknowledging others' excellence and his loyalty to friends. He was generous with his money for every good cause. Having known poverty and being conscious of his early days of penury and struggle, he had sympathy for others in the same predicament. This spirit of generosity manifested itself later as donations to various charitable causes and educational institutions.

His contribution to the legal world and his encyclopaedic knowledge of law are preserved in the debates of the Constituent Assembly and the Constitution.

Justice N. Rajagopala Iyengar narrates an incident relating to a case my grandfather was arguing in the Federal Court (predecessor to the Supreme Court of India) before a bench headed by Sir Maurice Gwyer, the Chief Justice. Alladi had finished his speech by lunch but Gwyer requested him to continue his argument in the afternoon, so that Sir John Simon, an eminent British jurist who was expected to visit the court in the afternoon, could hear him!

In another instance, my grandfather arguing before Justice Leach was expounding on some aspects of Hindu Law. At one stage, Justice Leach, in a tone that betrayed slight annoyance, questioned my grandfather whether it was really necessary to give him a lesson on the subject. Alladi reportedly shot back, "That is not my job today your Lordship. But as a piece of information I might tell you that I have taught Hindu Law to six of your Lordship's predecessors". Alladi belonged to a genre of intellectuals of such moral integrity that they could use a barbed phrase or acidic retort without giving the slightest impression of insulting anyone.

Alladi died on October 3, 1953. In my grandfather, genius and generosity, charity and compassion, humility and humanity were combined harmoniously.

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