Saturday, December 15, 2007

Why Palathope?

Why Palathope?
Around 1908, Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer and Subbaraya Iyer moved to Palathope from the 'Town' area to work as apprentices in the offices of the illustrious lawyers of Madras - V. Krishnaswamy Iyer (of Madras Sanskrit College and Indian Bank fame) and Sir C.P Ramaswamy Iyer (erstwhile Dewan of Travancore) respectively. Staying as tenants of Kodiyalam Srinivasa Iyengar in what is now Justice V. Ratnam's bungalow (the same bungalow where I meet with the Palathope residents); both Alladi and Subbaraya Iyer began their journeys into the world of law from Palathope. Apprenticeship under a leading lawyer in those days meant long hours of hard work in the lawyer's office (usually also his home) before and after the court sessions held during the day. Palathope, being close to the Mylapore residences of V. Krishnaswamy Iyer and Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, was a suitable choice for the young Alladi and Subbaraya Iyer. It was not long before Subbaraya Iyer bought the next-door property to where he was staying as a tenant - a verdant Keerai Thottam. A piece of land on which he constructed his mansion - a heritage bungalow today, which his descendants still live in and care for lovingly.

Charged by the success of these early achievers, the careers of other lawyers down the street were also taking off at around the same time.

A Palathope based family that had migrated from Andhra, produced a father-son duo - M.S. Ramachandra Rao and Jagannatha Rao, both of whom held the posts of Judge of the Andhra High Court during their careers. In fact, Jagannatha Rao went on to become the Chief Justice of the Kerala and Delhi High Courts as well, before becoming the Chairman of the Law Commission.

M.S. Venkatarama Iyer, a fine Civil Lawyer ran a prestigious, legal office from Palathope, which produced many luminaries - most notable among them being, R. Venkataraman, the former President of India.

M.R. Narayanaswami who started as a student in Palathope and was a junior of M.S.V blazed a trail in the field of labor litigation before ending his career as a Senior Lawyer in the Madras High Court.

Justice A.V. Viswanatha Sastri (father of Justice V. Ratnam) and T.S Raghavachari were eminent lawyers as well who set up home next to each other in Palathope.

As all this frenetic activity was happening, Madras itself, stood witness to India's historic Independence movement. The "Poorna Swaraj" campaign gained active support amongst this, by then, influential lawyer community. Womenfolk of the house voluntarily parted with all their gold bangles when Gandhiji addressed a large gathering in Madras in the 1930's and asked every person to step forward and do his/her bit for the motherland. These were happening times indeed for the nation as a whole, and Palathope and its residents were fortunate to be in such close proximity to history in the making. It was against this backdrop then, that the lawyers of Palathope went on to prosper and carve their respective niches in the annals of legal history in India. These were men who were giants in their achievements (Alladi went on to be part of the commission which drafted the Constitution of Independent India, Subbaraya Iyer was the educational institution builder par excellence), yet endearingly humble and approachable.

With such a rich heritage in varied fields of law, be it Civil law with specializations in Corporate taxation or Criminal law and its allied subjects, it is but natural for one to draw parallels of Palathope with the hoary Harley Street of London famed for its medical establishments.

The other facets of Palathope:
Producing a brigade of lawyers, not just adept at their profession, but also with a social conscience. Does that explain Palathope in its entirety then? A little further probing and a whole, surprising, new view of Palathope reveals itself.

I am pleasantly surprised to know that the inimitable G.N. Balasubramanian (GNB), that doyen of Carnatic music, took residence in Palathope in the 1930's-1940's under the patronage of the lawyer turned music lover, C.K. Venkatanarasimhan's (also one of the earliest Secretaries of the Music Academy) family. It is but fitting, that Palathope graced the list of 15 addresses that GNB was reputed to have stayed in, when in Madras.

E. Krishna Iyer, the man responsible for the re-christening of 'Sathir' as 'Bharathanatyam' was a man of Palathope as well, and lived next door to GNB. Modern day Madras and all its schools of classical dance should be deeply indebted to E. Krishna Iyer, for endowing Bharatanatyam with a sense of social respectability and acceptance and in the process revealing to the common man, the divinity and devotion associated with the dance form today.

Palathope's tryst with destiny extends to a deep passion for the 'Tamizh' language as well. The people I speak to, have vivid memories of engaging Saturday afternoons in the late 1930's when the 'Myzhai Tamizh Sangam' would convene in the courtyard of Subbaraya Iyer's house. Carrying the laudable objectives of propagation and appreciation of the Tamil language amongst the general public, the Sangam died a sad death in 1942, thanks to the World War evacuation happening in the city. At its peak, the Sangam meetings were attended by Kalki Krishnamurthy, Rajaji and were witness to many a passionate discussion on the virtues of the language and its literary epics.

Palathope - Today:
As my meeting draws to a close and we silently close the pages on a golden chapter of history, the rude honking of a motor vehicle's horn awakens us to reality and to the present.

Palathope today, is plagued by challenges of a more mundane nature; problems of indiscriminate and wanton parking of vehicles at the entrance to this narrow road, thus making the entry and exit of the owners' vehicles a veritable nightmare. There is mass littering of the street, thanks in large part to a road-side eatery which has sprung up on the main road adjoining the entry to Palathope. Visitors to the congested Mada streets, find Palathope's cul-de-sac a convenient location to park their two-wheelers while they shop around. And to top it all, in one of life's bitter-sweet ironies, the residents of Palathope good-naturedly complain to this writer that the 'Mylapore Times' newspaper never, ever gets delivered to their households.

If, along with awakening the people of Mylapore to the colorful history of this locality and imparting in them a sense of pride in the neighborhood's institutions, this project also succeeds in ensuring a certain, basic, civic sense in the residents, thereby ensuring the preservation of the heritage value of these streets and buildings, we will consider our job well done.

Written in consultation with the present-day residents of Palathope:
1) Justice V. Ratnam
2) Mr. T.R Rangachari
3) Mr. Hari Rao
4) Mr. S. Viswanathan (son of Subbaraya Iyer)

Facilitated by:
Mrs. Shobana Ramkumar (grand-daughter of Subbaraya Iyer)

posted by Mylapore Times | 5:54

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