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Fate of old books

S.MUTHIAH


ONE OF the finest collections of books in Madras was owned by the erudite Sir P. S. Sivaswami Iyer, I'm told. His house, on Edward Elliot's Road, alongside Sivaswami Iyer Lane and across from what is now Sivaswami Iyer Road (Sullivan's Garden Road), was a veritable library, according to old timers. The collection, it is believed, was donated to various educational institutions after his death. But a few of the books have now turned up in rather intriguing circumstances - which is why I've this week been reminded of that leading legal luminary and educationist.

V. Sriram, that heritage buff, was recently offered a few books from the collection by a seller of second-hand books. The book Sriram bought, "The Native States of India" by Sir William Lee Warner, had Sivaswami Iyer's signature on it and the date 2nd September, 1910. According to the bookseller, he had bought a few books from the collection from a fisherman who had sackfuls of them in a hut in the Marina Beach vicinity! To what a pass have come the books of the learned!!

Pazhamarneri Sundaram Sivaswami Iyer was appointed Advocate-General of Madras in 1907, when C. Sankaran Nair, after serving four controversial months as the first Indian Advocate-General, was elevated to the High Court Bench. Both of them had been preceded to the post by V. Bhashyam Ayyangar, but his was only an acting appointment on all three occasions he served in the post, for two years in all, between 1897 and 1907. Of Sivaswami Iyer, who graced the office till 1912 - including a month during Sankaran Nair's interrupted tenure - it was said, "An advocate must feel and act as one engaged in the conjoint task of the administration of justice with the Bench, and Sir Sivaswami Iyer never deviated from this ideal during the practice of his profession." The speaker was another great legal luminary, Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Iyer.

In 1916, Sivaswami Iyer became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Madras. As in the case of the Advocate-Generalship, Sir S. Subramania Iyer was the first Indian to officiate at the helm of, in this instance, the University, but, again, only for a few months (in 1904). The next Indian appointed to the post was Sivaswami Iyer, who was a member of the University Senate from 1898 and its representative in the Legislative Council. He served as Vice-Chancellor for more than a year.

A lover of art - Sivaswami Iyer had a fine collection of paintings, whose whereabouts today are another question - he was a man of many parts. Serving on the Governor's Executive Council, he was responsible for the re-organisation of local bodies. As a member of the Indian Legislative Assembly, he spoke often on military matters and the Indian defence force's role during World War I. But the most interesting role he played for the times was as the first president of the Madras Neo-Malthusian League Sir Vepa Ramaseshan had founded; it was the first organisation in India to advocate birth control. Sivaswami Iyer also favoured franchise for women and divorce, but, curiously, was not for co-education or careers for women.

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