Mr. T. R. Venkatarama Sastri
BY "C. S."
It was in the week following the resignation of Mr. Venkatarama Sastri as member of the Executive Council of the Government of Madras, that I happened to be present at a breakfast party at a friend's. Naturally the gossip turned upon the much-talked-of subject of the week. Two of the persons present began to discuss the wisdom of the step that Mr. Sastri took.
"I should think," said the older of the two, "that anyone imbued with a sense of self-respect or genuine patriotism could not have pursued any other course than the one followed by Mr. Sastri. He has only raised our prestige by his act. Nothing could have been served if he had wavered or sought counsel of others in the matter."
"Oh! certainly," replied the other, "but my surprise is, how he grew so very decisive of a sudden."
This gives the clue to the general impression Mr. Venkatarama Sastri leaves on others. It may be right or it may be wrong. But it may not be far from the truth to say that he cannot anywhere bring with force the impress of his personality on the minds of people or on matters requiring guidance from men of his eminence and equipment. Anybody else for such a splendid sacrifice as his would have earned a richer reward. It is not in his nature to strike people as more than what he is. So much so, a friend of his remarked, when a group of lawyers were discussing the merits of persons at the Bar who could grace the Bench, "True, Mr. Venkatarama Sastri possesses all the desired qualities in a judge of the High Court. He has stature, brain, discernment and urbanity, but he may not be quite quick to come to a decision."
He is perhaps one of the few honest men at the top in this scheming world of ours. There is no unusual zest for him in a heavy brief involving, in its consequences, either a deep mark on the litigant world or an increasing account to his credit at the bank. The Tanjore Palace Appeal of 1923, in which almost all the luminaries of the Bar had a share or rather felt not having a share was ignominy enough for them, failed to disappoint him when he was not briefed. He was only heaving a sigh of relief at the good prospect of timely meals after refreshing oil baths. He always courts freedom from the shackles of deep calculation.
The late Sir Walter Schwabe felt, even in the very first weeks of his ascending the Bench as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, the air in the Court hall filled with a certain amount of dignity and decorum when Mr. Venkatarama Sastri rose to address him. For Mr. Sastri is always fair to his adversary and faultless of his language. His tall form adds considerably to his fine deportment. And but for his gait, which occasionally induces one to feel that he would be better even without his socks and shoes on, he is lacking in none of the natural aids for creating a very favourable impression at first sight.
It cannot be said of him that he will be quite happy to meet an unforeseen difficulty that may arise, or depend without perturbance upon the inspiration of the moment in a court of law. He prepares his case and writes his notes in a neat hand on a white paper, which he places before him whenever he argues. He is not all composure, though he rarely loses self-poise. "In those days I never used to be relishing my food for days together, when either Krishnaswami Aiyar or Sundara Aiyar was appearing against me in a case to be reached," said he once in his own unassuming manner. There is not in his advocacy any display for the sake of effect or any conscious working up into a fine frenzy at the prospect of defeat. He can be steady and sure in the face of a losing cause. The sense of duty and the strength of opposition make him rise equal to the occasion. He relies upon an able junior for help and never browbeats him, when himself in a dilemma. With his brows lifted as high as the middle of his forehead, he speaks with a clearness and care, not within the easy reach of many a reputed lawyer. But still it does not entirely convey an ease or freedom either in the delivery or in the choice of diction. The effort he makes is more obvious sometimes than even his conquest of correct pronunciation. He is sound and safe to be relied on under any circumstance. Nothing but propriety tempts him in all the things he does; nothing but chasteness in all the words he uses.
He belongs to the Sivaswamy Aiyer tradition at the Bar. And as one who had his direct training under him, he is not for paying complete homage to law alone. For good books in general allure him. And enthused as he is not with the same spirit of scholarliness that characterises his master, he has the same breadth of vision and wide culture. Whether in the intervals at Court or a music concert or while walking alone, you can find him book in hand with one of his fingers inserted into it, evidently marking a page where he has been reading.
It was an evening. Mr. Venkatarama Sastri was driving in his car along the beach. He saw a junior of his walking on the marina and stopped his car to take him in. As soon as the other was beside him in the seat he said, "Well, I want to tell you something." But as the car was moving he became silent, while the gentleman by his side was eagerly waiting all the time for the information. The car halted at the Club, and Mr. Sastri got down without a word to his companion and was at the billiards table. The junior, having lingered in his seat for a few minutes, wondered what for he was left in the lurch. He went in and asked him why he was asked to accompany him, whether any urgent business needed him. The strange reply was, "Were you walking on the marina?" Such is the artless forgetfulness about him. He can be almost staring at you and calling you by a different name altogether. But he is open to admit it unlike many others who do not possess the grace of owning their own foibles. There is nothing to keep him bound to conventions. Age has not soured nor position betrayed him.
"Many must go under if one should go up. It is the passionless rule of life," writes K. S. Venkataramani. At any rate it applies with some truth to the lawyer's trade. The successful leader derives no complete satisfaction till he practically captures the entire field. But it is not the case with Mr. Venkatarama Sastri. He never aims at it. If people look up to him, he is not responsible for it. They do it of their own accord. He is free to mix with all and that too most unaffectedly. Here and there an attempt at humour by him in conversation makes him wait for its effect on the listener. He has himself not much of humour though he likes very much to have it. But often his simplicity lifts him above the rest who are weighed down by their own importance.
Love of cultured talk and a life of ease are quite as much to him as a healthy body and a good dinner. He is a fast walker not only in level plains but on high grounds and can enjoy a good company or a game of billiards. He has no great fascination for the airs of age.
Though not a full-fledged politician of these stirring times, he has all the redeeming qualities of the Liberal fold. He is ever sober and seldom enthusiastic. The agreeable complacency of his party affects him too. His adherence to the Liberal party is his adherence to the Rt. Hon. V. S. Srinivasa Sastri. It is very often the presence of the Rt. Hon. Mr. Sastri that makes Mr. Venkatarama Sastri a happy man. While many a spicy talk passes round the adoring circle about the Rt. Hon. Mr. Sastri, he is all eagerness and enjoyment to listen to his chief weaving his magic incantations of silvery eloquence.
He has a child-like delight in narrating anecdotes of an ancient origin. You can find him delving into the past without much of reverence for older beliefs. Reform and reconstruction of our social fabric have a strong hold on him. But he is very careful not to curb individual thought in others, more so in his children. For he never seems to assume the rigidity of a patriarch and wish his sons and daughters to stand at a distance of abject worship.
As a public man Mr. Venkatarama Sastri has enabled Madras to be proud of him. When the history of the city is written, his name will occupy no ordinary place. His moral heights and noble instincts will far outlive him. There may not be vigour or brilliance in his utterances on the platform, but always sedateness and sense; his diction unerring, his aims unpolluted. His qualities never dazzle us but shed a mellow effulgence all around. He is kind, self-revealing and accessible.
His may not be a brilliant record of unsurpassed magnitude. His may not be a career richly fraught with lessons for the lowly and the depressed. Yet he stands a stalwart character in the midst of huge wreckages and wayward drifts; a lonely peak among a pile of rugged boulders. For the fine opportunity that was his to wield authority, none else could have shown the same superior nature that he revealed when he gave it up for the sake of principle. He is a true free-thinker following his own path with a frankness and faith all his own. It is true he often allows himself to be borne along in a forgetful mood. Perhaps the intricacies of social etiquette or the rigours of a wary householder have no enticements for him. Free from the murmurs of a home, he loves to enjoy a refreshing hour under the Courtallam waterfalls. It saves him worry; it brings him content.BACK