Busy lawyers seldom find time for other activities after the day’s work in the court except to engage in a game of cards or a friendly chat at the club. Still it will not be altogether untrue to say that the busiest alone finds time for anything worth while doing. In Madras, formerly, instances were not wanting, of famous advocates who could take keen interest in public affairs also. No doubt, telling examples there were of persons who, apart from making a mark in the legal profession, left indelible impressions on the political life of the country by their inestimable services as well as sacrifices in the cause of Freedom. Nevertheless very few evinced anything like a natural zeal to promote good causes with both money and energy to their fullest capacity.


In recent years, at any rate, Madras has not had in any single individual a combination of both the capacity to make money in the profession, and also to give of it and of his valuable time and personal attention in an equal measure to public affairs. The one man who, for more than two decades now, was occupying a conspicuous position as a benefactor of educational institutions and industrial enterprises, started with indigenous capital, was the late Sri M. Subbaraya Aiyar, whose disappearance from the scene of his activities due to death, has been indeed a major event of incalculable loss sustained by the institutions started by him and making headway already in their respective spheres of service to the country.


If he was a lawyer of repute and a leader in the profession, his record of work as one aiding the dispensation of justice was exceeded perhaps in an abundant measure by his enormous labours in other fields devoted to the furthering of human welfare. From the start, while he was a junior working in the chambers of Dr C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar, his prodigious turn-out of work in the office, as well as his competence in the preparation of cases for trial  on the Original Side of the High Court of Madras brought him into notice in quite a short interval after his joining the Bar. Income-Tax law was not, in the days of his entry into the profession a subject of common application by practitioners in the court. Few delved into that branch of the law and fewer still could make headway in it. Industry of a peculiar type, for example, examination of accounts and ledgers, was required for it, as also a capacity for patient attention to details of business problems and the financial implications thereof. So, with a special aptitude for such things, he soon found quite a useful field of legal service to many who were often in the clutches of tax levies and difficulties arising out of demands of a heavy nature upon their resources. If he was not vehement or demonstrative in arguments, he was never indifferent to the best presentation of his case, or unready to meet the hardest situation for his client. In short, his reputation became so much established after some time, that even renowned practitioners in other branches of work in the High Court depended solely on his services whenever any serious trouble, pertaining to the incidence of tax, arose for them to tackle.


Though he was ever active in his chambers and was found ever moving from court to court in connection with Tax Appeals as well as to Tribunals lodged elsewhere in the City, he never neglected his other duties, once he undertook to associate himself with any work of a public type. If the Vivekananda College came into existence at a critical time, when the pick of the progeny of the intellectuals were denied access to colleges due to want of fairplay on the part of the Government, it was the silent yet steadfast services of Sri Subbaraya Aiyar, in 1946, that solved problem. In a manner that amazed people by the measures taken, immediate and satisfactory, for the initiation of an educational institution, he proceeded towards his object with whatever financial help he could secure, from those possessing a sense of responsibility regarding the prospects of the younger generation, destined to play a worthy part in coming years, provided they were not deprived of the essentials of a higher education. No hour passed without his mind constantly applying itself to every bit of detail for establishing the institution on sound foundations. None with an extra capacity to spare finances for good causes was allowed to leave his presence without parting with a handsome cheque for the college. Despite the odds at the outset against the flourishing of such an institution, his perseverance and adaptability to unforeseen situations overcame the early hurdles in a very unnoticeable manner.


The Madras Institute of Technology was, no doubt, a child of the fond dreams and munificence of a single person, the late Sri C. Rajam. Still without the constant co-operation of a substantial kind from Sri Subbaraya Aiyar, who then considered no labour or available time as wasted, if it was utilised for getting more finances and greater recognition for such an institution, the first of its kind in the South, it would not have attracted students from all parts of the country, as it did.


Again the Vidya Mandir–a school for children, with modern methods of teaching in an enviable situation in the most congested part of the city–owes its phenomenal rise and quick equipment with buildings and playground to the imagination and unstinting work of Sri Subbaraya Aiyar. What was a gradually declining and inane club premises, was turned into a beehive of activity, with laughter and merry shouts of children, as if by the swaying of the magician’s wand. He did not live to see his dreams of a High School developing out of it, though the consummation may not be long delayed for want of either the money or the willing co-operation of those in charge of its affairs.


The Sri Ramakrishna Home for poor boys, once started by that noble soul, Sri C. Ramaswami Aiyengar of unforgettable memory, and ably carried on by his no less public-spirited cousin, Sri C. Ramanujachariar, derived no little help in all possible ways from Sri Subbaraya Aiyar, whose emotions never failed to be stirred to their quickest at the mention of Ramu’s name. To found a hostel named after his dear Ramu, adjoining the buildings already existing in the names of the great saints of the Sri Ramakrishna Order, was one of his last acts before he actually fell ill.


If it was the eighty-first birthday, in 1959, for his master, Dr C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar, his own contribution to the celebrations was no less than a feverish pursuit of a fine publication of tributes to that invigorating personality, to be presented on that occasion. If it was a grand banquet, in 1936, in honour of Dr S. Radhakrishnan, his own college-mate and close friend, on the conferment of the Spalding Lecturership on him, the entire arrangement and other preparations for that singular function fell to Sri Subbaraya Aiyar’s share which he, with cheer and readiness, undertook to a finish and success achieved within as unbelievably short time after the decision to do it. If Dr Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar’s sixty-first birthday had to be observed by the public of Madras, in 1943, in a fitting manner, and a substantial  amount had to be collected for endowing a university lecturership in his name, it was Sri Subbaraya Aiyar’s enthusiasm and co-operation with the Committee set up for it, in all ways known to him, that made it a success worth the labours of the friends associated with it.


More than his public spirit and edifying role in many of the movements, which, but for his timely co-operation and help, would have famished for want of men more than money even, his way of rendering help in an unobtrusive manner will remain a model for men in public life to follow. Never boastful of anything he had achieved or done for others, he showed what a perfect blending of competence and coolness, in a person determined to work for higher aims, would be able to accomplish. Always methodical in work, whether private or public, he spared no moment for wasteful talk or woeful complaints. His right royal road to success was to be never slow but ever to be alert and moving. His was the genuine melting of a heart for the poor and distressed, and instances in legion are coming to light, once his fire has been quenched, of the many acts of timely charity and sympathetic aid that he had rendered, in his fairly long career.


His eyes would be lit up with a strange delight at the mention of bold spirits and deserving talents in their formative years, who could be guided into fruitful walks of life. His infectious satisfaction at enterprising boys seeking the solution of their lives’ problems by undertaking distant voyages to other countries even, showed his infinite capacity to provide psychological support their stamina and power of endurance, apart from his personal contribution to their needs.


He was a loving husband and a good father at home, and to his wife particularly, an understanding friend and admirer of intrinsic qualities. His wife–the gracious woman of gentle speech and healthy outlook–never tried even to wean him away his terrible enthusiasm for others. Nay, she never even tried to persuade him, on the score of his health, to desist from too much labour for public weal. Ever resigned to the working of a Higher Power, she watched him with pride and nursed him with affection. So, he was fortunate in a great measure in a home which really radiated light and adjustability to claims of every type of social demand and family importunity.


To those around him, whether it be a menial massaging his legs or whether it be a driver of his car, ready and attentive to his impatient needs of movement from place to place, he was kindness personified, and exhibited the best sympathy and familiarity that could be expected of one, on terms of equality with the entire world. Everything that he performed was done with such celerity and lack of fuss, that even his presenting of a cheque to anyone seeking of him a substantial subscription for a worthy cause, was done in a manner, which was calculated to inspire in the other the confidence that he was not unduly exacting anything from him. Rather, he would extend the cheque unnoticed by persons around, lest the act should leave an ugly sense of patronage from him in the eyes of the others.


One hardly found Sri Subbaraya Aiyar in an indignant mood or righteously irritated towards others for anything. If at all he was feeling thwarted in his attempts to do something useful to others, it was when he met with slowness from the very persons coming to him. A man of action, he never minded inconsiderate language flung at him or weighed the pros and cons of them in after moments at the expense of his own equanimity. His friends allowed him his own ways; his coadjutors in work permitted him his unusual speed; his juniors in the office remained active shares in the benefits of the transactions.


Practicality and wisdom lifted him above the normal exhaustions of life. Loyalty to his compeers like Dr Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar, Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Sri N. Chandrasekhara Aiyar and Dr C. P. Ramaswami, invigorated his outlook, of comprehension of fulfilment in life. His old pals never once suspected his fidelity; never once ignored his deserts in life; never once breathed a word of doubt or disrespect concerning his sense of self-effacement in dealing with them.


To the last he maintained an alacrity of mind rarely perceivable in a man of his standing in life. His habits were not marred by irregularities of disposition and mood, often visiting elders his age, especially when they get out of sorts during a protracted illness, as the one he suffered from, before his death. Indeed death came to him quite unnoticeably, even as fortune and friends came to him. He slipped out of life with no more ado than was his wont from gatherings when urgent pressure of work called him away.