OWING TO A PERSISTENT EYE-TROUBLE —rather, owing to a conscience that was too sensitive S. Subramania Iyer asked for permission to retire from the service, which he did on 13th November, 1907. He could have easily managed to pull on somehow for another eight months and earn an annual pension of £1200 instead of the present £ 880. The Governor in Council, in a Gazette Extraordinary, placed on record his appreciation of the “eminent services” rendered by Sir S. Subramania Aiyar, K.C.I.E during his long term of office as a judge of the High Court. It was further said:
In 1896 he had been made a Dewan Bahadur; some time later a C.I.E.; and in 1900 a K.C I.E. He had in 1896 delivered an inspiring address to the graduates of the year at the Convocation of the Madras University in whose welfare he always took a keen personal interest. He pleaded for the lightening of the student’s burden, for the minimizing of the evils of examination, for the diffusion of liberal culture and the extension of higher education. These services to the University found hearty appreciation, and he was honoured with the office of Vice-Chancellor an honour not extended to an Indian till then.
In the earlier years of retirement, the impulse that sought to fulfil itself was the sovereign impulse of the soul. Indeed, his passion for the things of the spirit may be said to be at the bottom of all the other high-soaring passions of his life. Devoted as he always had been to the study of the ancient scriptures of his religion and to the unravelling of their mysteries, he could give more time to the contemplation of their truths and the cultivation of their asceticisms now that the robe of office had been finally thrown out. But the spell of Yogi-ism could not last for any great length of time. To no deep-seeing soul has religion ever meant the abandoning of all concern for the ills of fellow-beings. On the contrary it has seemed to every such soul that religion would be an utterly barren and worthless thing—a mere sop to silence the conscience—if it were not to result in an energetic pursuit of the task of human betterment.
IT IS SIR SUBRAMANIA AIYER’S religious zeal that has given permanence to his interest in the reform of the system of administration of religious and charitable endowments, and has led him to organize and direct the Dharma Rakshana Sabha. It (was) a registered and recognized body to examine the accounts and report upon the condition of temples and charitable institutions. It is the same zeal that has inspired his moving appeals for the liberalizing of Hindu social institutions, and prompted him to organize conferences of Pandits—like those held at Conjeevaram and Tiruvadi, for modernizing their outlook upon life. It is the same zeal that breathes in his messages to the youth of the country. It is, again, the same zeal that is sustaining his faith in the potent value of Indian nationalism as a force for the good of the race. It is the same zeal that has secured his allegiance to the cause of democracy which is to him nothing else than the practical working out of the sacred principle of brotherhood. It is, naturally, the same religious zeal that impelled him to go forward to take the place which he could have taken among the forces of Home Rule with the utmost possible consequence.
He who had assisted at the birth of the Congress in 1884, returned to its service in 1914 as chairman of the Reception Committee at Madras.
What the prophet initiates, the statesman consummates: martyrdom and opportunism (in the best sense) are complimentary processes in the progress of reform. To Sir S. Subramania Aiyer belongs the distinction of being among those whom destiny appoints
To know the seasons when to take
Occasion by the hand and make
The bounds of freedom wider yet
The Motherland is his chief interest. Politics is only one of the means.
Generally, the whole life of a great man is found to be dominated or pervaded by one towering quality of the head or of the heart. It may be will-power, it may be intellectual daring, it may be search for an unknown ideal, it may be philanthropy, it may even be the desire for popularity or for fame. In Sir Subramania Aiyer’s case, it is magnanimity. It is his nature to be magnanimous. Even his seeming failings are to be ascribed to that natural and unchanging nobleness of soul. He has helped large numbers of young men to educate themselves; and in fact, no student in difficulties ever went to him without obtaining the needed means of relief.
The Ranganatha Mudaliyar Memorial Hostel, now called the Victoria Hostel, owes its existence to his initiative, which of course was backed up by a handsome subscription. While he led the bar, his juniors had an ample share in his prosperity; and it was his hand that lifted the late Mr. P. B. Sundara Iyer and the late Mr Y. Krishnaswami Iyer from comparative obscurity to the eminence that they at length occupied. The late Swami Vivekananda, when his object was anything but to praise Theosophists, felt it necessary to speak of
A nature that is so artless, so sincere and so ardent in its devotion must necessarily be as quick to be moved to indignation. Since all speech proceeds in such a case out of the fulness of the heart, the expression of disapproval must be as full-mouthed as the expression of sympathy or appreciation. Hence the occasional note of vehemence in Sir Subramania Aiyer’s speech when it concerns those who seem to him to stand between the country and what he considers to be her rightful destiny.
To be continued
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