Sunday, June 1, 2014
Grand old man
Today, the political movement that he was one of the co-founders of is in abject misery after its performance in the recent national elections. But that is no reason to think any less of Subbaiyar Subramania Iyer, a man of many parts, who was the Vice President of the Theosophical Society during the period 1907-11. The reason to mention that part of his life first is because this statue can be found in the Theosophical Society's grounds at Adyar. There was a later falling out with the Society, to the extent that some of his followers went ahead with a Triplicane offshoot. But that cannot take away the work that Sir Mani Iyer did for the TS.
The 'Sir' was indeed a knighthood, granted for his public services, which began at his birthplace, Madurai, as a government clerk, going on to become the Vice Chairman of the Municipality. Mani Iyer moved to Madras in the 1880s, by which time he had become a lawyer and was soon appointed as Public Prosecutor - the first native to be offered the position. In the meantime, he also helped in founding the Indian National Congress in 1885. Keenly interested in the cause of education, he was also a Vice-Chancellor of the University of Madras; that institution chose him to be the first recipient of an honorary doctorate, when it bestowed the Doctor of Law degree on him in 1908.
Mani Iyer probably followed the tradition of vanaprastham, going into retreat, for a picture showing him in 'later life' does not carry the turban or the flowing gowns. The statue depicts him at the peak of public life, as a lawyer, an educationist and a theosophist. Interestingly, the statue of Subramania Iyer in the Senate House of the University of Madras shows him in exactly the same manner, quill in one hand, a finger marking the page of a book and the left foot half-raised; the only difference is that it is in contrast to this one, being entirely black!