Source: Biographies of Eminent Indians (Madras: G.A. Natesan & Co., 1912-23)

V. B. Aiyangar

Vembakkan Bhashyam Aiyangar was born in 1844 to the renowned Vembakkan family, which had made significant contributions to the public service. A reserved and taciturn man, he was known widely for his work in the legal sphere.

Aiyangar joined the Bar in 1872 and rose to quick prominence. Relatively early in his career, he was appointed a member of the Madras Legislative Council and went on to become an Advocate-General. Further, he was the first member of the Indian bar to be knighted. In 1901, he became a Judge of the Madras High Court. His judgements have been regarded as repositories of sound legal thought on numerous matters associated with Indian Law.

On top of being actively involved in the execution of his legal duties, Iyengar also gave much thought to the conduct of legal practitioners in general. In this regard, he felt that more attention should be paid to the art of cross-examination and analysing evidence, and vehemently reproached the bullying of witnesses during cross-examination. He further condemned the frequently observed judicial inclination of rejecting all oral evidence. In addition, he counselled that a lawyer ought to concentrate on the conduct of a case as opposed to its result in order to better serve the interests of both parties.

Another area that occupied his interest was the issue of education. He objected to the perception of education as a means for commercial preparation and appealed for a wider conception of its scope and function.

Indeed, he felt that universities should go beyond being institutions that simply examined and conferred degrees, and that they should put more emphasis on learning. To that end, he advocated the founding of a university library. At the same time, he was well aware of the pressing need for primary, secondary and technical education though he counselled that they should not come at the expense of higher education. He also deprecated aimless reading, and advocated for the cultivation of oratorical skills to disseminate knowledge and ideas to wider audiences. He also emphasised the need for physical education to be incorporated into the curricula of educational institutions.

Aiyangar viewed education as a means of perfecting the lifelong task of self-culture, would culminate in the attainment of God. His views on the necessary rigor of education extended to his views on annotated textbooks, manuals and journals which he felt were a hindrance to learning as they encouraged laziness.

He also emphasised the need for a diversity of careers and reiterated the need for awareness on the greater responsibilities that would come with a larger share of India’s administration falling upon her people’s shoulders. He thus felt that it was imperative for public servants to ensure that their public reputation had to correspond to their real character and that their conduct privately and publicly had to be spotless. In addition, he exhorted public servants to remain cognizant of the fact that they were to serve and not dominate their fellow countrymen.

Aiyangar did not a play a very active role the social and political movements of his day. He advocated moderation in social reform, believing that revolutionary methods of social reform would do more harm than good. With regard to political reform, he criticised claims that educated Indian individuals had no place in representing the ‘dumb millions’, proclaiming that the very opposite was true. He also placed great emphasis on responsible voting, believing that popular election would not work successfully otherwise.

In 1908, he collapsed during the mid-day adjournment of a trial and died two days later.

Source: “Sir V. Bhashyam Iyengar”, Indian Biography: Volume IV (Madras: G.A Natesan & Co.), 1-38

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