A few weeks ago, I heard for the first time the name S. Doraiswami Iyer. Since then, the more I’ve heard of him the more he’s sounded a fascinating personality. His journey from extremism to asceticism would certainly warrant a book.
He was a promising young lawyer when he got involved in the freedom movement. When the Congress found itself threatened by division between the Moderates and Extremists, Doraiswami chose the latter, drawn to the message of Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai. The differences climaxed in violence — and a rain of slippers — at the 1907 Surat sessions of the Congress.
One Extremist, who lifted a chair to bring it down on the head of a Moderate, suddenly stopped in mid-action when he recognised who his target was; the old student of Triplicane Hindu High School, Doraiswami Iyer, had in the nick of time recognised his former Headmaster, V.S. Srinivasa Sastri.
When the warring factions of the Congress made their peace a few years later, ‘Surat’ Doraiswami Iyer, disillusioned with the way the freedom struggle was headed, returned to law and became one of the most successful lawyers of his time. He was at the peak of success when he gave it all up, the deaths of his two sons shattering him; one was killed in the early years of World War II while serving with the Royal Air Force and the other died while with the Indian Army. He then turned to spiritualism. He passed away while at the Ashram in Pondicherry.
Two stories about him connected with Pondicherry were recently related to me. I relate them here as told to me. The first is of how Doraiswami Iyer helped a close friend of his, Subramania Bharati. When the outspoken poet had to flee to Pondicherry to escape arrest by the British, news about the happenings in British India was sent weekly to him by Doraiswami Iyer. It was during Doraiswami Iyer’s Friday visits to the Tiruvottriyur temple that he would drop paper slips into the bowls of a couple of beggars. These ‘alms’ found their way to Bharati and his journal India benefitted considerably.
The other story reflects the mellowing of two extremists. Doraiswami Iyer was a friend and ardent follower of Sri Aurobindo. It is said that Sri Aurobindo requested Doraiswami to meet Mahatma Gandhi and convince him to accept the Sir Stafford Cripps proposals to ensure a united India. Gandhiji, of course, thought the proposals “a post-dated cheque.”