T R Venkatarama Shastri (Part 1)

T R Venkatarama Shastri can be called a disciple of Shivaswami Iyer. Sir S Varadachari, who retired after serving as a Federal Court judge and Venkatarama Shastri both practiced law in Shivaswami Iyer’s office and were assistants to him.

It is worth sharing how Venkatarama Shastri was appointed as an intern under Shivaswami Iyer.

Eligibility Test

By the time Shastri passed his BL, Shivaswami Iyer’s fame had spread far and wide. He was also renowned for his erudition. Shastri was particular about starting his career under such scholar and hence took a letter of recommendation from Sitarama Iyer, a relative of Shivaswami Iyer. Though Shastri and Iyer were both drāviḍa brāhmaṇas, they belonged to different sects. In the old days, there would be no marital relationships between these sects. Shivaswami Iyer belonged to one among the five or six sub-sects of the Bṛhaccharaṇa sect. Venkatarama Shastri was from the Coḻa-deśa Vaḍama sect.

Shivaswami Iyer wasn’t too happy when Venkatarama Shastri handed over Sitarama Iyer’s recommendation letter and said, “Why did Sitarama write this letter? Doesn’t he know that I don’t value recommendation letters at all!” Saying so, he read the letter and said, “Let it be. Come here on Thursday, sharp at eight in the morning.” Accordingly, when Venkatarama Shastri went there on Thursday morning, Shivaswami Iyer held a book before him and said, “Read this.”

Shastri read it out aloud: “Sesame and Lilies.”

Iyer asked, “The first word, does it have three syllables or two?”

Shastri replied, “In the dictionary it is given as three.”

“Ah! Fine. You have the habit of referring to a dictionary. That’s good!” Turning towards his clerk Subrahmanya Iyer, he said, “He (pointing to Shastri) will come to my office from tomorrow morning. Arrange for a chair, table, etc. for him.”

This was the way of Shivaswami Iyer. He would independently test the eligibility and only that was considered genuine.


Venkatarama Shastri too inherited this quality. He was also a lexicophile, a dictionary enthusiast. One day he came to Bangalore from Madras and immediately drove down in a car to my place. Even before I could enquire after his well-being, he said, “Bring your English dictionary here.”

I asked, “Why this hurry?”

“The moment I got down from train and reached my hotel, I opened my suitcase. It is a usual practice to keep the dictionary at the top. The person who arranged my things yesterday has forgotten the dictionary. But it should always be with me. Whether there arises a situation for me to use it or not, I must always have it,” he said.

Charm in Word-usage

This illustration throws light on the usual practice of the scholars of those days. Whatever was uttered – it had to be authentic, succinct, and unblemished. They were not ones to speak in whatever manner they wanted. For them the speech was something that should not extend an inch this side and not a foot that side.

Their policy was ‘Satyāya mita bhāṣiṇām’ (Truth and brevity in speech).

Venkatarama Shastri was extremely careful in the usage of language. I was a witness to a couple of incidents where his intimate friends teased him upon seeing his achievements as an advocate.

#1. “Dear Shastri, if anyone feels that you won the case because of your argument in court, it is a delusion. You won because of your personality. Your tall physique, protruding upper row of teeth, modesty in submitting your views, charm in the pronunciation of words – the judges fall prey to all these things and end up giving the judgment in your favour.”

Expertise in Argument

#2. “Dear Shastri, your argument was extraordinary. The most appealing part was the elegance of English sentences. Won’t the judges be astounded upon listening to such well-composed English and its pronunciation? Who listens to your law points?”

In both these cases, the sole purpose was to make fun of Shastri. It was humour in the form of praise. Actually Venkatarama Shastri was thoroughly proficient in legal science. He used to consider a complex question and then would methodically untie the difficult knots and finally expose the most important problem existing in the question. Usually in a case, upon hearing the arguments of both the parties, a judge should decide on some single point of importance. The advocate on one side may present ten points before the judge whereas the one on the other side may present fifteen. But to judge the case, it is not required to consider all those twenty-five points. Among those, one or two facts will be vital. If those two points are decided then the other twenty odd points need not be considered at all. It was Venkatarama Shastri’s prowess to choose and present those two or three points in a clear, resolute manner.

Trait of Conciseness in Speech

Once, one of my friends handed over a big case to Venkatarama Shastri in Bangalore. Shastri scrutinized the documents related to the case and spoke just a couple of sentences.

“Look, your case is completely dependent on a single document. If no questions are raised about that document either by the judge or by the opponent, you will definitely win the case, or if you present that document when it is asked for, your case will stand. If you cannot present that document when they ask for it, you can never win the case no matter which court you go to.”

This is the way of Venkatarama Shastri. One or two sentences, that’s all. He would never take a cartload of books to the court. He would neither shout in a loud voice nor would he slam the table. If he argued for a long time, that would last for no more than half an hour.

I was present during one of his arguments at the Bangalore High Court. The case was related to L S Raju. Shastri was there in the court as amicus curiae[1]. Then Venkatarama Shastri expressed the sorrow he felt owing to that case; he then indicated the nature of mutual understanding that should exist between the legislature and judiciary of a state and elaborately spoke for fifteen to twenty minutes about the liberty of the citizens. We were crestfallen that we neither recorded the speech using a tape-recorder nor wrote down the speech in shorthand. His speech—so concise, so powerful, and containing in its core several fundamental questions—would be of great use to the citizens. “What a great person!” we said to ourselves, feeling happy and proud.   

Professional Ethics

I remember an episode regarding the ethics that Venkatarama Shastri used to follow in his profession. His usual fee was Rs. 1,500. Along with his fee, he used to bill the travelling expenses and the hotel costs for himself, and his staff. This was quite expensive for that time. Therefore Shastri would not easily accept clients that came to him. He would say, “Why do you spend so much money? You can get this work done from a lawyer in your town itself.” He rarely accepted cases from outside.

Venkatarama Shastri had once come to Bangalore representing a client in a case belonging to the Shimoga region. The case that began in the High Court that day was not settled by evening. It was adjourned for the next day. Had Venkatarama Shastri been there the next day as well, he could have earned more fees. But he was unable to stay in Bangalore the following day. So he went to the house of his client’s Bangalore advocate, handed over the money he got as fees for the first day retaining only the travel expenses.

I asked him why he did so. He replied, “Tomorrow there is a meeting of the ML (Master of Law) Examination Board. I’m the Chairman of the Board. The meeting notice has already been given to the other members of the Board. If I stay here in Bangalore to earn more money, what would happen to the meeting? What would the others think? If I had completed the work here, I would be entitled to the fees I received. When I wasn’t able to complete the work that I had accepted, the fee doesn’t belong to me. That’s why I returned the amount.”

To be continued...

This is the first part of a three-part English translation of the third chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 6 – Halavu Sarvajanikaru. Reviewed by Vaishnavi Naik and Paresh Nadig. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.


[1] Literally, ‘a friend of the court;’ refers to an advocate who is not representing either party in a case but has been called to assist the court owing to his expertise.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.


Manjunath Hegde Balgar

Manjunath Hegde Balgar is a student of science, literature, and poetry with deep interest in Indian culture and classical art.

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