The Itihasa of Legendary T. T. R. Pillai

Trichinopoly Thirumalai Kozhundhu Rathinasabapathy Pillai (1897 –1968) began his legal practice at Coimbatore from the year 1921. Yes, the office of T. T. R. Pillai has just celebrated its centennial year. This luminaire was born to Thirumalai Kozhundhu Pillai and Lakshmi Ammal in 1897. The father, Thirumalai Kozhundhu Pillai, had done his S. S. L. C. those days and had been a government servant. The gentleman had worked in Chennai, and this gave an opportunity for the young T. T. Rathinasabapathy Pillai to take up the study of law.

The youngster competed with several Europeans to succeed in his academics. He graduated and became an advocate. This was followed by his marriage to Thylambal. She happened to be the daughter of Rao Sahib T. C. Chokkalingam Pillai (Chief Auditor, Southern Railways). His son, T. C. Natarajan (Brother of Thylambal T. T. R. Pillai) had also served the railways as Chief Auditor.

T. T. R. Pillai hailed from the Chola country. The community to which he belonged to are known as Choliya/Soliya Velalars. They were basically farmers and were also arch advisors to the Chola kings. They are connected with the Velirs of the past. These Soliya Velalars were chieftains, and they used the title ‘Pillai.’ This literally meant ‘Child’ in the Tamil language. The Soliya Velalars were known for their language, interest in arts, crafts, and chivalry. They used to vie with each other in order to give their daughters in marriage to the Chola king. Devotion to God, contributions towards the construction of temples, interest in music, and going into the depths of philosophy were among the riveting traits of these people. The bright student stood first in his S. S. L. C. Examinations in the entire presidency. He was, therefore, granted a sponsorship to do his B. A. degree.

Tamil inscriptions of the ancient Sangam era define the meaning of this community as ‘Child of King’ (Nobility). This was because the community held several important slots in the Chola administration. They were mainly known for their skill in numbers. Therefore, they maintained the Karuvoolam (Treasury) and accounts. The oft used term Kanakku Pillai (‘Kanakku’ means Mathematics) owes its genesis to the fact that this community were the record keepers cum treasurers of the Chola rulers.

T. T. R. Pillai moved over to Coimbatore at a time when it was beginning to be a happening place. Several entrepreneurs with an agrarian background had begun to set up industries and trading outfits. Most of them were in need of support with regard to good quality documentation. Luminaries like T. T. R. Pillai helped in the drafting of documents connected with these entrepreneurs and their ventures. Basically, these papers and documents helped the aspiring entrepreneurs to travel further in a smooth manner. The city needed knowledge and skills and the youngster was fit to understand the same. He settled down in Coimbatore and began his practice. T. T. R. Pillai was an extremely successful and talented lawyer. His felicity with the English language was beyond comparison. He made his mark in the legal profession by sheer dint of his industry and intellect. For almost 3 decades, he rode the courts of Coimbatore as an expert.

This exceptionally talented lawyer has a tongue coated with silver. He made effective and convincing arguments before the British judges, and they nodded their heads at his wonderful mastery over the English language. The public of Coimbatore became gay and cheerful due to his presence. He was involved in every public organization and gave his wise counsel and guidance to ones who approached him. T. T. R. Pillai was a man of unsullied character and stainless integrity. His capacity for love and devotion as a friend was unequalled.

The silver-tongued lawyer was known for his transparent sincerity. He was delighted in obliging a friend and offered a helping hand to anyone in distress. The years between 1937 and 1949 saw him performing well as the Public Prosecutor of Coimbatore and Nilgiris districts. The then British-Indian Government chose to honor him with the title ‘Rao Sahib.’ He helped the war effort by serving in the committee which collected the funds required to fight the Second World War.

Senior Advocate, R. M. Shanmukham recalled his association with T. T. R. Pillai. “Ramaswamy of Tirupur and myself did our apprenticeship under T. T. R. Pillai, between 1956 and 1957. We were perhaps the last of the two apprentices of the great man. Everyone used to admire his personal appearance. He would be wearing a coat and his pocket-watch was standard feature. T. T. R. Pillai was a fair prosecutor. He was known to be an upright person and would concede only if there was no case to the government side.”

“The District Superintendent of Police and the Collector were known to meet him during his term as the Public Prosecutor. His advice was sought after by the government of the times. T. T. R. Pillai dealt with us in an exemplary manner. He would affix his signature on the court diary and chamber diary periodically. A polite enquiry would precede the same. Apprenticeship helped us to be better prepared while appearing in the court of law.”

“T. T. R. Pillai lived in a sprawling bungalow on Racecourse and was amongst the earliest to own a car in Coimbatore. He had one of the ten big cars in the region. The other early car owners were Sir Robert Stanes, C. S. Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar, R. K. Shanmukam Chetty, T. A. Ramalingam Chettiar, P. A. Raju Chettiar, G. Kuppuswamy Naidu, and G. D. Naidu. The popular Public Prosecutor was an expert in Criminal Law and was known for his court manners. T. T. R. Pillai had been chosen on merit by the British-Indian Government and he had done his best. He would choose people on face value. Those were times when gentleman like T. T. R. Pillai knew how to treat people well and this attribute made such leaders like him command enormous respect.”

“T. T. R. Pillai had mastered the art of making everlasting friendships. It was interesting to observe his relationships with his friends and the way he happily digested their opinions. He was quite close to another doyen, C. S. Balakrishna. I remember C. S. Balakrishna using his expertise in numerology while choosing the registration number for T. T. R.’s car. The Kaliyapuram double murder case was perhaps the last one for T. T. R. Pillai and he remained an advocate till his last moment. I still remember his silver snuffbox. It can be said that his grandson, Sundaravadivelu, has inherited the traits of his grandfather T. T. R. Pillai.”

Natanasabapathy (1923 – 2014) was the first son of T. T. R. Pillai and he was a practicing advocate. News publications have happily chronicled the memories of this gentleman. He was married to Saraswati, and his son happens to be the famous advocate, N. Sundaravadivelu. He is a philanthropic rotarian and has contributed hugely towards the same. He has also been unanimously chosen as the Governor of Rotary District 3201. Murugambal Sundara Vadivelu (Her father O. Chinnasamy Pillai (O. C. Pillai)) was the founder of the jewelry outlet, O. C. Pillai & Co., in Dindigul. His company, Murugan Transports, owned a huge fleet of buses. O. C. Pillai who had served as the Chairman of the Dindigul Municipality) had also studied law. Their son, S. V. Praveen Rathinam, who is married to Nethra, practices in the Madras High Court.

T. T. R. Pillai was blessed with Natanasabapathy, Saraswati, C. R. Durairaj, C. R. Thyagarajan, and Devika Rani. T. R. Pillai’s eldest daughter, Sarswati, born after the eldest son T. R. Natanasabapathy, was married to V. Balasubramanian (B. Sc. in Agriculture, Madras Agriculture College). He was a top ranker who worked for the Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Coimbatore. Dr. V. Jayapal, who happens to be the eldest son of Dr. G. Viswanathan Pillai, founder G. V. N. Hospital Pvt. Ltd., Trichy, is the husband of Devika Rani. Dr. G. Viswanathan Pillai had brought modern medicine to the doorstep of the common man. On the passing away of Thyalambal, T. T. R. married Rajeshwari Ammal, and the latter of the above-mentioned children were born through her.

The Kuladheivam of T. T. R. family happens to be Sri Rathanagireeswarar. This ancient temple is located at Iyermalai near Kulithalai. It has to be accessed by climbing 1017 steps. It is believed that lightning offers its prayers here once in twelve years.

The shrine has been praised in the hymns of Thirunavukkarasar and Arunagirinathar. It happens to be the 118th Thevaram Paadal Petra Shivasthalam and the first sthalam on the southern banks of River Kaveri in Chola Nadu (Chola country).

The family of T. T. R. Pillai had taken their kids to this temple to get their heads tonsured and ears pierced. Come Pournami (Full moon) every time Sundara Vadivelu and his wife, Murugambal climbed the 1000 plus steps and offer their prayers at the Rathingireeswarar Temple. The devout couple do a girivalam of the temple hillock (Circumambulation) thereafter.

T. T. R. Pillai had contributed a lot to Lord Rathinagireeswarar and the family home at Iyermalai is currently maintained by his grandson, N. Sundaravadivelu. The grandfather was a great devotee of Lord Muruga and remained so all his life. The grandson is deeply devoted to Saint Raghavendra and has been to Mantralayam a number of times. He offers his prayers at the shrine of Saint Raghavendra on successive Thursdays in Coimbatore (Sulivan street).

In the field of finance, T. T. R. Pillai was an unquestioned wizard. He had the capacity to assess the impact of economic and political factors that affect the rise and fall of the financial markets with astounding accuracy. He invested in stock markets and made huge fortunes. He was invited by almost all the giant joint stock companies in South India to be a part of their company’s panel of association. The Madras Shareholders Association described him at the condolence meeting mourning his death as, “The name T. T. R. Pillai is not only a household name in Coimbatore but also an appellation to many investors in companies. They had always read the many useful and instructive articles contributed by him to the newspapers and periodicals with great interest. As a citizen of India, he often expressed his views with courage and never failed to convey these even to the highest quarters.” He was a bundle of multifarious talents, developed and polished by unstinted industry and unremitting perseverance. He was as much as a student of literature as he was of finance. His capacity to sway his listeners and his ability to bring them into his line of thought was surprising and astonishing to those who watched. He highlighted and magnified his talents in the eyes of the world by a powerful eloquence.

In short, he was a great man with wonderful capabilities and kind thoughts.

T. T. R. Pillai had served as the President of The Lakshmi Mills Co., Coimbatore and was also the President of Coimbatore Bar Association for two terms. He was a Past President of the Rotary Club of Coimbatore and was the Past Master of the Free Masonry, Lodge Ampthill. He also was the Vice President of Indian Red-cross Society, Guild of Service and Bharat Scouts & Guides and was also a Board of Directors in many companies in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They include,

  1. The Cambodia Mills Ltd., Coimbatore
  2. The Rajalakshmi Mills Ltd., Coimbatore
  3. The Coimbatore Cotton Mills Ltd., Coimbatore
  4. The Sherveroy Estates Ltd., Salem
  5. The Neelamalai Tea and Cotton Estates Ltd., Madras
  6. The Rajagiri Rubber and Produce Co. Ltd., Alleppy
  7. The Periakaramalai Tea & Products Co. Ltd., Coimbatore
  8. The Stanes Amalgamated Estates Ltd., Coimbatore
  9. The Aluminium Industries Ltd., Coimbatore
  10. The Mettur Chemical & Industrial Corporation Ltd., Mettur Dam
  11. M/S P. Natesan Co. Ltd., Madras
  12. M/S Stanes Motors (South India) Ltd., Coimbatore
  13. The United Coffee Supply Co. Ltd., Coimbatore
  14. A. V. Thomas & Co, Chennai.

T. T. R. Pillai was a committee member of the Social Worker’s Conference, Coimbatore and the Discharged Prisoners Aid Society, Coimbatore. He was also the Honorary Secretary of SPCA., Coimbatore branch. He died on 14 March 1968, but he had left his foot-prints of sincerity, magnanimity, dedication, and greatness in the sands of time. 

Photo Gallery:

Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of the Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.


Adios Sardar of Spin

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