Renowned Malayalam poet and activist Sugathakumari passes away

She tested positive for Covid-19 and was admitted to Thiruvananthapuram Medical College on December 21
Sugathakumari
SugathakumariWikimedia Commons

Noted Malayalam poet and activist Sugathakumari passed away due to Covid related complications today at Thiruvananthapuram Government Medical College. She had tested positive for Covid-19 on December 21 and her condition remained critical.

An environmentalist and frontline worker of feminist movements in Kerala, Sugathakumari was born in Aranmula on January 22, 1934. She was born to freedom fighter Kesava Pillai, who is also known as Bodheswaran and VK Karthiyayini, a Sanskrit scholar.

Sugathakumari was the founder secretary of Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithi, an organisation established to protect the nature and Abhaya, a shelter home for poor women and a day-care centre for mentally retarded. In 2001, Sugathakumari was made the Chairperson of Kerala State Women’s Commission.

Sugathakumari during the Fokkana Award distribution ceremony, Thiruvananthapuram (1994)
Sugathakumari during the Fokkana Award distribution ceremony, Thiruvananthapuram (1994)Wikimedia Commons

In 1992, during the foundation stone laying ceremony for Abhayagramam, Dalai Lama said, “I am not a refugee. Let this land be a refuge for the homeless and unfortunate.” A true crusader for weaker sections of the society, Sugathakumari, tirelessly worked for the successful completion of the initiative. The venture Abhaya, expanded its wings and started taking the responsibility of drug addicts, socially disowned children and offered free accommodation to women.

In 1957, Sugathakumari’s first poem published under a pseudonym in a weekly journal gained attention. Later, she won the Kerala Sahithya Akademi award for her work Pathirappookkal and in 1978, Raathrimazha won the Kendra Sahithya Academy Award. As a poetess, she has made contribution to children’s literature for which she received an Award for Lifetime Contribution to Children’s Literature. She was also the founder chief editor of Thaliru, a children’s magazine published by Kerala State Institute of Children’s Literature.

The celebrated poetess of Kerala had a clear vision of developmental activities that are taking place in the society and always made sure that her voice was heard. Throughout her poetic works, she held a mirror to the society in which she is a part of.

Not only have her works gained attention, her campaigns which included ones against the Ganja cultivators in the Attappady tribal belt in the Palakkad district, her initiatives aiming eco-restoration programmes in and around Silent Valley and many more.

In the world of letters, she will be remembered for her acclaimed works such as Muthuchippi (Pearl Oyster) (1961), Pathirappookkal (Midnight Flowers) (1967), Paavam Maanavahridayam (Poor Human Heart) (1968), Irul Chirakukal (The Wings of Darkness) (1969), Raathrimazha (Night Rain) (1977), Ambalamani (Temple Bell) (1981), Kurinjippookkal (Kurinji Flowers) (1987), Thulaavarshappacha (The Monsoon Green) (1990) and Radhayevide (Where is Radha?) (1995).

As a poetess, Sugathakumari was bestowed with the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award in 1978, Odakkuzhal Award in 1982, Vayalar Award in 1984, Lalithambika Antharjanam Award in 2001, Vallathol Award in 2003, Kerala Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 2004 and Balamaniamma Award in 2004. In 2006, she was honoured with the prestigious national award, the Padmashri, recognising her tireless determination to uplift those treated unfairly in the society.

Former president, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam presenting Padma Shri to Smt. Sugatha Kumari during Investiture Ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on March 29, 2006
Former president, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam presenting Padma Shri to Smt. Sugatha Kumari during Investiture Ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on March 29, 2006Wikimedia Commons

Her husband Dr Velayudhan Nair, was a writer and educationist. The couple's daughter Lekshmi Devi is a poet too.

Till her last breathe, the poet, teacher and the social activist in Sugathakumari was performing all her roles with the same energy and vivacity she used to.

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