Sugathakumari, the eminent Malayalam poet and activist, died on Wednesday from Covid-19 related complications. She was 86.
Sugathakumar, who had tested positive for Covid-19, had been hospitalised with severe pneumonia for the past week at the Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram. After her body stopped responding to medication, she was placed on ventilator support.
Fondly called ‘Sugatha Teacher’, Sugathakumari was one of the most celebrated Malayalam poets of the contemporary era. Her poems, written over six decades, are known for their empathy, sensitivity and philosophical inquiry. She was at the forefront of the environmental and feminist movements in Kerala and a former chairperson of the Kerala State Women’s Commission.
She was one of the main activists behind the social campaign, Save Silent Valley Movement, which began in 1973. The campaign aimed to save the Silent Valley in Palakkad, Kerala from being flooded due to a hydroelectric dam proposed by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB).
Her poem Marathinu Stuthi (“Ode to a Tree”) became a symbol of the protest and was later adopted as the opening song of the ‘Save the Silent Valley’ campaign meetings. After years of campaigning, the project was later abandoned by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1983.
Sugathakumari and a few others also converted a barren land site in Attappady to a natural forest, which was named Krishnavanam.
In 2006, Sugathakumari was conferred with the Padma Shri for her contributions to the field of literature. She was awarded the Saraswati Samman in 2013 for her poetry collection, Manalezhuth (“The Writing on the Sand”). She has also been awarded the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award, the Ezhuthachan Puraskaram, the Vayalar Award, the Odakkuzhal Award, and the Ashan Prize.
Recalling moments with the late poet, writer and politician Shashi Tharoor wrote on social media:
The tragic end has come, As i bow my head in tribute to the departed soul, i recall many moments at her side, from felicitating her SaraswatiSamman, to addressing environmentalists alongside her, to listening to her at the @mathrubhumi International LitFest in Tvm (attached). RIP https://t.co/qcAv8KwJyu pic.twitter.com/FMj5kQbEDX
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) December 23, 2020
Calling her a “doyenne of Malayalam literature”, Kerala Chief Minister wrote that Sugathakumari “left an indelible mark on Kerala’s cultural life”.
Deeply saddened to learn of the passing away of poet Sugathakumari. As a doyenne of Malayalam literature & with a career that spans decades, she has left an indelible mark on Kerala’s cultural life. We extend our deepest sympathies to her family & join them in sorrow. pic.twitter.com/rvxCptGYLA
— Pinarayi Vijayan (@vijayanpinarayi) December 23, 2020
Many celebrities from the Malayalam film industry also posted tributes.
— Tovino Thomas (@ttovino) December 23, 2020
— Unni Mukundan (@Iamunnimukundan) December 23, 2020
— Prithviraj Sukumaran (@PrithviOfficial) December 23, 2020
Sugathakumari’s husband Velayudhan Nair, an educationist and writer, died in 2003. She is survived by her daughter, Lakshmi.