Renowned Malayalam poet Sugathakumari, who passed away on Wednesday, started the Abhaya centre in 1985 for destitute women and children.

Sugathakumari hugs two little girls sitting on a chairPhoto courtesy - Abhaya.org
news Tribute Wednesday, December 23, 2020 - 21:02

I have not met Sugathakumari teacher many times, but a few brief meetings had given me the best insights about life and womanhood. When most of us try to run away from the unpleasant moments, she went deep into it, trying to heal the wounds of man and nature. I write this with a pang of unpardonable guilt that I could not meet her for one last time, even though I have crossed her office and home many times all these years. 

The Abhaya (Athani) office in Thiruvananthapuram’s Vanchiyoor, where I met her three or four times, is an unwritten book by itself. The renowned poet and activist started the Abhaya centre in 1985 as a home for destitute women and children, and a daycare centre for people with mental health issues. She later expanded it to cover more areas for victims of abuse. It is there that I realised poetry is much beyond words and she is perhaps the only poet I know who could take poetry to life. 

I could see her words breathing life into those inside the Athani rooms and daring them to dream again and move forward, despite the most bitter experiences in life. I have seen them rising from the ashes of complete hopelessness to flying higher than ever with just the words of Sugathakumari teacher to breath in. To me, that is the zenith of what verse or words could get — to make a real change around us with no swords but pure deeds. 

I remember Teacher mentioning once that each resident of the Abhaya centre had a heart-wrenching story to share. Yet, everyone I met there, had a smile — a smile that only Sughathakumari teacher could give them. There were street children who were being taught to read and write. There were children running about merrily who have had experiences that most of us would shun to even imagine. I remember Teacher telling once that we would feel ashamed to belong to the same human race when we hear what those children underwent. I always wondered what would have happened to those kids if Sughathakumari teacher was not there to help and give them a safe place. 

I met her in 2008 to invite her to release my first collection of poems. When I waited nervously outside her office, I could see her indulging in many serious discussions. I was getting goosebumps hearing her voice, which I was only used to hearing in the media. But the moment I met her, I felt as if I knew her for years. It was impossible to feel uncomfortable in front of her. I am privileged to have had her release my book (Riddles of Time) and I remember her wishing me a ‘turbulent mind’ to be able to write more poems. She told me that poems can only come to a mind that can never be at rest.

I had met her a few more times and I could only be in awe of her courage and determination even when her health was deteriorating. Even at an age when everyone would prefer to sit home and relax, she never rested. She never allowed her ailments and discomforts to get in the way of her actions. When I heard of her demise on Wednesday, I could only say a silent prayer for the selfless life, who lived completely for others. 

Her life is a book of reference, poetry beyond language, a bold word that remained untouched by power or politics. She was a warrior who never stopped fighting. She proved how the seemingly impossible can be made possible by selfless efforts. When I think of her, I can only think of courage. 

Indu Lekshmi is an author of two books: Riddles of Time (a book of poetry) and Buddhante Punchiri (Malayalam). She is also a short filmmaker.

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