“I too am a refugee. Let this land be a refuge for the homeless and unfortunate,” the Dalai Lama said while laying the foundation stone for Abhayagramam in Thiruvananthapuram in 1992. The initiative was the result of sheer determination of Smt. Sugathakumari, tireless crusader for the weaker sections of the society and a celebrated poetess of Kerala.
Born in 1934, Smt. Sugathakumari was brought up in an atmosphere that had lot to do with the world of letters. Even though one may reckon poetry as her first and foremost passion, it was quite natural for her to discover and work on a personality trait that had a lot to do for the betterment of the deprived and the exploited sections of the society.
Her poetic works often reflected and addressed appalling and pathetic situations of life that have become part and parcel of the society she lived in and sought answers and solutions to tide over them. Smt. Sugathakumari always had a firm and clear vision and understanding of developments taking place in the society and never missed a chance to make her voice heard, which often forced authorities to sit, listen, think and pursue an acceptable course of action to one and all.
For Smt. Sugathakumari, her understanding and feeling for those being treated unfairly in the society was not the last of her concerns. The very existence of Mother Nature and the immense value of preserving the same for posterity also brought out the crusader in her to take on forces that where hell bent on plundering the natural wealth of the State and also in the process exploiting the sons of the forests, the tribal people. Among her noted campaigns, the ones against Ganja cultivators in the Attappady tribal belt in the district of Palakkad and her initiatives for eco-restoration programmes in and around that region including the bio-hot spot of Silent Valley have without doubt done its share of good work.
As a poetess, Ms. Sugathakumari is best remebered for her works like 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). Most of her poetic works had a special place for Mother Nature and some of them dwelved on human relationships and emotional traverse of the mind.
In her pursuit for the welfare of the deprived, especially women, Smt. Sugathakumari made a humble beginning through ‘Abhaya’ a home for destitute women and day-care centre for the mentally ill. The venture later expanded and brought into its fold the responsibility for taking care of drug addicts, disowned children of socially rejected women and also free accommodation for women who have once again found their feet. She was also made the Chairperson of the Kerala State Women’s Commission in 2001.
As a poetess Smt. Sugathakumari had left an indelible stamp of her own, and she 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. But her moment of recognition came when she was honoured with the prestigious national honour, the Padmashri in 2006.
Now in her early seventies, the poet, teacher and the social activist in Smt. Sugathakumari still have their roles cut out and perform with the same vivacity and purposefulness, as it used to be in the past.