Thrissur (Kerala): Veteran Malayalam writer and orator Sukumar Azhikode has on Tuesday breathed his last but his razor-sharp tongue and hard-hitting speeches interlaced with characteristic humour will remain in the memories of many who have heard him at least once.
Since his retirement as pro-vice chancellor of Calicut University in 1986, he became a most busy public speaker, even remarking once that he had decided to be based in Thrissur simply because it was in the central part of the state and his travel either north or south would be more or less the same distance.
His standoffs with public personalities are legendary. His recent spats with veteran Malayalam superstar Mohanlal and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (the social movement of the Hindu Ezhava community) head Velapally Natesan had garnered huge media attention.
When 85-year-old Azhikode was diagnosed with bone cancer and got admitted to a hospital here last month, he decided to withdraw his criminal defamation case against Mohanlal and the two broke the ice through a series of phone calls.
Recently, Mohanlal called on the ailing Azhikode and for those who witnessed the meeting, the scene was an emotionally-charged one.
Likewise, soon after Azhikode was diagnosed with cancer, Natesan arrived at his bedside. In full media glare and with tears rolling down his cheeks, he asked for forgiveness for whatever curt remarks he had made in his public spat against the master orator.
His friend and fellow writer Chemmanam Chacko showed to IANS what is believed to be the last letter written by Azhikode dated Nov 29. "This was written on a post-card and he says he is not keeping well and wishes to try out homeopathy for his ailment. He ends his letter by enquiring about the womenfolk in my family and also states that he loves to have fish curry with green gram," said Chacko.
His brother's wife, who lives in Kannur where Azhikode was born, recalled his visits to their home as ones which were full of wit and humour. "He never used to stay beyond two days here, but the two days were a jolly affair," said his sister-in-law.
Condoling the death of Azhikode, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy described him as one of Kerala's tallest and most multi-faceted personalities. "He was a true Gandhian, teacher, orator and a critic. No one ever doubted his critiques. His loss is just not a loss to the social milieu but to the entire state," said Chandy.
Meanwhile, the controversy that broke out soon after his death over the place where Azhikode's last rites should take place was also resolved amicably by Chandy.
"His close friends in Thrissur wanted the last rites to take place here, but his relatives wanted it at Kannur. After talks with all concerned, the issue has been resolved and the funeral will take place at Kannur on Wednesday with full state honours," said Chandy.
Azhikode was unmarried, and won 12 awards for his works. Azhikode's most famous work is "Tatvamasi" (1984, Malayalam), an authoritative book on Indian philosophy, the Vedas and the Upanishads. This work won him 12 awards including the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award, Vayalar Award and Rajaji Award.
In Jan 2007, the writer refused to accept the Padma Shri, stating that such honours are against the constitution. "The constitution says everyone should be treated as equal. By giving such honours at different levels, the state discriminates between people. I see the Padma Shri conferred on me as an opportunity to expose this discrimination," he had said.