Eminent Malayalam writer Sukumar Azhikode, who dominated Kerala's cultural scene as a literary critic, orator, academic and journalist for over five decades, died at a private hospital in Thrissur on Tuesday.
A bachelor, Azhikode (86), had been undergoing treatment for cancer for the last few weeks at the Aamala Cancer Centre in Thrissur. His condition turned critical three days ago and the end came in the small hours, hospital sources said.
A quintessential critic in speech and writing, Azhikode's had been a powerful voice in the intellectual discourse in Kerala.
An outstanding academic and teacher, Azhikode had served as chairman of the National Book Trust (NBT) and as member of the executive councils of Kerala and Kendra Sahitya academy.
A recipient of high literary honours including the Kendra Sahitya Academy award, Azhikode hit national headlines a few years back by declining to accept Padma Shri holding such honours went against the spirit of Indian Constitution that saw all citizens as equal.
Though a towering literary figure he never confined himself to scholastic themes alone but kept on boldly expressing his views and concerns on a wide range of topics of contemporary concerns including the day-to-day politics and politicians.
An ardent Gandhian till the end of his life, Azhikode was close to the Congress in his early life and in the 1960s even unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha polls as its candidate. But later, he distanced himself from the Congress and moved close to the Left camp without compromising on his Gandhian convictions and the Nehruvian vision of a liberal and just social order.
A deep scholar
Azhikode's major critical works like Asante Seetha Kavyam" -- a detailed textual study of poet Kumaran Asan's Chinthavishtayaya Seetha (Seetha immersed in thought) -- are considered as classics of modern Malayalam literature.
Azhikode headed the Malayalam department of Calicut University and later retired as its pro-vice chancellor.
A prolific writer of columns and a powerful orator, his penchant to give vent to ire on social, political and cultural evils often sparked controversies.
He was involved a legal tiff with cine actor Mohanlal following heated exchanges in the backdrop of the ban on actor Thilakan as a fallout of a feud in the Malayalam filmdom.
Azhikode then came to defend Thilakan incurring the wrath of superstars. Last month, after Azheekode fell ill, a truce was worked out between the writer and the actor to withdraw the defamation case. He had also locked horns with CPI-M veteran V S Achuthanandan, when he was chief minister.
Born in Azhikode village in Kannur district in 1926, he graduated in commerce and later did Masters in Malayalam literature. He taught literature in different colleges before joining as head in the Malayalam Department of Calicut University.
Well versed in Sanskrit and classical literature, Azhikode was also known for his deep understanding of Western philosophy and literature.
Taking time off academic responsibilities, Azhikode also edited a couple of dailies during his long career. Though he gave up editorship, he maintained his deep interest and commitment to journalism by writing columns and articles in newspapers and magazines.