Suku chettan of Abhayam Charitable Trust hospital at Tripunithura is a star among city ambulance drivers. In his 24 years as an ambulance driver, this veteran says he has made over 40,000 trips transporting the critically ill and the deceased. “I work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I have not taken a single day’s leave or holiday since I started doing this,” he says. Even on his daughter’s wedding day, Sukumaran had to find time to drive a patient to a hospital. “It’s a public service, you see. You can’t put a price on a person’s life. If you can do something to save a life, you should try your best,” he says.
The charitable trust, which treats patients from poor families free of cost, found a kindred spirit in Sukumaran. He is a helping hand to the families of the deceased in time of distress and makes arrangements for funerals by himself free of charge. “Sometimes, when someone dies there is no one around to take care of the funeral. The family is distraught at the death of their near one. At that point, you cannot see them as a stranger. They call me Suku chettan. They’re all family. So I step in to help,” says the 74-year-old.
He cleans and dresses the body, makes arrangements for rites according to the beliefs of the family, and often pays for the funeral or cremation too. “The Trust has given me the freedom to do as I see fit. So I help,” he says. Sukumaran has won several awards for his charitable work at Abhayam. He also aids the police in the case of unnatural deaths. “There was a woman who committed suicide by hanging from the ceiling fan and everyone was terrified to approach the body. So I helped the police bring the body down. I’m not afraid of the dead,” he says. As a schoolboy, he had an unusual hobby of spending his free time assisting in cremations. His morbid, somewhat unhealthy habit for a teenager, attracted the ire of his father. But it helped him overcome a fear of death and the deceased. “I don’t believe in ghosts and the curse of the dead. If it were true, I would have been the first to get affected. But I’ve never had an accident while driving at top speeds,” he says proudly.
Sukumaran’s four daughters have been asking him to retire and stay home. “But I’m still healthy and have good eyesight too. This is the fourth ambulance van I’m driving for Abhaya. But I’m still the same,” he says.