Sukumar Azhikode, award-winning writer, scholar and probably the most influential Gandhian intellectual in Kerala, died at a private hospital here on Tuesday.

Professor Azhikode, who would have turned 86 on May 12, had been fighting cancer for nearly a year. Hailing from Kannur in north Kerala, he had made Thrissur his home but would be cremated at the historic Payyambalam beach in Kannur on Wednesday, in deference to the wishes of his relatives. He will get full State honours.

An intellectual giant, a great humanist, a cultural guru, a committed secularist, a champion of human rights and a sentinel of social values, he gave expression to his ideals through more than 35 books, thousands of articles and countless orations — all laced with grace, dignity and humour. As a literary critic, he upheld the timeless values of the classics. His range was wide, ranging from Indian philosophy, Vedas and Upanishads to the subtly nuanced pure literary criticism. His writings on poetry gravitated towards sociological and cultural criticism.

Professor Azhikode's most noted work Tatvamasi (1984) had won the Central Sahitya Akademi and the Kerala Sahithya Akademi awards and over half-a-dozen other honours, including the prestigious Vayalar Award.

In 2007, Professor Azhikode famously rejected the Padma Shri award conferred on him, contending that such awards were against the Constitution. “The Constitution says everyone should be treated as equal. 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.

His concerns were wide and touched upon progressive literature (Purogamanasahityavum Mattum), Gandhism (Mahatmavinte Margam), Kumaran Asan (Aasaante Seethaakavyam), the teachings of Sree Narayana Guru (Guruvinte Dukham) and literary aesthetics (Sankara Kurup Vimarshikkapedunnu).

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