Cartoonist Sukumar: Man who gifted Kerala its own stand-up comic act

Sukumar, the founder secretary of Narmakairali, who later became its president, was a man who chose to spread smiles in the lives of thousands around him.
Cartoonist and satirist S Sukumar. (Express)
Cartoonist and satirist S Sukumar. (Express)

TRIVANDRUM: Old timers in the state capital would never forget those humourous evenings that drew thousands of crowds that would throng each and every corner of the hall, and at times even the nooks and corners of the stage, eager to tune into a slice of those rib-tickling jokes that went on air, with a thrust funny enough to spread laughter all across, and finally ending up with streaks of cheers, belly laughs and loud applause.

Those were the days when citizens chose to roam around for a hearty laugh and end up here for a peaceful, stress-free couple of hours. And 'Narmakairali Chiriyarangu' would never disappoint anyone who rushed to immerse themselves in hearty laughter and forget their day-to-day sorrows for a short time.

Cartoonist Sukumar who passed away on Saturday, was one of the first proponents of Malayalam's own stand-up comedy acts. Sukumar, the founder secretary of Narmakairali, who later became its president, was a man who chose to spread smiles in the lives of thousands around him. That Narmakairali has been around for over three decades stands testimony to this fact.

It was on a return journey from Hyderabad after a conference of satirists, that the idea of Narmakairali took shape. Formed with Professor Anandakuttan as president and Sukumar as secretary, the movement was led by veteran writers like Jagathy NK Achary, Veloor Krishnankutty, Malayattoor Ramakrishnan, P Subbayya Pillai, Chemmanam Chacko, and KG Sethunath. Later, a slew of well-known writers and people from different walks of life including Jacob Samson Muttada, IAS officer PC Sanak Kumar, and writer Krishna Poojappura joined.

In 1986, the first programme was held at the State Public Library Hall, and later moved to VJT Hall where it was staged for a long time as a monthly programme. The event was mostly held on the last working day of every month. The hall was initially allowed to be used free of cost.

Later, with the organisers finding it difficult to meet rising expenses, as entry was free, the venue was shifted to Hassan Marakkar Hall, YMCA Hall, Bank Employees Hall, and Panchayat Association Hall. The event was held without a break till the Covid pandemic, after which it moved online. Once Sukumar even staged a 12-hour non-stop performance. 

Sukumar was undoubtedly the pillar of strength behind this unique initiative, recalled writer Krishna Poojappura, who served as its secretary for some time. "Narmakairali Chiriyarangu was his dream. He was such a simple and humble human being, who took it upon himself to launch this unique initiative without expecting anything back," he said.

The team travelled to other places including Lakshadweep to stage the programme. Travelling with him was always a special experience, certifies his long-time friend and Narmakairai colleague Jacob Samson Muttada. "A man of numerous specialities, he would never flaunt his proximity to higher-ups such as IAS officers who too were part of the programme. But if ever someone was in crisis, he would be the first to offer his help," he said, while recalling his own personal experiences.

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