“Now that you are here, you shouldn’t leave without having a glass,” insists Suguthan, offering me a glass of buttermilk. The drink is refreshingly cool. I tell him I love it. “So if you like it now, on this rainy day, how would you feel having it in the hot season when your parched?” he asks.
I am at the home of Suguthan and his wife Shakunthala in Vazhayila. Suguthan, also called Swami Suguthan or Saadhu Suguthan, has all the looks of a hermit, with his long white hair, beard and many beaded necklaces.
He is no rich man. He has no apparent source of income. He lives in a minuscule home. But for the past 35 years, he has been offering free meals of Kanji and Payar (rice porridge and beans) and pickle, and buttermilk to whomsoever visits his place. His meals are mainly intended to feed homeless beggars. Though the city has officially been declared a beggar-free zone, dozens of them visit him daily to have their (sometimes only) meal.
Suguthan’s charity started when he once saw a beggar, too tired and unable to bear the hunger, eating mud from the roadside. It was then that he decided to dedicate his life to feeding the homeless. Earlier he used to have cows which provided him the milk to make curd. Now he needs to buy at least seven packets of milk a day. That costs him 70 bucks, not to count the cash spent on the meal. This is from a man who has a wife, and two children to feed. He daughter is doing her degree and his son is studying at the polytechnic.
“How do you afford it?” I wonder. “Lord Krishna is with me,” says Suguthan. “When we lost the cows, we had to put an offerings box here. People donate money. It is sometimes hard. Sometimes we get enough to make for a day. Most days we don’t. We share our own food.”
Suguthan's little homestead is lined with pictures and gifts given to him by various organisations. He is proud to point each of them out and remember the occasion when he got those. Surely he must be a much-respected man in the area, I assume. But lo, I am wrong. Suguthan wishes to speak no ill of anyone. But his face droops as he speaks about how the people in the area are vehemently against him and in denial. “Don’t go and have his kanji,” they tell the people leaving from Suguthan's hut. Suguthan is saddened, but unconcerned. He bears them no ills. “I will do my work. I will manage,” he says. To know that such is the treatment being dished out to a noted humanitarian and sensitive being, in a state known for its literacy, is indeed heart rending.
As I bid him farewell and leave, he calls me back and offers me another glass. The taste of the first is still fresh in my mouth. I gladly accept. He bids me bye, “iniyum varane aniya”. And as I walk out of his little heaven, I am inspired to drop what cash I have into his little box outside. If there is anyone in this city to be called a hero, it is this man!
Swami Suguthan's home may be found on the left side of the road from peroorkada to vazhayila, near the mohandas motors service center.