How can one let go of a person who has lived just five and a half decades? The only reason why Sheena’s family-her mother Gracy, her sister Neena, her niece Bhoomi and nephew Kannan, her brothers , her partner Santosh along with scores of friends across Kerala did so was the intensity and cruelty of the terminal illness that devoured her body. Because anyone who knew Sheena even if briefly could not accept that a vibrant and energetic Sheena has been reduced to a feeble flicker of life . As life slowly and painfully ebbed out of her frail physique, Sheena withstood with steadfast determination all attempts to heal her. From dialysis to scans to traumatic tests the person who resisted any invasive treatments took it all in for one single reason – her zest for life.
With the feeble yet sustaining energy Sheena went to her favourite Kole lands to see the vastness, feel the fresh air and watch the birds. With amazing zeal and vigour she shared with the ones close by her side so many wishes – music, books, graceful costumes, her wish to put a pulley and rope on the well of the Women’s Hostel she could see every day from her room in the Quarters….
Who was Sheena?
At a peripheral glance, she was a teacher who worked as Assistant Professor in Government IASE, Thrissur.
But a quick and deeper scan through the responses to Sheena’s untimely passing away reveal who she was /is when she was breathing :
The most unemotional report describe Sheena as “an active member of Kerala’s feminist and queer movement since 3 decades. Her interactions span from resistance events to workshops to detailed studies on issues. The most significant event held in 1990 in which she played a lead role was the organising of the National meet of Feminist Organisations. She was President of one of the three pioneering Feminist groups in Kerala- Chetana. The powerful intervention made by Chetana in the Suryanelli case opened up a new chapter in feminist perspectives on such violence and injustice. She was closely involved in the 3 noted feminist groups –Prachodana, Bodhana and Manushi. Along with this Sheena’s unique perceptions helped shape the content of alternate media interventions like Patabhedam and Vakku. The historic journey for Peace and antinuclear world from Ezhimala to Baliapal as early as 1990 had Sheena’s indefatigable energy as catalyst. Along with this she played a key role in the discussions that led to the Western Ghats padayatra. She was one of the brains behind the Vibgyor International Film Festival held annually at Thrissur. She lend her voice, shared resources and supported any movement in Kerala connected to women’s rights, queer dignity and integrity, environmental issues and education”.
This is the most correct and accurate way in which Sheena should be portrayed.
But who was Sheena and what was that spark in her that made hundreds of men and women remark on the void her absence would create?
From the most poetic description of her “ as the coolness of mist that vanishes suddenly” to a comment ‘Rest in power” the responses touch upon Sheena, the uncompromising human. Defying all set norms of womanhood, marriage, motherhood and sexuality, Sheena and her life partner Santosh created a space where all young minds with a search for the deviant could roost and fly off.
“ She was one person to whom we could ask if we can come over, sleep and have a meal. The answer will be very honest –either a No or a quick Please come in her inimitable Thrissur style “
“ Sheena presented feminism in the most enjoyable and simple way- like herself-open, honest, forthright, bold and straight sans hypocrisy”
“She was one woman who gave young girls a generous space to take risks, make mistakes, get heartbroken and cry out loud. She always had a small trick, an effective solution, a remedy for all wounds of the mind”
Who else but Sheena could whisper gently to a young one closest to her “ You are the rain that falls on my eyelids, the honey drop on my lips’’?
It is this which makes another blooming woman in the circle of young friends Sheena nurtured to write so:
The ripe mango cooked in red chillies , the prawn curry in an earthen pot, the cool water in the urn, her colourful skirts, the well washed, folded bedsheets, the coffee brown sari, the Money plant, flowers, trees, the smell, laughter, the voice-all of this belonged to everyone. But the most beloved part I will keep to myself- the Sheena chechi I alone know”
Hardly a week has passed since she went away. But the amazing response from young men across the State whom she shocked and transformed with her earthy sense of gender justice is worth understanding.
“For me – a young college going boy, she was the first feminist I had met. She taught me how feminism is wiping the last tears from the Earth. She opened up new perspectives on life. A rush of new ideas on critical thinking and self reflectivity “
Sheena and Santosh showed through their life what it means to create a unit that defies all traditional norms of marriage and family. Yet the space they created had all the belonging and security, the roots and branches, the green and blossoms, the leaf fall and autumn starkness of a family. To live together as man and woman in a space that defies all accepted norms of masculinity and feminity was the thrill their relationship and being with them meant to all who knew them.
Sheena welcomed youngsters into her home with a simple statement “ There is love here, but no molly cuddling and pampering” .
Her bold attempt to redefine the crippling shroud of fulfilment through motherhood that is imposed on a woman by taking innumerable orphaned young minds into her care is one of its kind. What made the youngsters flock to her was the brutal honesty and simplicity of her interactions.
Sheena demanded sensitive and detailed responses to every life situation, sometimes a burden for those close to her. But this character is what made her leave an indelible mark on anyone who meets her. No effort was ever spared to look into minor and minute aspects of a situation – an effort that not many adults will undertake.
“ Sheenachechi’s home was always full of young women. And between us there sprung a friendship which is invaluable”
This is the precious legacy that Sheena leaves behind for Kerala riddled in morality and conventionality- the deep friendship and compassion for a fellow being sans caste, gender, color and status. It is said that you are praised best in an obituary but with Sheena, her authenticity and integrity, her honesty and forthrightness shines as much when she was alive as when she is no more !
Anitha.S in conversation with K.C.Santosh Kumar, Usha Punathil, Tomy Mathew, Asha Latha, Rajagopal, Sarath Cheloor, Dr.S.Sankar, Soumya, Roshan Sathya, Seena Panoli, Civic Chandran and reading face book posts by Bhoomi, Kani, Maya, Deedi, Sanju Surendran ,Lisba Yesudas ….