Scarecrow Theyyam - 4
Bhavatraatan Namboodiripad. B.Sc. First Class. M.Sc. First Class. Whatever job you have will do! Whatever job you have will do!
(Recites like a prayer, looking at the face of the scarecrow)
Engage me in some useful employment
During this lifetime, O Sire,
I can’t make out between day and night,
Nor the difference between dawn and dusk.
Engage me in some useful employment, O Sire!
I am exhausted, walking all the while. But can I stop walking just because I am exhausted?
‘Carrying the heavy load of great grief
How long have I walked in sweltering sun and pitch darkness
I can’t walk any further.’
(Raising his head and beaming, as if hearing something the scarecrow had said)
I am so glad, sir. So glad! It is for the first time in my life, sir, that some one has said to me, “All right! I will give you a job.” You are my saviour. Please employ me.
Again, stands devoutly, with bent head. Raising his head happily, and as if he is hearing and reacting to what the scarecrow is saying, unheard by the audience.
What? That you will give me your position!
“Stand here and look after the crops
of his field, day and night!”
Yes sir! I’ll do it, sir! Thank you very much, sir.
Only one request, sir. Please hand over my wages to the people at home, sir. How happy they will be!
It’s just that my mother is not there to share this happiness.
I will stand here day and night, sir…
As a theyyam10 that guards the crop in this field.
Yes sir. It will be done, sir. I’ll wear your gown and your crown.
Bhavatraatan puts down his bag and the rolled-up papers. Takes off his clothes and dons and scarecrow’s attire. Stands meditating.
I have put down the load
O Sire, kindly reside in this lowly one’s heart
For the first time, I have experienced the large-heartedness that can see a man as a real human being.
Bhavatraatan takes the head off the scarecrow and puts it on, covering his own head. The scarecrow’s horrible face is turned to the audience. A face which faintly resembles that of the crucified Christ. Wearing this mask, stretching his arms out, Bhavatraatan stands still like a scarecrow.
Translated from the Malayalam play ‘Nokkukuthi Theyyam’ by A.J. Thomas and TLM
1. Mundu: the single-fold long cloth worn wrapped around the waist by Malayalees.
2. Illam: a Namboodiri family with a lineage dating back several centuries.
3. Para: A measure of grain, usually — more than ten litres; it is also a measurement of wetland, literally a paddy-field in which so many paras of seed-paddy can be sown.
4. Jenmitvam: landlordship akin to zamindari; jenmi: landlord
5. Pattayadana mahotsavam: an official festival during which pattas or title deeds of land are given away to the needy, landless poor.
6. Illa: means, ‘No’, ‘something is missing or lacking’, etc.
7. This is the well-known working principle set out by the great spiritual leader and social reformer of Kerala, Sree Narayana Guru, who lived in the last half of the 19th and the first quarter of the 20th centuries.
8. A reference to Swami Vivekananda’s pronouncement that “Kerala is a madhouse”, after witnessing the myriad castes that lay webbed across Kerala’s society at the turn of the 20th century.
9. Three great Malayalam poets.
10. Theyyam: a ritualistic performing art form of northern Kerala; theyyamam is a corruption of ‘Daivam’: God. A Theyyam performance consists in one or more characters enacting the life story of heroes or heroines of folk legends, who were deified for their extraordinary deeds. The characters invariably wear elaborate, ornate crowns and headgear. The popular belief is that when the ritual dance starts, the ancestor, now a deity, possesses the performer. Here, Bhavatraatan wears the head of the scarecrow, a big pot, as a mask, and enacts the role of a scarecrow.
or N.N. Pillai is a celebrated Malayalam playwright, winner of the Kerala
Sahitya Akademi Award
A.J. Thomas is Assistant Editor of ‘Indian Literature’ and a poet in Malayalam.