God’s Own Messenger

A lower caste government clerk during the day. A revered god by the night.

Jayaram Vengayil currently lives in Kannur, Kerala. At the age of 56, he is rekindling his passion for storytelling.

Chungan had never liked his name. So when he was selected as a Lower Division clerk in the revenue department, the first thing he did was to change it to something more dignified. He had always admired A.K. Gopalan, the firebrand Communist leader and so, through entry in the official gazette, he had transformed himself into C. Gopalan. Chungan was now history. He was glad about that. The name reeked of his past, his roots which he always wanted to hide. It announced to the world that he belonged to one of the backward tribes. In fact, the tribe to which he belonged was known for only one thing – they practiced the ritual Theyyam dance, a public performance of which was a must in every well-to-do Hindu joint family in North Malabar.

Chungan secretly liked being known as a skilled Theyyam dancer, which he no doubt was. So he continued performing even though he now had a full-time job. He enjoyed basking in the few hours of glory during the numerous performances that he was called upon to make with other members of his extended family during the Theyyam season that stretched from November to April. This was the time that the old Chungan briefly came alive again– but this was the Chungan who was possessed by a divine power, not the weak, exploited tribal urchin. The Chungan who was the all-powerful oracle and soothsayer. To whose every prophecy and blessing, men and women of substance hung on to like their lives depended on it. And then next morning, after the night-long performance was over, he was once again the respectable office-goer, C. Gopalan, his Honda bike whirring through the traffic of Thalassery like a drunken mosquito.

   He was looking forward to tonight’s performance.

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