Normally I would never put my professional life on my blog. But this is where the writer in me and the person in me united. Working as a journalist, I don't have a glamorous life. But I had the fortune of meeting a woman who changed the way I view some parts of the world. I am forced to wonder, if she can be positive and not cynical about this world, then so can I.
A falcon in the skies
Bama, a 55-year-old Tamil Dalit writer, talks of societal exclusion and struggle for acceptance in her autobiography Karukku, relaunched at the women writers’ colloquium
|Photograph by K D Bhatt|
City-based writer Esther David in her introduction to Bama, a renowed Tamil Dalit writer, spoke of their experience in Paris many years ago. Both Bama and Esther were called to talk about their writing at a conference. When Bama got up to speak, the audience erupted in anger and did not allow her to say a word. The two of them pleaded with the audience to be seated and half-an-hour later, Bama was heard.
“Social exclusion is the story of my life,” Bama says with a defiant smile. Her calm and down-to-earth demeanour belies her struggle for survival in a harsh, opinionated world.
Bama is a 55-year-old single woman, who apart from writing, teaches schoolchildren in a small village in Tamil Nadu. She describes the beginning of her writing career as “purely accidental” and “therapeutic”. She wrote her first novel ‘Karukku’ in 1992. It was published after much struggle as publishers and critics felt her style, language and narration were not compelling enough.
“My guide, Father Mark, read my work and felt that it would be a great publication. When Mark approached a professor for a critique, the latter threw my work away, calling it rubbish. I am glad I was not present at that moment because I would have been crushed. But, almost 20 years later, the stories I told in 1992 are still relevant,” she adds with a slightly disheartened smile.
The situation, she feels, is changing at a slow pace. “When I left Tamil Nadu, I read an article on Dalits in Uthapuram being allowed to enter a temple. The symbolic entry that came after 22 years of being discriminated against means a lot to the Dalit community. But the photo in the story showed the other side of the spectrum as well. While Dalits entered the temple with broad smiles on their faces, the people of upper caste were seen wailing and screaming, saying the Dalits had polluted the temple. I am overjoyed by the change, but this is only the beginning,” says Bama.
The second edition of the English book published nearly 11 years later was edited to add a ‘10 years later’ section. In the first edition, she says “I am a bird trapped in a cage with broken wings”. On the contrary, her second edition that released a month ago, ends with “I am a falcon soaring in the skies”.
Explaining the antithesis, Bama says, “Though over these past years, I have learnt to fly, I still have my feet firmly on the ground. I might travel to different countries to give speeches about all that I have achieved. But I have to return home to my remote village where my identity of a Dalit woman is intact. I take pride in that.”