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Like a falcon in the skies

Karukku enabled me to build my confidence and hope, Bama Faustina tells Tulsi Badrinath. Excerpts from a conversation.

bama_JPGIn Karukku you described yourself thus ‘I am like a bird whose wings were broken’. Twenty years later, in the second edition of the English translation, you describe yourself as ‘a falcon that treads the air, high in the skies’. Could you tell us about the healing process that transformed you?

In 1992, I felt that I was victimised by this caste-ridden society. That is why I described myself as a bird with broken wings. During these 20 years, Karukku has vibrated with the lives of the Dalits, witnessing the consciousness of the people. The popularity, recognition, appreciation and solidarity evoked and created by Karukku enabled me to build up my confidence and hope, to strengthen broken wings and to protest against everything that dehumanises me and others. This resistance and resilience healed me, renewing me with fresh energy and power which enabled me to soar in the sky. This is possible due to the tireless and committed labour of Ms. Mini Krishnan, editor, and Ms. Lakshmi Holmstrom, the translator of Karukku.

There is a poignant moment in Karukku when you wonder if you will ever make a long journey ever again, such as the one you made from Tamil Nadu to Kashmir. Since the publication of your book, you have travelled to many places, made many long journeys. Your thoughts on this…

Yes, that is incredible! Born in a remote village in South Tamil Nadu, I had never even dreamt that I will go around the world one day. Like my first book Karukku, I too am invited and celebrated in many places, and I have no words to express the boundless joy, variety of thrilling experiences and the moments of exhilaration in such travels.

Having travelled, met many people the world over, read Alice Walker, is there something unique that defines a writer, according to you, a certain quality beyond race, country, gender, caste, religion or community?

Writers from whatever background, I find some sort of solidarity with them, when they write for social justice with social responsibility. Writers concern for humanness, human dignity and equality defines that uniqueness beyond all differences. I am able to feel one with the Afro-American Writers, especially, and there is a strong bond transcending all the differences.

Do you think women are the dalits of the world, in whichever country they may live?

No, I don’t think so. The problems of Dalits are different and more dehumanising and oppressive. It is true that women suffer from gender based problems but they are rarely treated as untouchables.

It has been said that the norms in English-translation publishing are being set by non-dalit theoreticians, editors and translators and their choices at different levels. How do you react to this concern?

As far as I am concerned, I have been very lucky with my editor and translators. It has been a pleasure for me to interact with them before and after the translation and publication.

Father Mark played a major role in your life. Could you tell us about him?

Father Mark is our family friend. He was my class teacher when I was in Std. VI. Now he is my mentor. Without his help and guidance, I would not have become a writer. He is the first critic of all my works. After I have completed my script, he takes care of editing and arranges for its publication. I should also acknowledge that he is a writer of social issues and Dalit issues.

You rejected the convent, not Christianity…were you able to forge a fresh relationship with Jesus?

Of course yes. I have become closer to Jesus, imbibing His spirit and values. He is a role model for me to care for the people and to reach out to the voiceless. From Him I have learnt to protest against the unjust system and to promote love, freedom, solidarity and equality.

When was the first time you heard the name Ambedkar?

When I was in the convent, I think it was in the 1990s I heard of Dr. Ambedkar. I had not read his books then, but had heard a lot about him. I was attracted to his words “Educate, Organise and Agitate”.

Do you feel a pressure upon you to become more of an activist? Has your writing taken on more of a political/activist direction?

Though I would like to become more of an activist, I know my limitations. Being a single woman with no protection and support, I always control the urge that often arises within me to become an activist. I think writing in itself is a political exercise.

[Courtesy: The Hindu, November 5, 2011]

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