Bama is the pen-name of a Tamil Dalit woman, from a Roman Catholic family. She has published three main works: an autobiography, Karukku, 1992; a novel, Sangati, 1994; and a collection of short stories, Kisumbukkaran 1996. Karukku means palmyra leaves, which, with their serrated edges on both sides, are like double-edged swords. By a felicitous pun, the Tamil word Karukku, containing the word hare, embryo or seed, also means freshness, newness. In her foreword, Bama draws attention to the symbol, and refers to the words in Hebrews (New Testament), "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews, 4:10) Karukku is the first autobiography of its kind to appear in Tamil, for Dalit writing in this language has not produced the spate of autobiographies which have appeared, for example, in Marathi. It is also in many ways an unusual autobiography. It grows out of a particular moment: a personal crisis and watershed in the author's life which drives her to make sense of her life as woman, Christian, Dalit. Many Tamil authors, both men and women, use the convention of writing under a pseudonym. In this case, though, this convention adds to the work's strange paradox of reticence and familiarity. It eschews the "confessional" mode, leaving out many personal details. The protagonist is never named. The events of Bama's life are not arranged according to a simple, linear or chronological order, as with most autobiographies, but rather, reflected upon in different ways, repeated from different perspectives, grouped under different themes, for example, Work, Games and Recreation, Education, Belief, etc. It is her driving quest for integrity as a Dalit and Christian that shapes the book and gives it its polemic.
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