Examine how Karukku is a fictional autobiography.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Karukku  is both fiction and autobiography in a couple of ways.  The first way is that Karukku is a recreation of much of the life that Bama lived in her village.  When she left the seminary, Bama was struggling to find her own identity: "I had lost everything. I was a stranger to society. I kept lamenting about life and harked back to my happy childhood days in the village."  This recollection back to her life in "the village" ended up forming the basis for what would be Karukku. The work is a "semi-fictional account of the growing awareness of a Dalit."  It contains the elements of autobiography because Bama recalls her own background of life in the village.  The language used is realistic, syntax that is reflective of how she and others spoke in her village. Bama herself acknowledges this:  "Some critics cried out that a woman should not have used such coarse words. But I wrote the way people speak. I didn't force a literary language on myself."   The narratives that are explored in the village were ones that she experienced.  In particular, Bama's work is autobiographical because it speaks to the predicament of the Dalit, of the untouchable, and how caste marginalization in the village setting serves to silence voice.  

At the same time, Bama does not write in a purely autobiographical voice.  Her work retains elements of fiction.  This is deliberate.  Bama has been open about how the plight of the Dalit is one of the "worst injustices."  She actively seeks to use her literature as a way to transform what is into what can be:  

Because Dalits have…been told again and again of their degradation, they have come to believe they are degraded…they have reached a stage where they themselves, voluntarily, hold themselves apart...The consequence of all this is that there is no way for Dalits to find freedom or redemption.

In writing a work that has some root in fiction, it becomes applicable to more people. Had Bama simply written a work that only applied to herself in the form of her own narrative, she might not have been able to reach as many people. Bama wants to give voice to as many people who are victimized by the caste system in a nation that has openly said that there is no caste system. Her work speaks to more people, precisely because it is not strictly locked in as her own. Its fictional qualities make it more connective to more narratives.  Containing elements of both fiction and autobiography, Bama's work speaks to what is in the hopes of what can be.

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