BAMA

Nandini Verma writes a poem on Bama’s story, a dalit feminist and novelist who emerged as a hero, in a casteist society.

Painting by Shivani Varma

Have you heard the story of Faustina Soosairaj?
Shorthand, Bama
Longhand :

In 1992, a woman walked out of the gates of a convent
and a burning forest lost its wind.

When you place a system in place of the earth,
in place of a mother,
in place of family,
in place of village,
in place of a river,
you are cutting water with the colonised arms of your grandfather –
tired, and slowly, giving up.

Bama is a name that does not sit well in her own country.
Bama is a language they do not trust their children with.

Tomorrow,
when the newspapers open at the sound of a bird calling,
a life lost beneath the waves,
mud collected under the ashes and the rain,
Bama will be a mirror they will not want to look at.

What do we say of our families,
when we sit at the dinner table today,
emptying the food out of our plates,
and carefully slipping dalit history under the feet
of a wounded table, that develops a limp
without moving?

Bama is a language we do not trust our children with
Bama is the water we have denied the right to be offered

Under the street light,
a father reads out his daughter’s prayer
and no sticks break into two that night,
no homes are burnt down,
no river is run over by fire.

Bama becomes a welcome wrapped in the folds of the printed saris,
In the toes of the men, in the tiny palms of the children
Bama is the truth, a confessional, a language they are slowly learning to speak

When she wakes up tomorrow,
Bama will be the sword and its warrior,
The leaves sharpening its edges,
Apples ripening against the window,
Sunlight entering the bones,
A mirror she will always remember to keep clean.

In our homes,
before we sit at the dinner table,
we will rinse our mouths
and completely remove Bama from our tongues.

Our uniforms soak in fresh water,
and the grime slowly crawls up to float.

— -

Note : Bama Faustina Soosairaj is a dalit feminist and novelist who joined a convent, leaving her job to work towards the education of dalit girls, but faced discrimination even within the system. She left the school, and began her work on her autobiography ‘Karukku.’ When the novel was published, Bama was ostracised from her village for portraying the community in poor light, until her father sat them down to explain her message.


Nandini Varma is a spoken word poet and the co-founder of Airplane Poetry Movement. She has conducted spoken word poetry workshops in over 50 colleges and schools across India. Her works have been published in Muse India, The Bombay Review Anthology, The Caravan Magazine, and The Ellipsis Zine. She has also contributed to The Book Review Literary Trust’s April 2017 Issue. In 2016, she was the co-organiser and curator of India’s first National Youth Poetry Slam.

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