A first gay novel, a poor Tamil Brahmin and an unequal world

Karichan Kunju was one among those litterateurs, who shook the Tamil literary world like a wave, in his own way.

For a teacher and Sanskrit scholar in Tamil Nadu of 1970s, talking about sexualities that resist social definitions was not quite the norm. Nor was the temple town of Kumbakonam — otherwise also known as the hub of modern Tamil literature — used to such 'digressions'. Yet homosexuality found a voice in Karichan Kunju's writing.

Like his celebrated contemporaries from Kumbakonam — such as Na Pichamoorthy, Ku Pa Rajagopalan, Thi Janakiraman, MV Venkatram and Nakulan — D Narayanaswami, who adopted the pseudonym Karichan Kunju, shook the Tamil literary world with his short stories. But it was his only novel, Pasitha Maanidam (Hungry Humanity), which is celebrated as the first modern Tamil novel that dealt with homosexuality. Most importantly, it acknowledged the enduring enigma of sexual desires beyond prudish social and cultural norms — the conflict between sexuality and religiosity in a very 'Brahmin, Hindu' world.

Pasitha Maanidam, which turns 40 this year, chronicles the journey of a promising boy, Ganesan, who is sexually abused by older men, and his desire for a fulfilling same-sex relationship later as he grows up into a young man suffering from leprosy.

Even though it touches other aspects of human life — like man's never ending thirst for power, the power of a debilitating malady — the novel is largely remembered for its take on sexuality.

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