How Venkatram’s epic novel mixed humour, hallucination and sex

MV Venkatram, Kaathugal
Tamil writer MV Venkatram's almost-autobiographical novel Kaathugal (Ears) is one of the most poignant works describing hallucination | Image - Eunice Dhivya

Mahalingam, a father to seven children at the heart of MV Venkatram’s novel Kaathugal, suddenly starts hearing inexplicable noises that slowly grow into human voices. Soon, he starts seeing things, people and images of those people having sexual intercourse.

The family man, who also happens to be a writer, lives with these voices and images for years and yet manages to strike a balance between the real and the imagined world. He then seeks solace in Kandar Anuboothi—a collection of devotional hymns—and starts to believe lord Murugan is his guard—of both his body and mind.

Celebrated Tamil writer MV Venkatram was 72 when he wrote Kaathugal (Tamil for ears) but not before going through similar experiences. As the novel enters the 28th year of its publication, it is worth revisiting the world of Mahalingam and ‘see and hear’ it from the vantage point of Venkatram, whose birth centenary is being celebrated this year.

Phantoms in the brain

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