Eating Wasps by Anita Nair

The words refused to come. They stayed away as if to make a point, like angry relatives refusing to attend a wedding. An adjective or two danced in front of me. A few verbs did cartwheels and a group of nouns turned somersaults. But the opening sentence sat with its back to me. I cajoled and pleaded but she wouldn’t listen. As long as she did that, the rest wouldn’t emerge either.

In my world a new Anita Nair book is always a good thing (I have enjoyed most of her books) and I was really looking forward to devouring Eating Wasps. I loved how the author narrated the stories of so many women but felt only a few were seen through to their conclusion. There were 10 characters with weighty issues of their own so that’s understandable. I would have preferred fewer characters and a better resolution but then it’s not my book. It is a brave book, a very powerful one but I still prefer her Ladies Coupe (my first book by her which had me smitten) to this one, especially the ending. It’s much more hopeful and the characters appear to be in control of their destiny, even while they continue to challenge societal norms.

Anita Nair’s women have always crossed boundaries and been their own people in spite of what society dictated, and paid the price for it. How easy it is to vilify a woman because she is different from what is the norm or what is expected of her. I didn’t know I will meet a subject I love but had left behind nor had I ever imagined I would see a zoologist, a lecturer no less, as the sutradhar in a book – teacher, writer, ghost all rolled into one.  Sree appears to be formidable but that’s what she wants the world to believe, for who in their right mind will reveal their inner turmoil to the world at large which will only mock and point fingers.

I had always been drawn to the potter wasp. I saw it everywhere, but there was little I knew about this solitary creature beyond the basic information. Scientific name: Eumeninae. Higher classification: Vespidae. Order: Hymenopterans. Rank: Subfamily. Kingdom: Animalia.

Sree had never been accepted for who she was, and except for her father no one believed in her. Hence, she grew up to be a very vulnerable adult. She wasn’t allowed to exist peacefully because of what she chose to write about. Her own mother was ashamed of her, and she was the only parent alive. The book discusses censorship in a way that is understandable to the the public at large, the consumers.

Ghosts and writers are more alike than you think. We can be what you want us to be. We can hear your thoughts even if you don’t tell us. We can read the silences and shape your stories as if they happened to us. And I was both: a ghost and a writer.

Intelligent women making dumb decisions because society jumps at the chance to crucify them is something patriarchal societies like ours have made into an art form. It was all too familiar how quick we are to lay the blame at the feet of women for anything bad that happens to them, and others associated with them, even when there is no actual connection. An easy scapegoat is all we have ever looked for. Even a ghost of a woman is haunted by her past. Is there no justice in this godforsaken world?

In hindsight, we are all philosophers who know how to separate the chaff from the grain. But while you are in it, the truth of the moment overrides everything else. I wished there was some way to flee all that haunted me.

I felt a sense of unease while reading Eating Wasps, and even though I knew the end from the start, I still felt let down by the reason she ended her life, and the way she chose to do it. But in time I came to see that the precipitating incident was the last straw that broke the camel’s back and not the actual cause. Suicide is a topic I am not comfortable with as is evident by the way I am dealing with the death of a much loved star. I realize the world is largely unfair but killing yourself isn’t being in control of your destiny. It’s the opposite of it.  Perhaps I am biased and burdened by what hangs in my past. But isn’t that what reading is, intensely personal because of the people we are and what we bring to the book. I felt unsure and the sensation that something is incomplete as I turned the last few pages. Maybe I was supposed to feel that given how the book ended.

Literature teaches you that you can make peace with anything. Time will heal every cut, every blow, every dripping wound. The mind will find within it the strength to say: This too shall pass. But some of us just don’t have it in us to go on. To invest in the chimera that our tomorrows will somehow be better than the here and now. Some of us sew stones into our hemlines and step into the river, some of us choose to put our heads into an oven and breathe in death, but each must find her own way to sail to stillness, to that quiet place where there are no crippling upheavals.

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