Anita Nair’s novels have an artistic unity that makes her characters life-like. Her words express the need for emancipation and education of Indian women and hence its reformist objective is fore-grounded. Her stories delve deep into the expectations of married Indian women and the choices they make, the relationships they are entangled in, and convey a strong message of hope through change.
In her latest novel Eating Wasps, Anita Nair knits the tales of women leading complex lives through the index finger of her protagonist Sreelakshmi. Even after being a Sahitya Academy winner at the age of 30, Sreelakshmi is considered a misfit or rather in the author’s words “damaged goods” in the society as she is unmarried. Nair evocatively presents her characters: Sree Lakshmi – the wasp eater who refuses to be a part of the society, Urvashi -who explores the many shades of desire, Najma- trying to rewrite her story, the little Megha-too innocent to address the unfairness she faces, Maya- fighting her inner demons, Brinda who walks past the mundanities of everydayness and others who glide silently paving way for an impeccable narrative. The title ‘Eating Wasps’ is nothing short of a metaphor to denied desire, respect, and sexual pleasure. Nair makes her characters travel through untrod-den paths of inhibitions, desires, and sexual liberation. The novel is told through eight parts with stories of ten women who are flawed yet brave in embracing their desires.
Set in a riverside resort in Kerala, the story is narrated by a dead writer who is still not able to leave the earth as her mortal remains(finger) have been locked up by her ex-lover, Markose in a cupboard. The story spans from the time when women had to fight for their education- to when the society realizes that sexual pleasure is also a basic right. Each character feels and reminds us of the woman next door. Eating wasps throw light on the unfair nature of society(includes her lover) towards women on taking their own decisions. Due to which Sreelakshmi can’t completely be free even in her death. It is Nair’s style of writing which makes the novel a compelling read. She doesn’t portray any of her characters as victims but flawed beings. Nair hooks her readers with her unconventional character formation. Her characters stay with you long after you complete the novel and push you into creating an alternate storyline for each of them.
Eating wasps is a subtle discourse on sexual liberation in a male-dominated society. It will unsettle and disturb you just like chewing a wasp.
As Nair argues “No one chooses to eat a wasp. But what if it were to fly into your mouth? Would you let it sting your tongue or bite down on it? Would you spit or swallow? Would you crumple or fight? The lives of women everywhere is about such decisions and the consequences thereof.”-Eating Wasps.
Radhika Menon is a freelance creative writer and journalism graduate from Kerala