Anita Nair’s new book is gripping, detailed and intimate

Anita Nair’s Eating Wasps makes you look at desire differently, and question it too

Karuna John

Do a person’s thoughts and emotions die when his or her body does? Maybe the soul carries those into the great unknown. But what happens when the soul is not at peace? Does it hang around a bit, perhaps to go looking for ways to find closure? Does a soul have to depart the body to find peace? The river Nila would know. It is on its banks, that some of these souls, both living and the wandering, suddenly find themselves linked, like pearls on a string. Some seemingly more luminous than others, but each with its own inclusion, a dark secret, a festering wound and a palpable sense of fear.

The author takes you on a layered journey, through the emotions of various women including a celebrated writer, a wife, lover, a mother, an innocent child. The women, most of them at least, are survivors of sorts. They hail from different backgrounds, are of different ages and each holds her own story close to her heart. But there is something that connects all of them at a surreal level. Two or three stories down you will realise what it is.

The narrator herself is from the ‘beyond’ too, just a tiny bit of bone, plucked from the pyre of a woman writer who has killed herself. She is not a ghost, the bone holds her very conscious that refuses to merge into the elements with the rest of her body. Her story and her search clings onto that bit of bone. Heavy with memories, it lies forgotten in the back of an old wardrobe. It understands the fear of the child who hides from her predator in that cupboard. Pain and fear are emotions that don’t always need a common context to entice empathy.

Nor does shame. Whose shame is it to be? The woman’s? Or the man who has clawed at her, mentally, physically, emotionally?

The scars will last her a lifetime, and beyond. This is an essential read for men and women who are seeing the unfolding of #MeToo in India. As the stories tumble out one by one, we see how the pain is still fresh years after the assaults took place. The timing of this book is so perfect that it is almost uncanny.

Desire. One of the strongest emotions. Which can have many outcomes. Desire is potent. And something that is beyond the realm of black and white distinctions. Desire is like fire. It can be life giving, and nurturing, as well as a weapon of destruction

You will see how it is the women who have internalised, and tucked away the pain and humiliation in a dark memory cupboard as it were. Memories that would have never been aired, till one day it was unlocked. Almost by chance, and powered by a flash of courage. Like the lives of the women in Eating Wasps, the patterns got connected as memories turned to stories, being shared so bravely. Even years later.

The fictional characters of this book seem closer to reality now more than ever. A coincidence perhaps? But then even works of fiction do draw from life itself. Anita Nair is a weaver of words. No, she will not promise you a happy ending. Sometimes she may not even give you a regular ending, and leave you wondering what became of the little girl? Did her parents help her? Did the child’s molester get punished? Or the stalker of the married woman who tried a dating app? Did her husband find out? Who was the victim here?

Desire. One of the strongest emotions. Which can have many outcomes. Desire is potent. And something that is beyond the realm of black and white distinctions. Desire is like fire. It can be life giving, and nurturing, as well as a weapon of destruction.

Eating Wasps is not a thick heavy tome. It is not preachy. It is not out on a man-hunt. It is not a book just for women. It is a conversation starter. Difficult conversations too. It is a collection of stories narrated in a manner that will make you want to come back for a re-read. Desire, sexual intimacy, adultery, betrayal, infidelity, paedophilia, predators, stalkers, survivors, victims: all of which exist in real life. None of these make for comfortable polite conversations. Yet, we must talk. In our search for happy ever afters, these dark paths need to be navigated too.

When you read Eating Wasps, you will find yourself holding your breath at some pauses, and purely enraged at other. You may want to imagine some endings yourself. You my even wonder what Eating Wasps would taste and feel like for real? Will it leave a bitter aftertaste like the author described?

Gripping, detailed and intimate, the book will make you look at desire differently. And question it too.

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