Trigger Warning: Mention of suicide
When I first picked up Eating Wasps by Anita Nair, I was seventeen years old. I called myself a ‘Feminist’, and back then, that was something that prompted me to read this book. I was a teenager and was still trying to understand the history and the nuances of Feminism, along with understanding my own life, and relating with what Feminism does to broaden my comprehension of the word and the weight that it carries. And to a seventeen-year-old, reading Eating Wasps was revolutionary. I have come to deeply love the book and it has shaped me and pushed me to be comfortable in my own skin (Although, that is still a bit of a struggle every now and then).
‘Eating Wasps‘ tells us a story of ten women. The narrator of the book is a dead woman whose finger is picked up from the funeral pyre by an ex-lover, who keeps it locked up in a cupboard. The story starts with her suicide: “On the day I killed myself, it was bright and clear. It was a Monday. A working day.”
Sreelakshmi, when she was still alive, was an unmarried woman in her 30’s who taught Zoology and wrote Sahitya Akademi Award-winning fiction. Nair describes her mysterious suicide, in a way, caused by a man. But this doesn’t really make one groan; instead, it makes you curious and as you read on, you uncover a bit more about Sreelakshmi. You make acquaintance with this flawed human, with three-dimensional characteristics that one soon comes to love. The book also elaborates on the injustices she faced and the self-belief she exhibited in the wake of all disasters along with her own.
She brings out the stories of many other woman and that is the beauty of Eating Wasps. The book isn’t just another ‘Feminist book’; it goes beyond convenient Feminism. The author once mentioned in an interview to The Hindu, “Since feminism, put very simply, is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes, I would think Eating Wasps goes beyond that. It is also about women recognising who they are and getting comfortable in their skins.”
The other protagonist is Urvashi, a woman also in her 30’s with a ‘perfect’ marriage—so perfect that it lacks all chemistry and she finds herself performing the role of a wife rather than feeling any love for her husband. She joins a dating app on the advice of her friends and finds a married man she can talk to about her feelings. They have sexual intimacy, but soon their relationship isn’t really a relationship based on communication and connection but on sex, and she stops feeling for him too. He doesn’t accept that she wants to withdraw from their relationship and stalks her, sending her threatening messages.
It’s a familiar story for many women trying to gain sexual liberation. Instead of portraying Urvashi as a character to pity, Nair lets her readers understand her with all her faults. Ultimately, all of the characters in the book are flawed and confused, and, like all human beings, they are trying to find happiness. They aren’t elevated to a super-human status but Nair introduces a subtle discourse on how we view women and how we read them in literature.
When upon her suicide, Sreelakshmi realises the speculation her death has caused, she says,
“An ordinary woman had become a legend, a tragic heroine, and it was the nature of my death that had turned me into someone extraordinary in their eyes.”
That is the beauty of the book. This is exactly the kind of speculation the book sidesteps by avoiding elevating its protagonists to make them flawless. Eating Wasps taught me certain things that would have taken me years to realise and learn on my own—the portrayal of women as flawless characters, the ‘mother figure’ who can do no wrong, the stereotypical tropes that women must abide by and the high standards set to be great, to have ambitions, or to be something.
It gave me the breathing space I craved. The women in the book gave me space to grow with them, to discover who I am by nature and taught me to be comfortable in my own skin. It gave me much needed space to breathe in a world where I am constantly enraged at the high standards set for women. But it does not just excel at bringing out well-written, three-dimensional, flawed characters and stories about different women, but it also delicately weaves in issues that take the book to a whole new level; the book weaves in issues of caste, class, and religion with a surprising amount of ease. The narration has a simple linear structure, with occasional interruptions of back stories.
Perhaps a book like this, which gives an unvarnished glimpse into the lives we lead will force us to listen, to be kinder, and to treat ourselves better. Highly readable and visceral, the novel reminds you that you are not alone, and that your feelings are not invalid. Eating Wasps is a celebration of women unlike any other—it is like a quiet voice that’s always present even in the face of angry roars. Much of the novel is ultimately sad even though it tries hard not to be. The novel is just about simple stories of ordinary characters telling their tales that I’m sure one has read in countless newspapers throughout the years.
The book is revolutionary and yet simple, an exciting and unusual feministic book that has the power to calm you down and also at the same time offer you the first glimpses into the struggles of everyday women. It is a book I re-read again and again on quiet days, and when I needed a friend who can remind me that there is hope; that our voices still matter.
Featured Image Source: DNA India