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‘Getting comfortable in their skins’

By November 21, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu

Anita Nair says her latest novel is about women preserving their identity despite the constant challenges they face

Anita Nair’s latest novel, the unusually-titled Eating Wasps tells interlocking stories of 10 women. The title, Anita says is a metaphor for dealing with almost insurmountable challenges. Narrating the story of the title, Anita, who has just returned from JLF Adelaide, says, “I was working in an open verandah overlooking the wilderness we euphemistically call a garden in my cottage in Kerala. A wasp settled on a corner of the table I was at. I have been stung by wasps several times so I didn’t dare move until it left. But the wasp continued to hover and I had no option but to sit there and slowly an idea for the title began evolving in my head. I do think the wasp presented the title to me.”

The enticing cover was designed by Bhavi Mehta. “As with all books, I had a basic cover brief of a pair of lips on which a wasp rested but I think Bhavi took that sketchy thought and elevated it to something else.”

The Bengaluru-based writer says it has been 17 years since Ladies Coupe was published. “I had been wanting to revisit the lives of women. But if Ladies Coupe was about women finding their identity, I thought Eating Wasps would be about women preserving their identity despite the constant challenges they face on numerous fronts everyday, be it patriarchy, misogyny, the male gaze or even the all-pervasive touch of technology. I also wanted to focus on the challenges a woman faces from within herself, especially as the world we live in today ceaselessly drums in tropes on how a woman may or may not be.”

Eating Wasps shares location and characters with Anita’s 2005 novel, Mistress. “I had some of these stories written already before I decided to weave them into a novel. I needed a location that would facilitate that seamlessly and then again I had always wanted to set a story in a hotel. At this point it occurred to me that I had already created a universe with Mistress and that I should use that rather than recreate another one. I also liked the idea of bringing back some of the characters from Mistress in cameo appearances. So it made perfect sense to use Near-the-Nila as the setting for Eating Wasps.”

Saying that Eating Wasps need not be looked at as a companion book/ sequel to Mistress, Anita says, “If, however, a reader wants to know more about Shyam, Radha or Koman, they could read Mistress to find out what their lives were all about before meeting them in Eating Wasps.”

Anita says the novel is “the story of each of the 10 women we meet and collectively the story of women and their lives.” The 52-year-old author says though she identifies with several characters in the book, “the closest would be Sreelakshmi especially as she is the writer in the book.”

While the stories are interlinked, Anita says, “The idea of the book began with the story of Megha. The utter helplessness of that child is what made me want to explore the theme further.”

On whether Eating Wasps could be described as a feminist book, Anita says, “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 recognizing who they are and getting comfortable in their skins.”

Sreelakshmi is ostracised for what she writes in the 1960s while in the present Liliana faces abuse for a post on social media. Between them the tools of censure have changed but not the reasons. “I am so glad that you picked on that point. Both Liliana and Sreelakshmi give into a desire. Liliana’s desire was to enact a playful gesture while Sreelakshmi’s is a more considered one of the heart and body. However the repercussions are the same even though there is a time span of a half century between the two of them. What we see is, then as now, society has a problem with female desire.”

Social media, Anita says, “Can be fun and useful within reason. I get my jollies out of social media as anyone else. But I don’t let it take over my life or who I am. One has to remember that social media is mostly a diversionary tool. The real world is out there and far removed from that hot house called social media.

“As a writer, I find it both a boon and bane. It brings into focus things I don’t particularly want to know about. Yet at the same time it brings to me things I might have never known otherwise. Mostly I use it as a tool to keep in touch with my readers.”

The rising river is scarily prescient in the novel. “Rain is a leitmotif of the book. It rains as Urvashi reaches the resort to indicate the gloom and darkness pervading her life and the thunderstorms appear through the book as the story unfolds. The rain is part of Sreelakshmi’s story too. In fact the constant drip of the rain wears out Sreelakshmi towards the end. Following the last big thunderstorm, Urvashi feels a sense of relief indicating almost a fresh start in her life. There is no such reprieve for Sreelakshmi’s ghost. Instead what she can hope for is the rain will cause the river to rise so it swallows the resort and takes away the last remnant of her bodily remains. And thus take her to the realm of nothingness.”

Anita has written two police procedurals featuring Inspector Gowda. “My next book is an Inspector Gowda one. He has been pacing up and down in my mind demanding that I put aside everything else and spend time just with him.”


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