“De­sire is what raises us above an­i­mal in­stinct”

In Eat­ing Wasps, au­thor Anita Nair sends out the mes­sage that women need to pre­serve their iden­tity


Anita Nair, 52, doesn’t like to limit her­self to be­ing called a fem­i­nist writer. In­ter­ested in women’s is­sues and delv­ing into their con­di­tion, it’s all of hu­man­ity that fills her with con­cerns and not just women, and she prefers to be called a writer of the hu­man con­di­tion. Au­thor of nov­els such as Ladies Coupé, The Bet­ter Man and Al­pha­bet Soup for Lovers, her other

books in­clude Mal­abar Mind, a col­lec­tion of po­ems and Good­night and God Bless: On Life, a col­lec­tion of es­says. Her lat­est

Eat­ing Wasps is a piece of fic­tion high­light­ing the in­ten­sity and con­se­quences of de­sire.

What in­spired you to write the book?

Eat­ing Wasps is both a con­ceit and a metaphor re­fer­ring to fac­ing mind-de­fy­ing chal­lenges. For some time now, I have been think­ing of writ­ing once again about the lives of women. It has been 17 years since Ladies Coupé was pub­lished. If that book was about women find­ing their iden­tity, I thought this would be about women pre­serv­ing their iden­tity de­spite the chal­lenges they face ev­ery day— pa­tri­archy, misog­yny, the male gaze or even the all-per­va­sive fin­gers of tech­nol­ogy. If there is one mes­sage I have, it is that noth­ing is in­sur­mount­able. The chal­lenges women have to face are ex­tra­or­di­nary and yet we have it in us to over­come them. We do that in our in­di­vid­ual ways and there is no right or wrong way of do­ing it. But we must to re­tain a sense of who we are. That is what the book is all about.

Is Eat­ing Wasps dif­fer­ent from your pre­vi­ous books?

One of the premises I have al­ways been in­ter­ested in is ex­plor­ing the gen­der equa­tion. With this book, I have laid its base and in that sense, it is per­haps my bravest book. I knew what this book was go­ing to do to me emo­tion­ally as I set about writ­ing it. And be­cause of the na­ture of the plot, the craft­ing had to be that much more del­i­cate as po­etic to balance the heft of the story.

How do you cre­ate your char­ac­ters and craft the story?

While I am work­ing on a char­ac­ter, I slip into their skin. So, it al­lows me to be a woman or a man with equal ease. There is a great deal of work in­volved in sub­ju­gat­ing and bury­ing who I am as a per­son be­fore I can be­come the char­ac­ter, re­spond­ing to sit­u­a­tions as the char­ac­ter would and not

I as a per­son would. No two peo­ple are alike but some­times stereo­types pop up when deal­ing with the same cul­tural ethos, age group or eco­nomic back­ground. I need to be care­ful to not suc­cumb to car­i­ca­tur­ing and in­stead draw char­ac­ters with a dis­tinc­tive but def­i­nite hand.

What are your views on gen­der in­equal­ity?

If there is one thing I am cer­tain about, it is—women are in no way in­fe­rior to men and so no god or hu­man law has the right to make a woman feel she is in­signif­i­cant. Women are dif­fer­ent from men. That’s a bi­o­log­i­cal fact but it doesn’t make a woman in­ca­pable, in­ept or lesser than men.

What’s the cost women have to pay to live lives on their own terms?

In an ur­ban land­scape, per­haps women have a greater chance of liv­ing a life as they see fit. How­ever, in small towns and ru­ral In­dia, when a woman chooses to live life on her terms, she lays her­self open for spec­u­la­tion and crit­i­cism. In a tightly knit so­ci­ety like ours, with tra­di­tional con­di­tion­ing of thought and ac­tion, this may lead to a woman be­ing treated with dis­re­spect, os­tracised even. It can wear any woman out, even the strong­est of them. Hence more of­ten than not women choose to com­pro­mise so that they don’t have to live their lives on the pe­riph­ery or watch­ing over their shoul­der at ev­ery step they take. It re­quires great for­ti­tude and courage to live life on one’s own terms even for men. So, for a woman it is a hun­dred-fold.

Is de­sire an in­trin­sic part of a per­son’s be­ing?

De­sire is what raises us above an­i­mal in­stinct. Ev­ery­thing else is an ap­petite. Hence it is fun­da­men­tal to our hu­man­ness. How could that be wrong and how can a woman be de­nied the right to de­sire? It is what will shape her iden­tity. How­ever, the very thought that a woman can feel de­sire and may choose to ful­fil it, is some­thing pa­tri­ar­chal norms will re­sist. So, a woman has to first ac­knowl­edge her right to de­sire and its ful­fill­ment.

Pub­lisher Con­text Pages 260 Price `599

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