By Neha Margosa
The third time I found a wasp in my house, I was newly single, 25, and living by myself for the first time. It was an afternoon I’d taken off from work. The summer sun gleamed from a high window on to the bathroom tiles and illuminated the dried-up water on the wall. My usually noisy neighbours and the neighbourhood’s delivery boys, street vendors, and construction workers were silent; probably asleep.
Silent as a tree, the wasp glided in. It headed straight for a particular corner of the sink, one I could not reach easily. I made the gasp of startled fear I usually do, splashed a plastic mugful of water in its general direction, and watched it exit through the high window in the bathroom.
The multitude of insect life and fauna in Bangalore is something that I’ve never gotten used to, even though I’ve grown up here. Three years ago, when a ghost voice began to scream in my ears to leave, to LEAVERIGHTNOWSOMEHOW, I would wake up in the mornings in our two-bedroom house and sometimes find lizard poop in the gleaming kitchen, on my steel oven. I would feel trapped in some Kafkaesque tale adapted for my particular horrors.
One such morning in 2013, I discovered an entire wasp ecosystem on the window of our bathroom. My then-partner, a nature enthusiast, marvelled at the industriousness and complexity of the wasps. He used smoke to repel them without harming them. Despite his non-violent choice of tactic, I cowered behind and watched in wonder as he got to work, my reflexes razor-sharp, ready to flee or duck at the slightest sign of movement.
When I moved to London later that year — I did manage to leave — one of the surest ways of bonding with other Indians and South Asians was to marvel at the mosquito-lessness of the place. Sure, the pigeons were villainous, fearless. But the rest of London’s first-world rodent life was something we all took to, quickly. Foxes, the occasional rogue goose, nothing more. Silverfish sometimes showed up in the student halls I lived in. One of us once found a single mosquito and it was the talk of the block.
My office in Bangalore after returning from London had mice. I discovered on one evening when I stayed back late.
I always liked staying back. I would play folktronica on full blast, and work hard and quick, imagining myself to be Abed from Community — weird, solitary, perfectly happy, and a mad genius, implementing edits when no one’s watching.
I walked into the office kitchen on one of these evenings, and watched a mouse squeak loudly and run off the counter. The next day, she was discovered hiding in the microwave, and then we discovered her kin in the storage closets, who promptly ran outside into the main hall, where we all were working unawares. I had no desire to make contact with them. I jumped, quietly if promptly, onto the table. Suddenly, I was in the uncomfortable middle ground between the Kind of Girl who Shrieks and the Kind of Girl who Sneers at the Shriekers.
While I stood on the table, I realised that a colleague I had a crush on was looking at me with restrained, if obvious, surprise. Surely, I had killed the possibility of anything developing, I accepted later, resignedly. Of course she would be surprised: she had grown up in a house full of badass women, and thought nothing of tiny fast creatures. She was probably the kind of girl who caught butterflies to amuse her friends and then set them free. Or the kind of girl who caught snakes.
I knew many of these women. I had always felt oddly threatened by them. Perfectly exemplified by one particular researcher my then boyfriend had once called when he found a snake near our apartment. In the vast wooded area where we lived, snakes were common, so common that residents had the number of a dedicated volunteer, a researcher from the ecology department of a city-based university who would cycle down and safely remove the animal. This had happened once with him in the past and he would speak of her often, and with respect. I Googled her name for months after he told me about the incident, tracking her with dark, burning admiration as she released a book, wishing I could embody her coolth. She was the very definition of kickassery, the sort I aspired to but couldn’t attain.
In my teens, I had been a sneerer, prompted mainly by the fact that I perceived those around me to be shriekers, but also by my buying into a code of behaviour I believed to be ‘boyish’ — wearing mostly boys’ clothing, keeping my hair short, and playing a lot of sports. Only later did I learn that this needn’t be categorised as boyish behaviour.
In later years, I met my ex, who, as he liked saying, “rounded me out” and “made me a woman.” My voice, typically low, began to take on a high, nasal pitch I believed was a “womanly” pitch. I learned to tuck my head into his shoulder, and began to paint my nails. The home that I had not found for years I found in my acquiescence to the gender binary.
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Now, standing on top of that table in my office, watching her watch me, I wished I was again a Sneerer and not a Shrieker. I felt sure my crush, too, was a badass, unafraid of insects. And her opinion of me had now eroded.
What had I become? That old, boring question. How could I be so uncool while I was seemingly badass in other aspects of my life? Questions I’ve actually been asked.
Now I’m back in a beautiful, breezy house, filled with windows I’m tempted to leave open in the particularly blazing summer we’ve had. Every now and then a bee or a wasp glides through our house, entering at the back door and leaving through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the hall. There may or may not be a wasp family building its dwellings on my bedroom window. A few days ago, I shook out a beautiful bed sheet and found a giant black insect on it. Six-legged. Some sort of beetle. My heart skipped a beat and I wanted to scream, but I took a second and let it scuttle out onto the iron railings of our balcony. Quietly. I didn’t shriek, and I didn’t sneer. I just watched it crawl away.
Featured image The Scream, courtesy WebMuseum at ibiblio