The Yogini: A remarkable book that shocks and awes in equal measure

The Yogini is a story of a woman who contends with the idea of her own fate, and when fate begins to stalk her, she begins to see life as it truly is, a series of endless repetitions

The Yogini: A remarkable book that shocks and awes in equal measure
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Percy Bharucha

The Yogini is a story of a woman who contends with the idea of her own fate; a fate that appears to her in the guise of an attractive, sex-starved hermit. On the surface, Homi appears to be the very epitome of the modern woman — an upcoming news producer in a marriage that seems to be a prolonged honeymoon, yet to lose its wanton lust and passion. But when fate begins to stalk her, she begins to see life as it truly is, a series of endless repetitions.

When wave upon wave of the usual crashes onto her, she questions the notion of fatalism and who and why she is. Through Homi, Bandyopadhyay presents a subtle yet complex navigation of illusion, imagination, and fate. She traces how this overlap ends up, in a conventional sense, ruining Homi’s life. Homi’s visions lead to deeply introspective questions such as, is control an illusion? Is predetermination a concept reinforced by our imagination? How do we locate agency in this entire mess?

In The Yogini these philosophical questions acquire an urgency; they can no longer be relegated to mere armchair debate. In a sense, the reader is jolted from his intellectual complacency into a state of self-scrutiny. This itself is no small achievement.

The rest of the characters Bandyopadhyay uses to present a scathing critique of the great Indian family. It is a behind-the-curtain view of parents, relatives at their petulant worst. Be it the suffocating effect Homi’s constantly complaining mother has on her, her lazy father whom she cannot bear to look at, her husband Lalit and the chasm of practicality that threatens to separate them for good. The narration of the marital life between Homi and Lalit will find great relatability among the youth, it greatly devalues domesticity and running the household and elevates desire.

Bandyopadhyay and Sinha must be lauded for their prose. The dialogues of Homi’s mother are more a volley of bullets than sentences. Each fired before the previous one has hit its target, ricocheting off each other, each subsequent bullet piercing deeper than the previous one. There is a dreamlike quality to Homi’s internal monologues, that gently caress the reader cradling him into the tranquil rhythms of
the book.

In contrast, Lalit’s words convey his urgency, enforcing attention to the present. It is the contrast in their conversations that convinces the reader of the implosion that is to follow in their marriage. Bandyopadhyay and Sinha present an exquisite portrayal of Homi’s fragility. Even in Homi’s downward spiral, there is such nuance to its sad depths that they become paradoxically a joy to read.

The book is full of prescient verses such as, “...Fate is stalking me. If only I could get a glimpse of myself outside its influence, just a flash, a single free moment...” and a rather apt description of our current times, “Everyone in this immense land of India was engrossed in a game with their gods...”

The book is also a painting of Calcutta in the rains. Like fresh watercolors, Calcutta seeps and runs through its pages. In the names of roads, boarding houses with their slatted windows, tall ceilings, and Chinese restaurants, the reader is transported and sees through the eyes of Homi, her portrait of home, a portrait that lurks beneath the surface but is always there.

The allure of The Yogini lies in Bandyopadhyay’s skillful structuring. In the scene between Jahnavibai and Homi, the reader cannot help but believe in fate. When the final piece fits in one cannot help but wonder if there is an order. Perhaps it is that very order that gives broken things their purpose, knows why they were made so. An order that perhaps makes fractured beings, so that they may accomplish what others cannot.

It is fiction at its seductive best.

In the final moment, we find Homi united with her fate - hermit in an act of ecstasy. A Homi who finds her freedom through renunciation of all that bound her — rituals, people, behaviour and relationships. In that moment of absolute bliss, it is hard to differentiate between illusion and intent. But then why would you.

The Yogini is a remarkable book; Bandyopadhyay shocks and awes in equal measure. The English reading world owes a huge debt to Arunava Sinha for this exceptional and lucid translation.

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